Diocese of Miami and the Southeast Parish Life Conference: North Carolina Style
by Fr. Nicholas Sorenson
From June 18 through June 22, 2008, the Diocese of Miami and the Southeast gathered together for its annual Parish Life Conference, presided over by The Right Rev. Bishop ANTOUN. The members of All Saints Church in Raleigh, NC hosted this year’s conference, which was held at The Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center, Research Triangle Park, NC. The members of All Saints did an excellent job of organizing and managing the conference this year. With 29 parishes sending 175 adult delegates, 37 clergy, 16 clergy wives, 72 teens, and 42 children making a total of 342 attendees, the conference was a resounding success. All of the meetings and activities were well attended as were the worship services. The first Divine Liturgy on Thursday of the conference saw over 220 people and the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Sunday (a very special celebration of the host parish’s feast day of All Saints) saw over 350 in attendance. For the youngest and smallest Diocese in our Archdiocese these figures are very encouraging and demonstrate that the Antiochian Orthodox Church is alive and well in the Southeast.
Our keynote speaker for the conference was Frederica Matthews-Green. Kh. Frederica presented her thoughts on the differences between men and women relative to the Orthodox Church and theology and offered very cogent arguments for the all-male priesthood in Orthodoxy and for the effective ministry of Orthodox women. Her after-dinner talk during the Grand Banquet was a humorous and insightful journey in praise of men. Her short presentation was a welcome departure from the male-bashing that is heard so often in our 21st Century culture. (To read the Raleigh News & Observer's interview with Matthews-Green, click here.)
The presence of our beloved Bishop ANTOUN made the entire Parish Life Conference complete. All of the organizations met and completed their work. A conference church school was offered for the children. The Antiochian Women welcomed and enjoyed their keynote speaker Kh. Barbara Sorensen, who spoke on the theme of Christian joy. The Women reported that they collected $31,417 for the Clergy Retirement Fund this year. Thursday and Friday evenings we all gathered together for delicious dinners, and on Saturday for a truly grand banquet. The teens were involved in two special activities during the conference: the first was a trip to a local amusement park and the second was a humanitarian project at a local kitchen for the homeless. On Friday night the Teen SOYO dance was well attended and a lot of fun. Five new members were inducted into the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch by Bishop ANTOUN during the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. The Bible Bowl was exciting, the oratorical contestants were inspiring, the creative arts were beautiful, much work was done, much good food was eaten, friends were reunited, many laughs were heard, and our Lord Jesus Christ was worshiped and glorified—the Sheraton Imperial will never be the same again.
Thanks go to all of the members of All Saints for their organizational skills and labor during the Conference. A special thank you to Shell Keim (conference chairman), Dawn Evancho (co-chairman) and their staff of amazing, dedicated, and hard working people—Nadine Ham (registration), Suzanne Azrak (meals), Gretchen Ormond (creative arts), Amber Gorski (ad book), Celine Sieck (teen activities), Mihai Ibanescu (treasurer) and Mary Kliewer (child care), as well as all of the faithful who assisted them. These workers and chairmen ran the conference without a hitch. Many remarked at how great this conference was and complemented the efficiency and hard work of All Saints' members. Many of the All Saints members even had matching T-shirts with the All Saints logo thanks to the work of Tony Brancaccio.
In addition, one of the most visible elements of the conference was the beautiful iconostasis that John Hawranick of All Saints designed and made. The Bishop was greatly impressed with it and requested that it be used for upcoming Parish Life Conferences in the future. Fr. John Henderson from Jackson, MS (the host for next year’s conference) has already made arrangements to transport the iconostasis to his parish and store it until it will be needed next year. This iconostasis gave the very common hotel meeting area the feel of a real church and made our many worship opportunities even more meaningful. Thank you, John!
Special thanks are also due to Deacon David Keim, the acolytes, and Jonathan Jones, who was the Deacon’s and Fr. Nicholas’ right-hand man, for their roles in the worship services.
The 2008 Parish Life Conference of the Diocese of Miami and the Southeast was a success not because of any one person, but because we all worked together for the glory of God. May God bless and keep all those who participated and worked at the conference and grant them many, many, many years.
We thank God for all His blessings to the Diocese of Miami and the Southeast and are looking forward to the purchase of a chancery for our Bishop soon.