This speech was given at St. Nicholas Ranch and Retreat Center.

“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.” — I Corinthians 3:9

Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:

Welcome to our annual Clergy Laity Assembly. Thank you for taking a few days out of your busy schedules to travel to our beloved St. Nicholas Ranch for this important gathering. Your presence for this important gathering of our Metropolis is a great blessing. Let me begin by asking everyone to thank those who organized the Assembly for us, especially Fanis Economidis, the Metropolis Staff, the Ranch Staff and our guest presenters who have all sacrificed of their time for the planning and implementation of this Assembly.

The annual assembly sometimes feels like a great burden. There is scarcely enough time from assembly to assembly to accomplish our goals. But, in the five years that have transpired since beginning my ministry as your Metropolitan, I have come to realize that this is the one unique - guaranteed in the schedule - moment when all of us gather to share fellowship as a Metropolis, the one moment when we pray as a Metropolis family, the one time when we support one another in our diakonia to the world, and the one time when we bear witness of our unity as a Metropolis. So, despite the difficulties of travel and the impact that this Assembly poses to our schedules and lives, this annual Assembly is essential to our life as the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco.

But that doesn’t mean the Assembly needs to be routine. We can always find better ways to organize. We can also change the format from year to year, so that we can use this opportunity to its fullest advantage as well as deal with the required elements of the Assembly. To that end, I am glad that we have included workshops in this year’s program and happy that two Directors from the National Ministries of our Archdiocese - Fr. James Kordaris from Stewardship and Dr. Anton Vrame from Religious Education - are able to be with us. Also, Mr. George Vourvoulios and Mr. George Matthews, the co-chairs of the Finance Committee of our Archdiocese Council are here to discuss the Total Commitment Program, which finances the work of our Metropolis and our Archdiocese. Thank you George and George for being here.

This assembly comes just a few weeks before the fifth anniversary of my election as your Metropolitan. These five years have gone quickly. At the beginning of my ministry we were still in mourning at the unexpected loss of our beloved Metropolitan Anthony. I began this ministry with only partial knowledge of this Metropolis. While I knew virtually all of the clergy, I knew little of the life of the Metropolis itself - the programs, rhythm, and priorities. Over these past five years I have traveled extensively, more than I could have imagined, and shared in the life of your communities. Through these many visits, meetings, meals and conversations, I have worked to come to know you, the faithful men, women, and young people who comprise our Metropolis.

A great deal has happened in the five years that I have been privileged to oversee this vast Metropolis. You have honored me by allowing me in these five years to consecrate at least three houses of worship, to dedicate and open new facilities in at least half a dozen parishes, and to break ground on at least five new constructions projects. I have been privileged to ordain men from our Metropolis to serve the Church as priests and deacons. Today, we have 20 students from our Metropolis enrolled in our seminary this semester and 11 students either participating in or about to begin the diaconate program. We have also seen retirements and deaths of beloved clergy. Very sadly we have seen clergy leave the priesthood altogether.

Just a year or so ago, we moved the offices of the Metropolis from their cramped basement location in the Metropolis house to a much more effective suite at the Cathedral. We have made great strides in our relationships to fellow Orthodox communities in the west, our Oriental Orthodox brothers and sisters, and ecumenically with other Christians. We have begun our Family Wellness Ministry, about which I will say more later in my address. Our Metropolis has an extremely busy schedule: a calendar filled with retreats and educational programs for young and old; summer camp here at the Ranch; the Folk Dance and Choral Festival that is now 35 years old and still growing. Our Philoptochos works tirelessly throughout the Metropolis operating Kids ‘n’ Cancer, raising money for our Seminarian Endowment Fund, hosting the annual Women’s Health and Wellness Symposium.

Most of these events are your initiatives and your programs. These accomplishments are yours because you made the plans, organized the people, raised the funds, and built the buildings so that your parishes may provide a full liturgical life, minister to the faithful, serve the community, and bear witness to the universal message of the Orthodox Faith and our Hellenic heritage. Because of this we began the Recognition program last fall, to honor those who labor so faithfully for God’s Holy Church throughout our Metropolis.

Yet with all this, there is still much to do. Building the buildings is not enough. We must fill them with life and activity. We still do not have enough clergy to serve all the people who attend the parishes of our Metropolis, let alone reach out to those who have drifted away from them. While twenty seminarians is a wonderful accomplishment, it won’t fill the growing shortage being caused by the retirements and deaths among the ranks of our clergy. Neither does it increase the number of clergy in our Metropolis enough to meet the needs of our faithful. Parishes that should have two or three clergy still have just one priest. If we assume, just for a moment that our Metropolis has 70,000 members presently we have a ratio of one priest for about 1000 people. If we would like that ratio to be one priest for every 500 people, we would have to double the number of priests, right now.

