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Interview with Gerry Clonaris

Adult Education: Building on the Foundation of Faith
The Orthodox Institute 2015

Interview with Gerry Clonaris, core presenter

Mat. Valerie: What first sparked your interest--personal experience, a perceived need, or something else--in adult religious education?

Well you nailed it with the first two ... personal experience and perceived need. I have been a Sunday School teacher now for 38 years and in working with our students, I recognized that a great part of the religious educational issues with our young was the direct fault of the lack of religious education of the parents. There was no follow up from the parents with their children on the discussions we had in class. This is a clear indication of the parents lack of adult religious education.(A.R.E.) This is further emphasized when our parents elect to have their children participate in athletic events whose schedules conflict with church attendance. Again, a clear evidence of the parents' lack of religious education.

Mat. Valerie: Besides other positions, you hold the chairmanship of the Adult Religious Education [A.R.E.] Committee at your parish, Saint Nektarios Orthodox Church. What do you see as the specific character of adult religious education?

It depends on what perspective ... (a) that of how it should be or (b) how it is perceived. For me the character of A.R.E. is the further nourishing of our spiritual needs, something as functionally important as drinking water. For most adults it is something that needs to be reserved for catechism classes for the young, a total misunderstanding of the Great Commission from Christ ..."Go and make disciples of all nations". Most parents often miss the fact that when they spend the time on religious education with their children, they are accomplishing this commandment that Christ left with us. And (here comes the important part) in order to teach their children, parents need to be educated in religious education themselves.

Mat. Valerie: You have succeeded in integrating an adult education catechetical program into your parish. What are some ways you see adult education enriching parish life?

The main thing is what I covered above and how it affects the spiritual development of their children. But it also impacts the community life by getting parishioners focusing on the daily spiritual program of the church. A.R.E. brings the parishioner back to the church in between Sunday attendance. That's why we always schedule one A.R.E program (our biggest program) for mid week. It has the effect of a pep rally. We found doing special A.R.E programs right before major feast days always increases attendance at the following liturgical service.

Mat. Valerie: In your professional business career you have offered workshops on "Organization Training." Are there correlations between that kind of training/education and your work in religious education?

Sure. The principles of organization are the same regardless of endeavor. But it is particularly important and necessary for a strong A.R.E. program. I do a workshop that I've entitled The Divine Organizer. In this workshop every principle that I use to develop a strong organized program comes from the teachings of Christ who is the Master Organizer. Just think of the ways He taught, the principles of organization He used to establish a program for the ages. Every one of the disciples were selected for a specific role. The principles I've used to build my importing company have all come from the Holy Scriptures. There is no correlation between business organization/training and religious education. All aspects of any type of organization/training are founded in the scriptures. Period.

Mat. Valerie: Holy Cross Seminary invited you to lead on workshop on Effective Parish Adult Education for the seminarians. What points did you specially want to stress for these young people who would be starting out in parish work?

What I stressed with the seminarians is that there is no one answer to the proper religious ed program, regardless what it is. They key to the success of any of these programs is the proper organization coupled with a constant marketing effort. Those are the seeds that insure the success of any A.R.E. effort.

Mat. Valerie: Both you and another keynote speaker for the Institute, Fr. Josiah Trenham, cite Matthew 28:19--"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" in describing the courses you will offer. What meaning does this passage have for the work you do?

Well, you can see how strongly I feel about this commandment as I have discussed this in the second question you asked. I find that we fail to read these commandments carefully. For example ... we are commanded in the 10 Commandments to honor the Sabbath and keep it Holy. And most of us do exactly that by attending liturgy and refraining from doing any business activities. But this commandment says much more. Although it doesn't spell it out, it does imply very strongly that we should be working faithfully and with vigor the rest of the week. So when we read "Go and make disciples of all nations" there is an implication that we must be prepared to do this and that preparation is called in today's terms ...A.R.E. The scriptures teach us always to prepare for everything we do spiritually whether it is in prayer, fasting, doing the sign of the cross. Every activity needs the proper preparation and making disciples of all nations is no exception. A.R.E. is something we need to be doing for ourselves daily. This is the major blessing I have been given as the more I teach, the more I need to prepare ... and the more I grow spiritually.