At present, I am in Saint Louis, where I am attending the 19th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America. Monday morning’s plenary session of the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America’s 92nd annual national Convention is about to begin. As its members seek to find answers as to how they can grow in their ministry to the Orthodox Church in America, I see that the FOCA and our parishes have one thing in common: how to grow our parishes and ministries in light of how busy our families are today. This is something I have struggled with ever since I became a priest in 1994, and with which I continue to struggle today.
When it comes to forming the life of Christ in the family icon of a little church, can we “have our cake and eat it too?” Is the business of family life just a fact that needs to be accepted with the Church working around that? These are among the many questions that I haven’t answered. I will endeavor to do so in the next four weeks.
The business of family life is a symptom of a stewardship issue, not of money, but of time. Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, “Where your heart is, there is your treasure.” When people say they can’t give to the Church or participate in her life, one will often find one’s time is devoted to things such as sports, learning musical instruments, recreational/entertainment activities, and attendance at various sporting events. So, if one’s time is given to these things, the money needed to support these activities follows. So instead of the Church receiving the first check one writes for the month, it may be the last (if there is anything left over).
So to form the life of Christ in families, how do we make room for Him?
“A farmer went out to sow his seed…. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants…. This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God…. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature [Luke 8: 5, 7, 11, 14].
Some of the things we have going on in our lives that make us so busy are the thorns, which choke out and hinder the growth of the healthy, life-giving seed in us. Parents along with their children need to work with their parish priests to discern what those thorny things are. Then by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, they are to unloosen the chokehold they have in their lives. I will offer additional specific insights relative to family life in the next few weeks as to how to address this.
The Lord’s blessing be upon you,
+Paul of Chicago
Greetings Your Grace,
As a mother of two active children, it is indeed a balancing act to be a good steward of our time. I’m always trying to master our schedule, which is tough because it changes from season to season. We certainly don’t want to exhaust our children with too much church or ignore the church with too many activities. We’re very fortunate to have a parish priest that sets out general recommendations for parents that are quite reasonable. That’s key.
There are so many ways (small ways) to participate in the church life that can accommodate one’s current life stage. It can be as simple as watering the plants in the church with one’s children. The parent of small children will obviously have less time to give than the person with older self-sufficient children.
However, when we speak of stewardship, I think we need to involve children more in that process. We need to teach them how to become good stewards of Christ through Outreach & Inreach programs on the parish level, so when they become parents, they’ll know how to train their children.
A possible path for this is stronger parent participation in the parish Youth Group. It doesn’t necessarily mean leading, but it can as simple as offering encouragement to the youth to participate. Sometimes children need a little nudging about attending. We are the parents, after all. It could be carpooling to outings or meetings, chaperoning… It is a small way to be a good steward of one’s time that will have a lasting impact.
One last comment/suggestion: It would be nice to have an forum through the OCA (other than facebook – especially for us non-facebook folk) for parents and especially experienced grandparents to exchange suggestions on balancing family life and church.
I look forward to hearing your insights on this subject, Your Grace.
I think for me when it comes to balance, can families say “no” to some activities when they conflict with church? For a child to miss a practice or a game every now and then, what consequence do they face from a school coach or teacher if they do? I hear of stories that if you don’t come to practice you don’t play. Is that true in your experience?
As to an OCA forum for exchanging ideas, maybe you can contact the Dept. of Christian Education and to inquire if they can offer something on this. This Family Page is still in the process of developing so it is hard to know what will flesh out. Taking it one step at at time. We are planning on another Live Stream on August 21st. The theme being, “Who Teaches the Children?” Announcements will be posted soon. Take care, and God bless you, +Paul
Greetings Your Grace,
Pardon my delay. I normally read your blog in my email and only come to the website when I pose a question or comment, but didn’t receive an updated response from you in my email inbox (or somehow overlooked it?).
To answer one of your questions, it doesn’t usually pose a problem. I’ve heard of competitive sports leagues being more restrictive. We tried out spring soccer once in a recreational league, but it interfered with Pre-Sanctified Liturgy during Lent (my children’s favorite service – Hey, I’ll take it!!), so we quickly learned that we’d only play in the fall. Last year we had to turn down half of a tournament that required both Saturday & Sunday morning, so we ended up only playing that Saturday. I hear what you’re asking. It’s a rare occurrence to have to put our foot down from an activity to go to church. As a family, we pick and choose activities that are flexible with our church calendar, so we don’t have to worry about making tough decisions. (Including picking and choosing dates for volunteer work usually required of parents through these organizations that offer activities.)
By the way, thank you for the suggestion about checking into the Dept. of Christian Ed. I’ll look into it.