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Annual Orthodox Institute for Continuing Education Hosts 14th Annual Conference

Participants in the course, "Basic Principles of Adult Education"Participants in the course, "Basic Principles of Adult Education"The 2015 Orthodox Institute for Continuing Education in the Faith hosted its 14th Annual Conference from November 5–8 at Antiochian Village. This year’s theme, “Adult Education: Building on the Foundation of Faith” attracted more than ninety participants - both clergy and laity. Participants explored the necessary and sometimes challenging need for adult education in the parish.

Kevin Allen, Christian education and popular Ancient Faith Radio host, opened the Institute with the Keynote Address: “Adult Education is Crucial to the Parish.” He convincingly made his point with statistics, quotations and personal experience. “Why does the Orthodox Church need continuing adult education ministries across our pan-Orthodox landscape?” he began.

The first reason, he explained, was expressed in the early 1960s by the former dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary, Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, and continues to be noted today by the monk Maximos Constas of Holy Cross Theological Seminary. They have cautioned that the Orthodox Church’s most corrosive, pervasive, and destructive influence is secularism, the formal definition of which is “indifference to, rejection, or exclusion of religion and religious considerations in our daily lives.”

Gerry Clonaris teaches the class "Weaving Adult Education into the Parish"Gerry Clonaris teaches the class "Weaving Adult Education into the Parish"Secondly, adult education ministry is critical so that Orthodox Christians don't remain ignorant of their faith tradition, doctrines, and the reasons for them. And thirdly, adult education is critical so that the faithful can learn to integrate the Faith into their lives so that they do not become merely nominal—meaning “in name only”—Orthodox Christians.

Kevin quoted statistics from the Pew Forum on Religion called the “U.S. Landscape of Religion.” The Orthodox responses on foundational questions were lower than any other Christian group, indicating further the need for adult education. One example: “Do you believe in a personal God?” Only 49% of Orthodox said they believe in a personal God; 60% was the national average.

One goal of the Institute was to provide attendees knowledge of how to make their parish educational effort focus first on the adults. In that regard, our core courses taught by Dr. Anton Vrame, Robert Snyder, Gerry Clonaris and Fr. Josiah Trenham, addressed the principles and need for adult education, how to make adult education a vibrant part of parish life and how to successfully attract and keep seekers to the Faith.

Browsing the book display at the InstituteBrowsing the book display at the InstituteThe second goal was to give participants materials to use for adult education programs. Our presenters who have authored books useful for adult education were asked to write corresponding study guides, which are now available. Father Stephen Freeman guided participants through his Everywhere Present: Christianity and the One‐Storey Universe text; Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick discussed both of his recent writings Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy and An Introduction to God as study tools for adults. Father John Oliver is currently working on "The Irenaea Course," a practical and sustained reflection on the human experience of God as understood in the Orthodox Church. The material is presented in ten sessions as a transfiguring way of life. As participants learn about the Church, they learn about themselves; as they discover what the Church is, they discover what they can become.

Participants also appreciated a 15-book “Adult Education Popular Titles” display, with its corresponding annotated bibliography. They also had the opportunity to discuss options for continuing formal Orthodox education, including seminaries and colleges.

In addition to the theme courses, church school directors and teachers had the opportunity to follow their course track and receive a certificate of participation. As always, fellowship with each other at wine and cheese receptions and author book signings was a highlight. Saint Raphael, whose feast day fell during the conference, was honored with a gravesite service of supplication.

Future conferences will be hosted on the odd years at the national level, and on the even years at the regional level. Visit the website to find information on obtaining the CD of materials presented at the Institute. Also available are photos, and links to the recordings and transcripts from those recordings at that site. The audio is available on Ancient Faith Radio.

The Institute is cosponsored by the Greek Orthodox Department of Religious Education, the OCA Department of Christian Education, the OCEC and the Antiochian Department of Christian Education.

Kevin Allen ended his Keynote Address, and summed up the intended purpose of adult education with this quote from St. Nikolai Velimirović’s Missionary Letters: “The better one knows our Orthodox faith, the more he loves it.”