Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lay Spiritual Formation: An Ecumenical Opportunity

Let me bring now to a conclusion my consideration of lay spiritual formation by looking at something my parish is planning.

On November 21-22, 2008 my parish, Holy Assumption Orthodox Church (OCA) in Canton OH, is hosting a Roman Catholic team who will lead a workshop meant to help people discern what their own unique gifts are given to them at Baptism. The "Called & Gifted Workshop" is a project of the Catherine of Siena Institute is "a program of the Western Dominican Province dedicated to equipping parishes for the formation of lay Catholics for their mission in the world." To do this, in their own words, they "provide innovative programs, resources, and leadership training that are faithful to Church teaching and will enable your parish to become a dynamic center of lay formation and mission." The workshop will be lead by the co-directors of the Institute, Fr Michael Fones, O.P. and Sherry Anne Weddell.

One of the reasons that I am excited about the "Called & Gifted" workshop is that they present an understanding of the Christian life grounded in an appreciation for the sacrament of baptism. Again, from the Catherine of Siena web site: "Every lay man and woman has been called by Christ (in his or her baptism) to a unique mission, and every lay man and woman has been gifted by the Holy Spirit in order to be able to answer that call."

To be very direct about it, often in the Orthodox Church we see the Christian life in terms of monasticism rather than baptism. We too easily forget that monastic life is the fruit of a baptism and, as such, does not, and cannot, exhaust what God does in baptism. Compare this monasticization of the Christian life to the baptismal vision of the Christian life that inspires the "Called & Gifted" workshop: "The Church calls these gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christians are given for the sake of others 'charisms.'" They continue by asserting that "Discerning our charisms is an important first step to discerning God's call. These gifts of the Holy Spirit are both clues as to the nature of the mission for which God is preparing us and tools with which to successfully carry out our mission."

The teaching of the Catholic Church "that all of the baptized are called by Christ to proclaim his Gospel in the world" is certainly one that any Orthodox Christian could affirm. But, as in the Catholic Church, the pastoral implications of our baptismal call are often neglected. Rarely "do parishes provide a formation that prepares Catholics for so great a mission." Beside my personal respect for both Fr Mike and Sherry, I hoping that they will be able to do for Orthodox Christians, what they have done so successfully for Catholics. What is this you ask? Very simply that help people "bridge the gap between the Church's vision for the laity and their participation in the Church's essential mission of evangelization," on the one hand "and the typical reality within the parish where there is little awareness of the mission of the Church, lay responsibility for the proclamation of the Gospel, and the necessity of lay formation for effective participation in evangelization" on the other.

It is ironic that while the Orthodox Church has received from other Christian traditions, tens of thousands of adults into her midst, we seem (as I have pointed out in other posts) to have failed to provide these new Orthodox Christians with sound a spiritual formation that seeks to help them discern what is their own unique vocation. And, I hasten to add, we have failed to do this for new Orthodox Christians because we fail to do this for those baptized into the Church as infants.

The question that might be asked at this point why am I seeking assistance from Roman Catholics? Why not invite Orthodox Christian speakers? Let me answer the last question first.

While there are many Orthodox Christians who could be invited to speak, I am not aware of any who are skilled in lay spiritual formation. As I said, often if we speak of the spirituality of the laity at all, we do so from an at least implicit monastic model. This is not to reject monasticism far from it. But (as I said above) monasticism is a mode, or way, of living out our baptism, but it does not exhaust the gift of baptism.

More than that though (and this gets at to why I am asking a Roman Catholic team to speak), pastorally the Orthodox Church has largely neglected the formation of the laity. More often than not, we imagine that coming to Liturgy, going to confession, keeping the fasts and a rule of prayer is sufficient. But as the results of Pew Charitable Trust survey suggest, this is simply not working. One third of those baptized as infants simply leave the Church; two thirds of those who identify themselves as Orthodox Christians are not in Church on any given Sunday; over half of those who join the Church as adults, will eventually leave. Given the statistics it is hard for me to avoid saying flatly that we have simply failed.

My hope is that Fr Mike and Sherry, speaking from their own experience as Catholics, will offer to us as Orthodox Christians a deeper insight into what it is we have all received in baptism.

If you are interested in participating in the Called & Gifted Workshop, please either email me or call the parish at 330.455.9146. Again, the workshop is being hosted at Holy Assumption Orthodox Church (OCA), Canton OH, November 21,2008 from 7- 9 pm and Saturday, November 22, 2008 from 9- 4 pm. The charge for the workshop is $20.00. Breakfast and lunch will be included on Saturday. Personal discerning sessions will be available after the seminar ends for an additional fee of $25.00.

Please register soon. Because of space constraints, we are limited to only 100 participants. As of this point, 20 of those spaces have been taken. I you are interested in participating, register soon. Once spaces our gone, we will add your name to a waiting list. If space becomes available we will inform you. If space does not become available we will of course return your registration fee to you.

I look forward to meeting you at the seminar.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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