Following the conclusion of the AAC, the Metropolitan Council had a luncheon meeting with the Synod of Bishops. My first impressions of the Metropolitan Council and the new OCA Metropolitan were quite positive. I served a couple of different times on metropolitan council over the past 30 years, during the scandalous years of the OCA under Metropolitan Theodosius (but never under Metropolitan Herman) and so my impressions are to a great extent “in contrast to” those previous times of serving on the MC.
Our first meeting was a luncheon meeting with bishops and council members present, which in itself was a positive thing as my past experience was that the Synod and the MC almost never met together. The two groups were treated by the former chancellor like two teens sitting together in a car each talking on a cell phone to the same third party but never directly communicating with each other. Metropolitan Jonah made it very clear by his behavior and his comments that we are all on the same side and same page, working for the same goals. What came to my mind during the meeting and especially as I listened to Metropolitan Jonah were the words of St. Paul: “There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Metropolitan Jonah said all the right things that bridges must be built and maintained to all segments of the Body OCA.
What especially was notable to me was how accessible Metropolitan Jonah was and how accessible he endeavored to make himself be. Of course he was on the job less than 24 hours, and so not yet in the position of knowing things he could not share or of being jaded by those things. The genuineness of his spirit and his intellect were noticeable and a great positive for the meeting.
I do want to make a comment for my fellow Midwest Diocesan priests and lay delegates who made such a strong statement of unity regarding the lowering of the central church administration assessment. As you know the majority mood at the AAC turned dramatically with the election of Metropolitan Jonah, and the collective will was not to reduce the assessment, despite the unity of the Midwest delegation. I few priests made comments to me about whether our concerns were ever going to be raised at the AAC. I can tell you that I did express our concerns at the Metropolitan Council meeting with Metropolitan Jonah toward the end of the meeting. And though, my comments could not change the assessment amount, I can say that your voice was heard – not just spoken but heard. I honestly believe Metropolitan Jonah, the current chancery staff and the members of the MC, did listen to what I said. Metropolitan Jonah I believe made it clear in his various comments and speeches that he was not interested in expanding church administration and that he did understand the essential work of the church being done at the parish and diocesan levels – his expressed interest was in helping the parishes and dioceses do the ministry of the Church. All of the chancery staff made it clear that they are aware of the current U.S. economic crisis and the concerns of the parishes about the past spending habits of “Syosset.” I think it is fair to say that a new attitude exists in the Metropolitan, in the chancery staff, in the MC – vastly different from the secretive and deceptive days of the scandal. My read of the meeting was that openness was the order of the day, disagreements are not being avoided, and contrary opinions can freely be expressed. It may not help any parish which is struggling to come up with the money to pay the assessment, but I can say in my preliminary view of the MC that things have changed dramatically at the MC. In the past I did not think it was worth sending in the assessment no matter what level it was at. My initial reaction to this meeting was change has occurred, there is hope for the present and the future, and there exists a different attitude about the monies that are being sent to Syosset. Fr. Garklavs expressed that well when he commented that the real “central church administration” is not Syosset but the membership gathered at the All American Council. There certainly was expressed the idea that the monies collected by the central church are to be used for the good of the church not for the good of the central administration. Certainly, his Beatitude Jonah, made it clear that the strategic planning which the SIC, the Synod, and the MC have proposed, is the key to the systemic change which the OCA needs and is now undergoing. The attitude was not how to get more money into the central church but how to structure the church so that it best serves the mission and ministry of the dioceses and the parishes.