25 June 2017
Some years ago, when we adopted our two daughters from Russia, I was searching for an Orthodox parish our eldest might go to. (She had been baptised Orthodox.) I was concerned for her smooth assimilation into American life, so I wanted to find a parish with a good youth program. I phoned the local Romanian parish and spoke with Fr. Anton. I explained the situation and told him, “I’m looking to find a parish with a good youth program.” There was a long pause on the other end of the phone. Then Fr. Anton answered, “We don’t shop for churches in Orthodoxy.”
Over and over again through the years, the wisdom of Fr. Anton’s remarks has remained with me. The church is not a commodity. It is not selling anything. Parishes are not in competition with each other.
What, then, is the church? Rightly understood, each parish is a family. What are the keys to a family’s health and success? It isn’t rocket science. Here are a few:
· Healthy families are always open to gaining new members. When a baby comes home from the hospital, or a new member is added by adoption or marriage, healthy families open to make room for the new person. They are willing to undergo the temporary discomfort or awkwardness that comes with new life, and they give thanks to God for the new life. They are flexible, yet retain their own identity.
· Healthy families aren’t focused on gaining new members at all costs. Growth should be natural. Those with problems where they are should be told to go back and work on those problems first, before coming. No one should be received without the blessing of their priest. Baggage must be left at the door.
· Members of healthy families are committed to share a common life. Cal Ripken Jr., the man who broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak, was asked the secret of his success. “The key,” he said, “is mostly just showing up.” Joining a parish is committing to sharing a common life. That requires engaging with all sorts of different people. Some are outgoing, some are shy; some take part in lots of things and others mostly pray. All are essential; none is superfluous.
· Healthy families commit to work through problems and challenges together. Everyone gets teary-eyed when they read of long-married couples who die on the same day. But stories have those endings only because the couple worked through many problems and challenges throughout the years.
· Healthy families have differences. The goal, in a healthy family, is not to make everybody to be the same. The variety of persons is revealed in a variety of gifts and, sometimes, on a variety of viewpoints. Diversity is no threat, when we are all agreed to journey together.
· Healthy families are ordered. There are husband and wife, parents and children, older and younger siblings. These roles are distinct and not interchangeable. Each lives for the other. Love is given and respect is returned.
Perhaps you can think of other things that healthy families share. I'd welcome your thoughts in the comments.