Mission Society Hosts Evangelism Presentation

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By Seminarian Christopher Moore

What is evangelism in the Orthodox Church? What are we trying to accomplish with our evangelistic efforts, and is this even a valid endeavor? On April 8, 2016, the St. Innocent Mission Society at St. Vladimir's Seminary sponsored a presentation by alumnus Archpriest Eric Tosi (SVOTS '96), secretary of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Father Eric, who recently completed his D.Min. thesis, "Koinonic Evangelism," tackled these questions and more. At the heart of his thesis is a case study of three carefully selected OCA parishes of varying ages, regions, and sizes, all considered healthy and growing churches. Father Eric is convinced that all Orthodox evangelism belongs in the context of the Church, within local worshipping communities. 

In the course of his D.Min. studies, Fr. Eric conducted surveys and interviews with priests, lay leaders, and parishioners. His queries included: "Is evangelism ever discussed at any level in your parish?" "How did you come to be a member of this particular parish?" "What drew you to the Orthodox Church?" "Why do you think Orthodox people leave the Church?" 

Fr. Eric TosiFr. Eric TosiFather Eric elaborated on the study's conclusions:

-In thriving parishes, evangelism is considered a way of life—something that crops up in casual conversations among parishioners, for instance—rather than a "program" directed by the priest. At the same time, most people surveyed said that they don't feel they know how to "do evangelism."
-In thriving parishes, people like to be together. Fellowship Hour isn't just a time for coffee and a few snacks before people get on with the day, but a time for a full meal together, with extended time among friends.
-Parishioners love their parishes! Even when people haven't been members for a long time, they know the parish's history.
-On reflecting upon their conversion, most converts mentioned finding the "true church" or discovering a certain fullness of Christian faith and practice in Orthodoxy. They were drawn by the witness of a friend, the beauty of the liturgy, and quality written material.

Father Eric articulated five main reasons why parishioners chose to stay with their particular local community:

-Quality of clergy leadership
-Fiscal openness and awareness (people don't argue about money, and they set aside at least 10% of their budget to give to ministries)  
-Quality of worship
-Ministry is done in community, and
-Parishioners value their relationships with one another.

Following the presentation, other points were raised in discussion:

-The Orthodox Church has experienced some success when witnessing to middle class, college-educated people, but has much work to do in witnessing to Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Many parishes are currently situated in neighborhoods with significant Hispanic populations, and in such cases, it is only natural to introduce Spanish into the services.
-The parishes surveyed have much exposure to, and interaction with, monastic communities.
-We need to consider how to minister to all generations. Priests in thriving parishes are involved in the lives of the children of their parishes when they go off to school.

For seminarians anticipating future ministry, Fr. Eric's presentation offered a fascinating glimpse at the work of evangelism from the perspective of both parish priests and lay leaders. A valuable aspect of Fr. Eric's research and presentation was that he offered empirical data, not just theories about what makes for thriving parishes. There was much to learn from his study's data and conclusions; I look forward to more such encounters with experienced, knowledgeable priests.

Christopher Moore heads up the St. Innocent Missions Society on campus. A first-year Master of Divinity student from St. John the Forerunner Orthodox Church in Indianapolis, IN, Chris and his wife Jennifer have been missionaries with OCMC since 2012. They have been blessed with two young boys, Andrew, who is 2 years old, and Gideon, born in December 2015.  After graduation the Moores plan to return to full-time missionary service. Read his story!