The Department of Missions and Evangelism
V. Rev. Peter E. Gillquist, chairman
2007-2009 Bi-Annual Report to the 49th Convention of the
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
Prepared June 8, 2009
1. New Missions. Since His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP established a full-time Department of Missions and Evangelism in 1988, the Archdiocese has founded 117 new Eastern Rite missions throughout the United States and Canada, of which 62 have grown to full parishes. At present we are developing 5 mission projects, and exploring the possibilities for mission starts in over a dozen additional cities and towns.
Department mission priests Frs. Peter Gillquist, Michael Keiser, and John Finley have worked closely with local clergy and lay leaders to start new missions. Our staff priests have celebrated hundreds of Divine Liturgies and other services, provided careful liturgical training for Protestant clergy converting to Orthodoxy, and catechized countless laity.
In addition to those missions listed with this report, Fr. Michael has played a key role in bringing over half a dozen former Charismatic Episcopal and Continuing Anglican Churches into the Archdiocese Western Rite Vicariate. He also has been working with numerous Protestant pastors who are en route to the Orthodox Church. In addition to his work developing missions, Fr. John Finley has been serving as interim pastor of St. Timothy Antiochian Orthodox Church in Lompoc, California. Howard Lange and Glenn Ritsema have supported our missionary efforts through their technical and administrative work at the Santa Barbara, California, office.
2. Parish Growth. Staff have visited several dozen established Orthodox parishes to conduct Orthodoxy Seminars, provide outreach training for clergy and laity, and preach and teach on a variety of subjects relating to Church planting and evangelism. Many non-Orthodox clergy and laity attend these functions, so they serve as both training for Orthodox believers and outreach to inquirers.
The Department not only helps establish new missions, but works closely with them as they grow to become full-fledged parishes. For example, toward the end of 2008 St. Raphael Antiochian Orthodox Mission in Iowa City, Iowa, was presented with a golden opportunity to purchase their first building. The mission was bursting at the seams in their tiny storefront basement meeting spot and unable to grow further because of it. The Department helped Fr. Ignatius Valentine and his people raise the money needed for a down payment, and by the grace of God and the support of many visionary and generous souls, St. Raphael’s was able to move into their new home in time for Pascha, 2009!
3. Evangelism. Staff have spoken on Orthodox Christianity at a number of non-Orthodox venues, including Protestant colleges and seminaries, secular colleges and universities, and fraternity houses. We also address Protestant congregations where the pastor and laity are interested in Orthodoxy. Fr. Peter again taught and ministered at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity’s annual national leadership school. This is a marvelous opportunity to spread the Faith to young men who may come across few other opportunities to hear the gospel preached.
The Department’s reputation among non-Orthodox clergy as a point of first contact with the Orthodox Church and general resource on the Faith continues to grow. We are in ongoing communication with a growing number of Protestant clergy who are expressing strong interest in the Orthodox Faith, most of whom we successfully have placed in personal contact with local Orthodox clergy.
4. The Annual Orthodox Conference on Missions and Evangelism. A trademark program of this Department coordinated by Howard Lange, the Conference attracts clergy and laity from most Orthodox jurisdictions in America, as well as Protestant clergy who are seriously considering conversion. Several such clergy are now priests in our Archdiocese. In 2008 we held the 20th Anniversary Orthodox Conference on Missions and Evangelism! Our collaboration with Ancient Faith Radio has blossomed, making the Conference sessions available year round to thousands more people than we could ever hope could attend in person.
Over the Labor Day Weekend, 2009, we will welcome His Beatitude Metropolitan JONAH of the OCA as our keynote speaker, addressing the theme of the necessity of Orthodox unity in America for bringing America to Orthodoxy. Joining him at Antiochian Village will be Fr. Peter Gillquist, Fr. Hector Firoglanis of the Greek Archdiocese (and a two-time past participant of the Conference as both a college student and a deacon), and our own Archdiocese chancellor Mr. Charles Ajalat. Already many people across the country have expressed their interest in this year’s Conference, and we are anticipating a strong turnout. Join us!
5. Publications and Public Information. The Department publishes and periodically updates a missions and evangelism manual, which is available for free to missions of the Archdiocese. The Department is working ever more closely with Conciliar Press to develop evangelistic literature, and we worked hard to help St. Athanasius Academy complete work on the historic Orthodox Study Bible — Old Testament.
Fr. John Finley has led the way to create an exciting new concept in Orthodox Internet presence: www.gettoknowtheoriginal.net . It is a simple and beautiful introduction to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, focusing an inquirer’s attention on Jesus Christ and how He can be known by getting to know “the Original” Christianity. In a delightfully clever way, the website reclaims important descriptive adjectives typically associated with Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and even Judaism, applying them as distinctives of the original Church. The website even trumps the “non-denominational” churches by claiming that we are “pre-denominational.” An important goal of the website is to connect inquirers by phone with an Orthodox priest and parish in their immediate area.
We are grateful to God for the opportunity to serve Christ and His Church in our efforts to help bring America to the Orthodox Faith.