What a blessing it was for our community, for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and for Orthodoxy as a whole in the United States to host the first ever Mission & Evangelism Conference, “Bringing Orthodoxy to America”! As one person said, “It’s about time.”, and what a powerful gathering it was. Some of the top Mission and Evangelism personalities were invited to speak on the most essential topics of Church planting and Church growth. For those of you who were not able to attend, I invite you to take the time and listen to the lectures on Ancient Faith Radio. I say this not so that you can hear a nice talk, but rather to be inspired, challenged, and convicted. I was able to hear all of the talks with the exception of one, the last one, delivered by Fr. Barnabas Powell. Let me say this, I was pierced in the heart by what he said at the end of his talk, and you will be too, so please take the time to do this.
St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Beaverton has seen tremendous growth over the last two decades. By the grace of God, a mission-minded priest in Fr. Theodore, and willing souls who have flocked to the well of Eternal Life (the Church), this community has expanded and matured over the years. This Parish has been identified as a “model Parish” by some, and a Parish that other clergy would love to serve. This is all very flattering, but God forbid we start believing the press clippings, for it would be the downfall of this community. The reality is, we are still in a world that is in dire need of salvation, and people who are searching for the True Faith. In other words, our work has just begun. God forbid we become “content” with where we are either as individuals or as a community. For sure we need to be very grateful, but we must never become stagnant.
Fr. Barnabas in his talk reminded all of us that, “in one of the most religious countries in the world, certainly the most religious first-world country, our nation is packed with spiritually hungry men and women. Men and women you know. Men and women you work with. Men and women you live next door to. They are spiritually starving to death… what am I going to say to my neighbor, when I had all the spiritual food that any human would ever need and I never shared it with another person?” Speaking on the topic of the use of social media, Fr. Barnabas stressed that “we need to go where the people are”, referring to social media where 1.6 billion are active monthly users, Twitter, which has 310 million monthly active members and other social media outlets. He also firmly stated that the challenge isn’t technology (it’s easy to do) or money (it’s cheap) the challenge is the mindset where doing media never even crosses our mind.”
The title of the Conference, “Bringing Orthodoxy to America” was thoroughly and collaboratively fleshed out by all the speakers, each touching upon different topics, and each complimenting the other. With all the information we were given, we are more accountable than ever to take that information and execute it. At St. John’s we have a lot of good programs in place. We have a stout worship and liturgical offering, but after attending this conference, I can honestly say, we have just begun to scratch the service of Bringing Orthodoxy to our area of the country. Fr. Barnabas’ mantra throughout his talk is to, “assume that everyone wants to become Orthodox.” And in a very bold statement he said, “It is inherently satanic and unloving of us to withhold the greatest treasure God has given to a human, in withholding our faith from our neighbor. It is not Christian, and more than that, it is not Orthodox. We are called to love our neighbor as our self, we are called to share out faith.”
Once again, I invite all of you who did not have the opportunity to attend the conference, to listen to the talks. Take notes when you listen to them and jot down points that touch your heart. Think about what is being said, and commit to making changes within your own life that would help lead others to Christ, to the Orthodox Faith. Each and every person at St. John’s has a responsibility to do this. I dare say, it is in our “baptismal contract”. St. John Chrysostom did not believe in the salvation of anyone who wasn’t concerned for the salvation of others.
Without hesitation, Fr. Barnabas said that unless we take the treasure of Orthodoxy and share it with the world we will stand before the awesome Judgment Seat of Christ unprepared! I took this not as a threat, but as instruction that this is serious stuff. If we think we are of the faithful, then we must live each day as one of the faithful, and not bury the treasure that we have as the unfaithful servant, but invest it and multiply it (cf. Mt. 25:18). This challenge, this calling, this opportunity is for each one of us, not just the clergy. It is for the Sunday school teachers, the Youth workers, the Choir, everyone who serves in any one of the ministries, and anyone who does not. There is not one soul in the parish that can ignore this challenge. Is it not the mission of the Church, to save and to bring others to the knowledge of the Truth, Who Is Christ, and unite them to His Eternal Bride the Orthodox Church? Indeed it is, and we all have a part in this to make sure it happens.