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Lent Is a Time For Parish Renewal and Growth

Photo by Christopher Humphrey PhotographyPhoto by Christopher Humphrey PhotographyLent is not only a time for personal renewal; it is a time for parish renewal as well. The Church is reborn every time someone enters the community. This is true even when the new member comes from another Orthodox parish, or a Christian communion outside the Orthodox Church, or is baptized as an infant or adult. The community is changed to make room for the new member who will build relationships, assume responsibilities, and even need to find a place to stand and sit in the worship.

To be deliberate about our parish renewal through this transition, the Church has appointed this Lenten time of fasting and intense prayers. We rediscover our roots with our new members as we read during the weeks of Lent from the Old Testament. We rediscover our innocence as the catechumens ask questions and express delight at the Orthodox perspectives. We regain our fervor as see the community grow and see how God is active in the lives of the catechumens and in our own.

We can not take this process for granted. Not every Lent sees catechumens in every parish. Not every parishioner is even aware that the Church is growing and that God is calling people to Himself. Perhaps at some places and at some times, communities don’t grow simply because the community is on “vacation” or asleep when people come knocking on our doors, or even when they sit in our pews. This is a great tragedy and we will be held accountable for this on Judgment Day. We really need to be deliberate about being ready to witness and care for those whom God is calling. Some prospective members are walking into our Churches unnoticed; others are working and playing with us all day long, waiting for our invitation to share in the life God has prepared for all. If this is too abstract, let me be more concrete:

  1. We should expect that people around us will be seeking God and that God will be calling them to be in the Orthodox Church. It is for this reason that Christ established His Church in the beginning, and the Orthodox Church is the Church that He established. It is that Church, without addition or subtraction. It is the contiguous community of the Apostles. It is continuous in time and space through the laying on of hands and the maintenance of the same apostolic message.
  2. We need to be friendly and willing to share in the faith to which God calls all of us, in ways that are dignified, organized and appropriate. We are not ethnic ghettos with inferior customs; we are the Church of Jesus Christ.
  3. We should pray for the building up of the Church and for those who are entering into the community. Prayer not only calls upon God to act; it changes us inside, allowing us to cooperate with God and hear His voice.
  4. We must commit ourselves to accepting that the Church is God’s, and all whom God calls are welcome. This may require us to rethink what the Church is.
  5. We need to do the work of hospitality that we know so well, and it helps when we understand that even our hospitality is a gift to us from God. People who are weary from their search in this storm-tossed world need our mercy and efforts.
  6. We ought to be grateful to God for all He has done for us, and be willing to share the abundance of those gifts with those who are coming to the Church.
  7. We must build relationships with those who enter the Church. Many are leaving communities that met their social needs. They sometimes are cut off from those former folks in a way not dissimilar to those who move into the community without any family or friends. While organized Church activities are a place to meet, new members need personal relationships with older and more experienced members to mentor and love them.

Lent is a gift of the Church to us for renewal. We can’t reduce it to fasting and personal benefits. Lent is an opportunity to build the Church up, and a stronger parish will result in stronger parishioners and stronger families.

Bishop John