Where will those clergy come from? It won’t be from listless parishes, or from parishes where young people are drifting away, or from parishes without dynamic programming. It won’t be from the role models of clergy who are too exhausted to put in that extra time for the youth group because they spent the whole day attending to a family at a funeral. They must come from parishes that are filled with the Spirit of God and alive in Christ.

I complete this fifth year of ministry as your Metropolitan as we close a decade that many people will remember quite negatively, caused by the traumas of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the financial meltdown and bust of 2008 and 2009 and other events. It was also a decade in which our lives changed quite dramatically as we experienced the tremendous developments in technology. Today, email is passé as social networking has replaced it. Cell phones are ubiquitous, even as they quickly become handheld computers with continual access to the internet. As I stated over the summer, communication has become instantaneous. Space and time have been compressed to the point that this presentation today could be posted on the internet for the whole world to see and to comment upon, with little I could do to either prevent it or correct even the slightest of errors.

Because of these technological changes, the capabilities of the individual have been advanced in ways we could not have even dreamed of a short while ago. A single individual can have access to, produce, and disseminate information that can, literally, influence countless others throughout the world. But what has happened to the recipient of this information? Has anyone thought about the effects this is having on him or her, that is - us? Each of us now must wade through all of this and must learn to separate wheat from chaff, usually with few or even no guides. We now “google” for information, rather than rely upon trusted authorities. For example, if you were to google “Orthodox Church,” you would be told that there are 4,210,000 possible web pages to visit. Just for our Metropolis, Google will tell you that there are 381,000 possible web pages to visit. And I have no doubt that the number has grown since I did my research.

As I think about this, I am both amazed and afraid. Amazed at the possibilities, but also afraid that in the name of progress we have lost something essential to our lives. In the paradox of our hyper-connection, we have created an era of hyper-individualism, literally as our ancient Greek forebears thought about it, creating a world of idiotes, the Greek root for idiots, meaning the loss of connection to the community. As you know, our ancient Greek ancestors gave high esteem to the role of the citizen, the polites. The citizen was connected to the community, but more importantly was an essential element to the assembly that governed the city. That assembly was called the ekklesia. Christians borrowed this thinking for their self-understanding of what it meant to be a member of the body of Christ. Belonging to the body, living in fellowship with the community of believers was and still is essential.

This is, where I believe the Orthodox Tradition and Way of Life poses a strong counter-cultural message to our present era. We preach community in an age of individualism. This message, deeply rooted in the Gospels and writings of St. Paul, needs no repeating, for I know that you are quite aware of it. Living as the body of Christ to which all are welcome, all may find refuge and nurture, all may experience fellowship with the Most High God through our community is our greatest witness to the world around us. The Church is a most ancient form of social networking, but it is not based on narrow self-interest, like a fan club on facebook, but it is rooted in the all-embracing faith in Jesus Christ, which knows no boundaries, where there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

For this reason, as we look ahead to the next five years in our Metropolis, I propose that we focus on building up our communities with a specific theme in each year. Rather than wait from year to year to see what they are, let me place the five years before you now. In the first year, we shall devote our energies to developing our ministries to the Family. In year two, our theme will be worship. In year three, it shall be Fellowship. In year four, service, and in year five, witness. Of course, each of these themes are interrelated and interconnected. We should be focusing on all of them, all the time in our parishes and their ministries. But we can only juggle so many priorities, so we will focus on just one at a time, even, as we always do, struggle to improve them all simultaneously. I am very grateful for the input of a group of clergy in the Metropolis who have helped me put this five year plan of priorities together, who have helped me focus my energies on this Strategic Mission for the Metropolis.

We have selected these five themes because they form the core of the life of the Church. Ministering to families and strengthening our community fellowship should need no explanation beyond saying that people comprise the Church and without people nothing else can happen. Our parish life begins with the gathering of the people, those who have been called out by God and have joined the Body of Christ. And as Fr. Alexander Schmemann pointed out many years ago, the first action of the Divine Liturgy is the gathering of the faithful, who have left their homes and reassembled as a community in the church (See The Eucharist). Our understanding of God is one of communion itself. As Metropolitan John of Pergamon says, “it is communion which makes beings “be”; nothing exists without it, not even God.” (Being as Communion, p. 17). It is a simple step forward to realize that our parishes cannot exist without being communities, that is, places of communion or fellowship for individuals and families. So in years one and three, our focus will be on expanding our fellowship, first by reaching out to families, then expanding it to others.

Without a strong liturgical life, our parishes would be little more than community centers, like we might find run by our local cities and towns: places for people to gather for a few hours in order to play bridge or learn a new recipe. The Orthodox Church is a worshipping Church; our liturgical and sacramental life is the key to our self-understanding. And so in year two we shall focus on strengthening our worship, both in practice but also in our knowledge of it.

In year four, when we focus on Service and Philanthropy, the call shall be for the men, women, and children of our parishes to roll up their sleeves and assist the poor in our local communities. Just yesterday, we heard the words of the Lord in the Parable of the Last Judgment, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40). If we claim to be servants of Christ, then we must serve those who Christ Himself identifies with. We have been richly blessed as a community; we cannot become like the Rich Man in the parable and not even notice the many Lazarus’ who lie at the gates of our homes and our churches (cf. Luke 16:20).

In year five, when we focus on Witness, we shall consider how we communicate the message of the Gospel and the Orthodox Faith and Way of Life to the wider world. Many of us like to say that the Orthodox Church is a well-kept secret and so after a few years of focus on getting our houses in order, my hope is that we will be ready “to bear witness of the Light, that all through Him might believe.” (John 1:7).

These five themes intend to build upon the work from the 2008 Archdiocese Clergy-Laity Congress theme, “Gather My People to My Home.” As His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios stated in Washington DC, “We cannot be a self-centered, self-enclosed Greek Orthodox ecclesiastical body, limited to itself and directing its energy within itself. We cannot be a Ghetto Church. God calls us to gather His people. In order to gather God’s people we have to go out, to look for them, to search places and find them and lead them to God’s home.”

The first aim of our search in the coming year is to reach out to the many families that have drifted away from the Church. We all know who they are, the ones who are not connected to the parishes. They attend services from time to time, especially for family occasions. They will show up at the Festival or a large parish event. They may be the members of interfaith marriages, who attend other religious communities or have stopped attending any religious community at all. Our task is to find them and personally contact them, not only with letters or emails, but also with phone calls, invitations, and for face-to-face meetings. This task is not only the priest’s, but must involve everyone in the community.

In addition, we must especially reach out to families in crisis or having difficulties. There was a time when we would quickly gather around a family in crisis, bringing food and comfort, assisting with childcare or other chores. Now strangely, we believe that “people need their space” and so we leave them on their own when what they need is the support of a loving community of faith. Of course, we have to respect people’s wishes for privacy, but we cannot permit that to be an excuse for not showing that we care. No family in our Metropolis should be able to say, “Where was my Church in my time of need?”

For this reason, we created the Family Wellness Ministry that since its inception has led retreats for clergy couples, a Mental Health Advocacy Program in Oakland, and programs in Shoreline, Washington. There is much more to do. I hope that each parish in the Metropolis will begin to organize its resources locally with the guidance of the Wellness Ministry to begin grief and bereavement programs, seminars dealing with family finances, retreats for couples to enrich their marriages, or parenting support groups. Let’s not forget that we are an aging population and many adults are becoming parents to their parents.

I am raising these as suggestions for you to consider implementing in the coming year because we need to rethink many of our historical ways of ministering to our faithful. A new era requires new thinking. For example, for generations we have successfully ministered to young people through GOYA, athletics, Folk Dance Festivals, Summer Camp programs and the like, as well as through Religious Education and Greek Education programs. Today we see the growing success of OCF, Real Break, and other programs. But where and how do our people find meaningful involvement - for worship, for service, for learning - in our parishes once they have moved beyond FDF or after years of camp attendance? Our family ministries must become a vehicle not for merely reaching the children in families, but for the adults in that family to learn their faith and heritage more deeply, to reflect on its meaning in their lives, and ultimately to put it into practice at home, at work, at church, and in the society at large.

To begin to do this, each parish must create a committee in the coming months that will have the obligation of developing a parish plan for reaching out to families. First, they must use the parish directory to identify all the families in the parish and learn the demographics - from ages to neighborhood locations - of the community. Second, they must develop lists of families in the community who have lost their connection to the parish, but have not moved away to another location or parish. Third, with this data in hand, they should begin to develop a list of ministries that can meet the needs of their particular community. For example, if there are many families with young children, but not many with teenagers, then focus on programs that minister to those families - parents and children. To accomplish this, you will have to coordinate with the existing programs, like Sunday school, Greek school, or the Dance groups so as not to create just another layer of ministries but to transform existing programs for your target groups. You should also consider developing programs or groups for dealing with family emergencies and crises, so that when the news breaks, the parish is ready to help.

Once they are developed, the new programs must be communicated to the parishioners and those outside of the parish, with phone calls, hand written notes, regular mailings, emails, appropriate advertisements, tweets on twitter, invites on facebook, and updates on the parish website, by whatever means you are capable of reaching people. For those who think I may be overstating this, think about the lengths you will go to for your festival or some other fundraiser. We would have no compulsion about doing this to raise money for a new building, to sell raffle tickets, or for a special charity or cause. That same effort of communication must now be devoted to the ministries of your parish.

Brothers and sisters, there is much work to do in the coming days, months, and years. The Lord invites us as a Church and as a Metropolis to move forward, and to put away any sense that we have already accomplished all that we need to do. Our times require that we listen to the commands of the Lord to meet the needs of our families and our communities at large. It is our task to add new dynamism to our Metropolis and strengthen its life for them. We must aspire to reach higher than we have before so that it would please the Lord to say to us, “I know your works” (Revelation 3:8).