from The Word, May 2009
Serving the needs of the parish: that is the mission of the Fellowship of St. John the Divine. Unlike other organizations of our Archdiocese, the Fellowship’s ministries are developed from the bottom up, since we are serving the needs of our particular parishes with the blessings of our parish priests. The Fellowship of St. John the Divine is living the gospel through witness, worship, fellowship and service. We are defined by need. We serve these needs through our individual talents. We are guided by the Holy Spirit and we serve to the glory of God.
Perhaps to many people, “serving the needs of the parish” is vague, so let’s be more specific: it means donating blankets and clothing at our local homeless shelters; establishing and maintaining a food pantry for those who come to our parish doors hungry; hosting breakfasts to raise money for the missions in our diocese after liturgy; learning more about our Orthodox saints at a new book club called Saints Alive; joining our St. Philip’s Prayer Discipline; meeting the needs of the “20/40” age group, facilitating the transition from Teen SOYO and college contact into the Fellowship; having a parent’s club that meets, socializes and raises money for extras in the Sunday School; holding a Saturday morning men’s Bible study; having a parish-wide Bible study; and much more. Our needs are many and different throughout the Archdiocese, yet many of our projects are the same.
To establish a parish Fellowship, the parish priest designates a Fellowship contact who will serve as the liaison between the parish Fellowship and the diocese. The Fellowship should have an executive board like any other parish organization. The group may address those needs the priest and others in the parish feel should be met, but it can also assess the parish on its own account, to see if there are less obvious needs. This is a great way for people to become more involved in their parish. A thriving and growing parish usually has a strong Fellowship. Our children are watching us adults; if we aren’t working and connected in our parish, why should they? How will they? People stay where they feel a connection.
At the diocese level, we are more concrete and our works are many. We host and sponsor the creative festivals at our Parish Life Conferences (creative arts, writing, poetry, photography, Bible Bowl and oratory). We give money to the winners of the Bible Bowl and Oratorical contests to help defray the traveling expenses to either the Archdiocese Conventions or the Antiochian Village for the Archdiocese contests. We give scholarship money for qualified high school seniors and college students. We give money to our Missions Endowment Fund. For the 35th year, the Fellowship of St. John the Divine is sponsoring Food For Hungry People. We host and sponsor camping mission trips. We support the North American Student Board (NASB), which helps keep our college students connected when they are away from home. Many of our projects differ from diocese to diocese, depending on what our bishops have as their goals. We are comprised of an executive board (president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary), spiritual advisor, creative festival coordinators and ministry coordinators. Each parish in the diocese should be represented by three delegates for total parish involvement.
At the level of the Archdiocese, the North American Council (NAC) maintains our existing projects and create new projects. We implement these directly or we provide for the diocese and parishes to implement them themselves as they deem fit.
The creative festivals that the Fellowship hosts and sponsors are fabulous and fun ways our children can really learn about our Orthodox faith. Most of the arts projects are worked on during Sunday school. Young people learn our beautiful theology in a hands-on way, with their own words, pictures and drawings,. The winners of each age group are displayed at our conferences. Our Bible Bowl contest at the conferences and convention are not for the faint-of-heart. Hard-core parish pride is on display as we all cheer our fellow parishioners displaying their study skills of a particular gospel. The oratorical contest will make your heart sing with pride as you listen to our youth explain our parish theme in our theology in front of our bishops and then get critiqued by speech professionals! It’s wonderful to see our youth of all ages meet new friends and see old friends from around our diocese. This is a big part of the way we keep them in our church as they enter adulthood. The Fellowship of St. John the Divine has been sponsoring these festivals since the beginning of SR. SOYO fifty years ago!
Our Parish Life Conferences are great places for us to be involved at a diocesan level. It’s important for us to realize that the Fellowship is not just the four walls of our parishes. We are parishes, dioceses and Archdiocese. It’s so inspiring to get involved and learn what others are doing and maybe bring some of the ideas back to one’s own parish. It expands our minds, motivates us, and challenges us to do more of what Jesus Christ expects of us – to live the gospel.
While other organizations in our Archdiocese have specific direction and goals, and generally do a great job, the Fellowship finds and meets needs that otherwise might not be addressed. To learn more about what the Fellowship of St. John the Divine is doing, please visit the Archdiocese’s Web site at www.antiochian.org. Go to the Organizations section and click on “Fellowship of St. John the Divine.” If you would like to see what is going on in your diocese, go to your diocese page, the Organizations section, and click on the Fellowship link there. Feel free to contact your diocese president; any one of us would love to hear from you with comments, questions and/or concerns.
Living the gospel by serving the needs of our parish, diocese and Archdiocese. Now you know The Fellowship of St. John the Divine. If you aren't already involved, please join us!
Corinne M. Cassis, President Fellowship of St. John the Divine, Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest