by Fr. Andrew Jacobs
The Missionary District deanery of the Diocese of the West held its annual retreat on February 26-28 at Holy Annunciation Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, Oregon. Hosted by Archpriest Matthew Tate, Dean of the Missionary District, this retreat focused on a series of presentations by Fr. David Rucker, Associate Director of the Orthodox Christian Missions Center (OCMC), and himself an experienced Orthodox missionary.
With liturgical services, three sessions of Mission updates, liturgical services, Fr. David’s presentations, and very good food served by the parishioners of Holy Annunciation, the retreat kept attendees busy, informed, edified and well-nourished. Fr. David’s presentations were packed with informative and inspiring material, as he gave generously and enthusiastically of his expertise and direct experience in the missions field, peppered with wisdom gained from other missionaries working in a variety of countries—complete with examples ranging from “rookie mistakes” to wisdom applied to great effect. Over the course of an extended session on Tuesday evening and two extensive sessions on Wednesday, he gave a thorough, interconnected, and highly useful exposition of “missiology”—the science of mission building—under headings such as “Vision,” “Mission-building Tools,” and “God’s Plan for Making Disciples: the Master Plan for Evangelism.”
The following is a sampling of key concepts presented by Fr. David. Having a vision for the mission is crucial—so that we can communicate it, and then work on goals with the people. It is essential to understand the background and the physical and social gestures of the people we seek to bring into the Church—lest we drive them away by our own missteps. Each missionary’s own motives are important, and so, self-examination is important. Our actions must be consistent with our teaching.
Fr. David emphasized that these concepts are ways of manifesting God’s love to the people; through these tangible actions of ours, the people gain a sense of trust, and when there is a bond of trust between the missionary and the people, hearts open more willingly to be taught the Orthodox faith. In this way, Christianity is “catching,” or communicable. An example of this is the calling for priestly families to manifest the proper relationships in our own families: the father should reflect the holy priesthood, the mother should reflect the Theotokos, and there must be a good, loving sense of the Orthodox spiritual ethos in the household.
Through our modeling these spiritually healthy relationships, those we hope to bring into the faith begin to follow our example, and they likewise spread the example among their friends and acquaintances. This is a living, practical introduction to the ethos of the Church, and facilitates entry into the Church for members of the community.
In addition to Fr. David’s highly informative and inspiring talks, many of the priests in attendance offered positive progress reports and helpful advice on mission building. Among these were the reports of two of the more recently installed mission priests, who were willing to answer questions posed after the reports about their own missionary situations. Their answers are as follows.
Fr. Philip Halliwell’s report on St. Nicholas of South Canaan Orthodox Mission, in Billings, Montana, indicated that this mission is nearing official church status. Fr. Philip later indicated that there are “between 80 and 100 in attendance on Sundays” at St. Nicholas of South Canaan Orthodox Mission. He felt that “confession and personally contacting parishioners to support and help them” is among several vital practices in missionizing, as are “personal invitations by members of the parish—'Come and See!' followed up by inquirers’ class and then catechumen class.”
On the other hand, Fr. Andreas Blom, pastor of St. Gabriel Archangel Mission in Ashland, Oregon, stated: “I can only quote older and more experienced priests who have reminded me that the single most important thing for a mission priest to do is to work on his own salvation—by being diligent in prayer, reading spiritual books, confessing often and making sure that his own life in Christ is sustained and nurtured. From that must flow a desire to serve as many of the Divine Services as he can, as often and as constantly as the mission situation allows.”
All in all, it was an enlightening, intensive and informative retreat. Thanks are due to Fr. David, Fr. Matthew and the parishioners of Holy Annunciation Orthodox Church, who combined efforts to provide a truly edifying experience.