Conciliarity and Consensus

I think the time comes for the OCA to embrace a new climate and culture in which it carries about its business.  That climate and culture if it is to produce an effective mission to Americans is going to have to include openness, transparency and accountability.  The methodology will include both conciliarity and consensus.

We also need to define our terms a bit.  Conciliarity refers to doing things in council.  The OCA is conciliar as we have a Synod, a Metropolitan Council, and an ANAC, diocesan councils and assemblies and parish councils and meetings.

But councils do not always produce ConsensusCouncils can produce consensus of polariziation – that depends on many factors.  Councils can use collaboration, compromise or coercion in their deliberations and decision making but the methods used as well as the decision reached determine whether consensus has been reached or whether a decision is imposed on others.  There certainly have been councils where a majority rule decision was made, but the council itself ends up split and ruptured beyond repair.  This is not consensus though it might be the conciliar process.

Even despotic rulers can use consensus.  My read of history suggest to me that the First Ecumenical Council in 325AD is a conciliar event in which the Emperor gave permission to the council to reach a consensus regarding belief.  Constantine didn’t interfere with what the consensus was (and perhaps didn’t care what it was), but once reached he promulgated it because he wanted the church to bring unity to his vast and diverse empire.   He used consensus to further his goals – “I don’t care what you agree upon, but agree!”

Consensus building can be a method and goal of a conciliar work. A hierarchical organization can work within a consensus building methodology.  Consensus building requires that all points of view are given serious consideration and treatment.  It is very hard work.  Consensus building values not only the decision reached but the community which must live by the decision.  Consensus building values the relationships between members, and thus it is a slow process as it works to get everybody on board before it takes off.  It doesn’t mean that there must be 100% agreement, but it does mean that those who are reluctant or who disagree are still willing to go along with the decision and not oppose it. 

Neither conciliarity nor working for consensus are opposed to the notions of hierarchy.   The OCA was and is a conciliar church.   It abandoned the notion of consensus in order to accomplish the goals of certain individuals’ agendas.  That was a  more efficient way to operate, and largely explains how the scandal could so sweep the church.  Very efficient means were found to reach decisions – a “divide and conquer” methodology, an Executive Committee, providing the various councils with pre-approved decisions rather than asking them to debate the issues or to work for consensus.  The result was a fair amount of dysfunction – demoralization, passive-aggressive behavior, non-ownership of the vision of the church, indifference, marginalization of various people, a loss of interest in the church by some of the more creative, energetic and intelligent members.

Consensus building requires discussion, debate, and a willingness to accept and deal with disagreement.  Consensus building requires a membership working for real community, not pseudo-community.  In pseudo-community members fear disagreement and dissent and debate because they are not bonded together by a common vision, common goals, commitment to one another.  It is only when members can acknowledge their own personal as well as their common brokenness that they can value others and be willing to serve others.  This is the climate in which consensus can be built. 

The recent joint meetings of the Metropolitan Council and Synod of Bishops are efforts to use conciliarity to reach consensus.  Internets sites such as which allow discussion and disagreement can also be helpful in consensus building as they allow disparate opinions to be expressed in the same format – it is at least the potential for an idea exchange.  The Town Hall meetings of the OCA in preparation for the ANAC are another forum for potential consensus building.   The final ingredient in any of these forums is of course the effort by someone, by a designated,  recognized, or charismatic or unofficial leadership to work toward developing an agreement among members – a willing consent to value and strengthen relationships as well as to work toward a common goal.

Time Change Good for Your Heart

A reminder to my parishioners that this weekend before you go to bed Saturday night, turn your clocks back one hour.  Our clocks “fall” back one hour on the first weekend of November – officially at 2am Sunday morning.

The good news is that reasearch shows turning the clock back one hour in the fall and gaining that one hour of sleep is good for the heart.  Some scientists do think it is the extra hour of sleep which his good for the heart, some priests think it is the fact that the extra hour gives parishioners the chance to get to church on time that is good for their hearts. 

Unfortunately the “spring forward” time change when we return to Daylight Savings Time is associated with an increase in the number of heart attacks.    For our election year this research might suggest:

1) All candidates are promising change, but as research shows, not all change is good for you.

2)  Don’t lose any sleep over the election.

October 1978

From my missionary journal – Kenya, 1978

October 30 –  “I read the Gospel of Matthew today (Matthew 16:24-28) about denying yourself and taking up the cross and losing your life for the sake of the Gospel.  It made me think about my own situation here – I feel frustrated and hopeless because it seems sure that we will gain no success here, but that is purely a feeling of human success.  I am nothing more than a common laborer for Christ – my job is to go and sow the seed, but there is no promise that I will reap the harvest.  My denying myself or losing myself also means I cannot boast about any work I do here in Kenya.  I have nothing to boast about but what the Lord does.  God will make the seeds I sow to grow.  I just need to do my work – to persevere and not expect any glory.

I guess this is the hardest part of being a Christian – the daily grind – carry your cross daily.  Only on occasion are you nailed to the cross or freed from the burden of carrying the cross.  Most of the time you just must trudge on.  Being nailed to the cross is a form of glory, as is being delivered from carrying the cross is a joy.  I live for days like yesterday when I had a chance to witness to Christ and in fact to somehow make Him present in the lives of the people.  It is a true sensation, but you don’t get to live like that always.  The effect may be great or total on the lives of these people and it just as surely changes one’s own life, but the power is also easily forgotten.  The children of Israel knew this.  So it’s the daily struggle which is so hard, even seeming impossible at times – no chance to witness to others about Christ – you’re alone with nothing to do.  How do you do nothing as a Christian?

These are the trying moments which defeat so many Christians.  You think Christianity will be a continuing series of spectacular events – a never ending brilliant fireworks display  – but most of the time there isn’t  even the smallest firecracker.  It’s just you, with the knowledge of Christ, knowing you have to carry on and no one else knows or cares but God and sometimes you even forget Him or wonder if He can be bothered with a self pitying idiot like yourself.

I know many people back home look at me as having a spectacular chance  to be a Christian – a missionary, a witness, a martyr with thousands of chances to sacrifice myself and to witness to Christ.  If only they knew how frequently dull my life here is – the loneliness, the daily grind, the boredom, waiting for a chance “to show” my Christianity – to witness to Christ.  The same dullness in their lives back home is here and everywhere.   The same is true of being a Christian anytime and any where.

A priest really does have a very special witness – he brings Christ sacramentally present to the people.  Even a bad priest does this.  But if he is a good priest – a good Christian – what power he possesses to witness to Christ and to make Christ present in the lives of others. And though the priest’s witness is unique, the power behind it is found in the scriptures, in the epistles and gospels.  I’m sure it is the same power that every Christian has through Chrismation and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

October 31   “The rains have continued for several days and through the nights leaving everything in the house damp and outside everything is mud.  To add to the gloom the sun has disappeared far behind the heavily overcast skies and the rain.   (In the photo –  heavy rains caused people to take rufuge in the church buildings.  Note the motorcycles in the church – also brought into the church to protect them from the rain.  Other valuables including livestock also would be brought in for protection.  If the church had a steel rather than thatch roof, the din from the heavy downpours would be deafening.  And many roofs leaked so one could get wet even if under the shelter of the church roof).

Read Galatians 6:9-10 this morning:  ‘And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.’    Seemed very appropriate for our work here because we are so near giving up hope.     Also read Psalm 37 which too is very appropriate to our fears that the politics here are moving the bishop to be against us. 

Some of our villagers and other visitors are hinting that Bishop Gathuna has turned against us.  While some visitors were here some men from the village came and told us that we should not be speaking with these visitors.  They told the visitors that the bishop has ordered that everyone is to come to them and to get permission to talk with us.  One priest warned us today that our position in this village is dangerous because the bishop has turned against us and this village is loyal to him.  I actually feel physically threatened for the first time since coming to Kenya – but not by enemies of Christ, but by people within the church – they very people I came to serve!”