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Breaking Our Insularity*

*Insular adj. pertaining to an island, or to the inhabitants of an island their customs; etc.; inward; narrow

There is an unfortunate tendency of Orthodox parishes existing in a place without being part of that place.

This is probably understandable. Most Orthodox parishioners are not from the local neighborhood. One parish we visited recently noted that not one parishioner lived in the suburb in which the parish is located. Everybody drove five to 25 miles -- or probably more -- to come to church.  In a discussion about reaching out to contribute to local needs nobody really knew what was needed because "we sort of helicopter in on weekends".

Yet despite their regional membership,some parishes do a particularly good job of being good neighbors. Their simple efforts include:

  • Getting to know the Mayor and ward councilman
  • Maintaining warm, friendly relations with next door neighbors
  • Keeping the building exterior updated and the yard attractively landscaped. See related article on Diocesan website.
  • Offering ESL classes to locals  -- and probably many more efforts unknown to us.

A local result is that the neighborhood around the church is better than before the church was located there.

Unexpected Payoffs
The parish does not do the above in order to receive something in return. However more often than not the parish's efforts as good neighbors result in direct benefit to the parish. Examples include:

  • Police, with help from the mayor's office liberally bend parking restrictions on Sunday morning
  • The rector is often invited to deliver the invocation at city council meetings - creating positive word of mouth information about the parish and the Orthodox faith.
  • A recent need for a zoning variance required for construction of a new hall sailed through the local zoning board. At the close of the meeting, one of the Zoning Board members commented on the beauty of the parish property.  "I've driven by your church daily and I deeply appreciate the "obvious care" that you display in maintaining your property" he said.

The lesson would be to consider the importance of the place where your parish is and the contribution you make to that place -- and how that place makes an impact on your parish.

An Exercise

How many items can your parish leadership list as ways to be more a part of the place that your parish lives? What are we called upon in this time and in this place to do to fulfill our mission in the place our parish is located?
 
A start...
  • Block party for neighborhood
  • Blessing first responders -- Fire Engines etc.
  • Offering the opening prayer at city council meetings.
  • Participating in local clergy associations and hosting meetings.
  • Offering parish hall as a polling place
  • Shop local merchants
  • Directional signs -- "All are welcome".
  • Personal Financial management course for neighbors
  • Sponsor community service clean-ups
  • Food pantry
  • Job skills courses