Parish Health Summit
The OCA’s Diocese of the Midwest’s recent Parish Health Summit brought together 15 Orthodox priests from 12 growing parishes.
After two days of exploring what is working and not working when it comes to building healthy American Orthodox parishes, attendees discussed how best to share the fruits of their discussions with other Orthodox parishes that were not in attendance.
It was decided to define a clear set of essential "focus areas" -- dimensions of parish life and practice that were consistent with the lived experience of parishes represented at the Summit -- in hopes that this could serve as a model for parishes to apply to their particular situation.
After receiving nominations from each attendee, the list was reviewed, clustered, combined, renamed, and discussed. After spirited debate the group converged on eight essential areas for building health and vibrancy in Orthodox parishes.
Since that time considerable effort has gone into adding useful additional detail to describe one view of good parish practice in each of these eight areas. Each of the eight essential areas is described in terms of:
- Mission, Vision & Identity
- Parish Self Awareness & Understanding
- Atmosphere of Excellence
- Growth & Replication
- Liturgical Preparedness
- Congregational Participation
- Effective Preaching
- Sharing /Delegating Responsibility
- Leading Change
- Functional Structures & Administration
- Open Financial Practice & Reporting
Healthy parishes craft administrative structures that are appropriate to the size and vision of the community. Ministries are defined, funded and equipped. Parish lay leaders see themselves as stewards of a Christian community collaborating with the rector to build health and vibrancy of the parish. They are NOT the parish business managers, trustees, owners, disinterested commentators and/or critics.
- Consensus and Dialogue
- Dealing with Conflict
- Internal Communication Methods
- Atmosphere of love & honest fellowship
- Entry & incorporation mechanisms
- Connectedness to larger church
- Appropriate facilities
Enabled by an ability to dialogue openly, healthy parishes work hard to establish a culture where their identity as Orthodox Christians is lived out in such a manner that anyone who enters can see the hallmarks of Christian community: love, selfless giving, mutual encouragement, forgiveness, kindness, patience, hospitality and compassion. Christ can be recognized in their midst. People linger, smile and laugh. Healthy parishes think through assimilation paths for new members -- they make room. They see themselves not as independent congregations but as interdependent with other Orthodox communities.
- Orthodox spirituality
- Financial generosity
- Discernment of gifts
- Effective ministries
- Parish evangelization atmosphere
- Personal evangelization practice
- Sensitivity to spiritual needs of others
- External communication.
Many Diocesan parishes have used the Parish Health Inventory Model as a framework for discussions on renewal and future direction. Key practical points we can pass on about experiences with using the model are:
It is not a catechism.
Though the model has formative value for parish leaders, parishioners and even clergy, it is NOT designed to teach the Orthodox faith. It is a collection of good practices and principles that seem to have worked well in many parishes.
It is one model not the model.
Disagreeing or rethinking the contents can be useful and healthy. One the other hand we caution users not to simply go to work to disprove the contents. There is abundant evidence that most ideas are effective.
Access to a broader view of good practice
The model was constructed with the input of twelve rectors from growing parishes in the Diocese. As a result the items in the inventory provide a partial view into the life of a number of good parishes --a view not readily available to most clergy or laity.
Intentional -- even "driven".
Some have commented that the model seems to portray a parish with a hyperactive personality. Some parishes with a more contemplative (but hopefully not somnolent!) atmosphere will want to use the ideas in moderation. Catch your breath occasionally. Sip slowly.
Not the next big thing.
Some reject using any tool simply because it appears to be "oversold" or"hyped". Heed well. The PHIM is NOT a silver bullet. It is a tool that when used well can help accelerate action, build consensus and raise the quality of the discussion.
The tool is NOT only for use by parishes in decline or peril. Growing parishes, those on a plateau or those with new priests will also find it works well.