A Quick Idea

I’m always trying to think of ways to contact and minister to the inner city folk, without hosting Operation This-Time-We’re-Hip-Enough or whatever. What are we, after all, if we can’t help the worst off ones?

It struck me that we might hold events in which Priests bless inner-city children. We could let mothers know that they can bring their children to be blessed at a certain time and place. And women and priests can be there, maybe some fathers since most of these kids don’t have any. And the children could sit on the priest’s lap and he could put his hands on their heads and pray for them like Jesus did. And we could serve them lunch like Jesus did, and the priests could teach them like Jesus did. If the place was beautiful and the ministrations lovely and genuine, I don’t see why there shouldn’t be some seed falling on some good ground. And maybe it would provide pro-life contacts: meaning, such ministration could help spread the pious attitude toward life and family and children, plus if girls and women get to know some people they trust, maybe they will turn to the church instead of getting an abortion.

What does everyone think?

11 thoughts on “A Quick Idea

  1. I don’t know much about inner cities or other ghettoes but I’m afraid that any kind of religious activity like that won’t be popular unless agreed with some religious leader known to them already. If you have a pastor that is friendly to Orthodox and icons, then it might work. If not – I’m not sure it will be too popular.

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  2. Seem too strange to them, eh? I thought perhaps between pictures of Jesus doing it and the whole Santa Claus thing it might strike a chord, especially with those who don’t really have a church at all. Perhaps not.

    However, we have to remember that 1) not everyone is averse to change as the Orthodox. Most people are desperate for change: look who they elected president. 2) The forms and customs of Orthodoxy are those of natural religion in the best sense. I think people find them attractive, even when they have been trained to run away from it.

    One important question then presents itself: how Orthodox is this idea in the first place?

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  3. i think something like this may have it’s place; but only with the right priests and the right situation, maybe…. hard to explain without putting one’s foot in mouth; i guess i can see some of my friends (and future priests DV) doing this more than others… i live downtown and see the poor fairly often and it is not any easy thing to discern, what would be best, what would work…

    at least you are asking the questions of what would work.

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  4. Is that how Jesus behaved? Didn’t he start by fellowship, eating with sinners and getting to know them? Did he really walk into a neighborhood as a glorified saint, to anoint and preach? Granted, the preaching came at some point. Granted, he performed miracles, as well. Did he ever annoint anyone?

    More importantly, why do you confine to the priests the role belonging to all followers of Christ, to pray for people, to annoint, and to preach the gospel?

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  5. M Patterson,

    Thanks for your questions. I’m reading the gospel of Luke at the moment, and I think it’s pretty much agreed he’s the one with the chronological order of events. Here’s what happened: first Christ was baptized and spent the forty days in the desert praying and fasting. So personal spiritual nourishment came first. Then, while continuing to take time apart to pray and fast, he just started going to different towns teaching and healing. He’d walk into the synagogue and teach. People would be stunned by his teaching. They would ask him to their homes. He’d teach in the homes, and then when people would bring their sick he would heal them. As he travelled from town to town he collected disciples. His entrances into cities became large processions. It all culminated in going to Jerusalem and doing there what he had done elsewhere, with the shocking result that he was killed by the reigning religious leaders, thus fulfilling his deeper, more secret mission to bear on his own shoulders the curse of mankind and rise again in mankind’s flesh, bearing us all to God.

    That’s pretty much what his ministry consisted of and I think a quick read-through of any of the gospels will confirm this. In fact early on when the town of Capernaum wanted him to stay longer he told them that he had to go to other towns to teach there as well because this was what he was sent to do. The healing seemed to go along with the teaching.

    The fellowshipping with sinners is mentioned a few times; it first happened as a result of calling the apostle Matthew who then gave a feast for him and invited all his tax-collector friends presumably to meet the guest of honor. Christ simply didn’t make the distinctions between righteous and sinners that the Pharisees made and so he was accused of hobnobbing with sinners, to which he replied in a parable that the sinners were the ones who needed him. It would be nice if the contacts we made started inviting us to their homes but we could hardly start there.

    I do think the paralells can only go so far because Christ was dealing with a religious society, not very pluralistic, in which the synagogues provided ready-made venues for introducing his message. That is not our situation. We have to deal with a) the society in which we live and b) the recieved customs of our holy Church.

    I don’t recall that Christ ever annointed anyone. But that’s not what I’m talking about doing here. Just blessing them. Blessing is when you ask God to bless something or someone, and usually you make the sign of the cross. You can lay hands on them (at least, I’ve had it done to me) when you especially want to convey that there is authority or weight to the blessing. Christ certainly blessed the children; I think he laid his hands on them while doing so.

    I’m not aware that I confine the roles of prayer, annointing and preaching to priests. That is, I am confining them to priests in the sense that only a priest has the authority to approach God in such ways, but as God has called us all to be a kingdom of priests that is hardly confining in your sense. I myself, at chrismation, was annointed on my hands to symbolize my participation in Christ’s priesthood. And every night I bless my son when he goes to bed and I sign the door with the sign of the cross as a gesture of prayer for God to protect us all during the night. I bless myself when I pray and my husband in affection.

    However you could hardly expect me to be an Orthodox Christian without believing that some men partake of the grace and authority of Christ’s priesthood to a higher degree than others. It is these that we refer to as priests in general and believe me I have no desire to pretend to be one.

    I don’t know what’s better, getting away from authoritarianism or finding true authority. It would be silly for me to go about offering to bless other people’s children; they are not given to my care. A priest’s circle of care is much greater. If a priest blesses someone it’s understood he’s doing so on the Lord’s behalf because he has been invested with the authority to do so. And as for teaching, if a priest is present why would anyone else want to do so? He is the one with the spiritual gift of pastor-teacher, and anyways any healthy-minded woman would rather be serving the lunch or better yet listening to the teaching. You know, Mary and Martha.

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  6. Thanks, Elizabeth, that’s all I mean to do. It’s a bit alarming that this post is causing some controversy. Sometimes that’s a good thing but oftentimes it just means I stuck my neck out.

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  7. No intention of arguing here, I’m just trying to reason the idea through. It would seem, then, that Jesus started with the synagogues, which were the forum for religious thought in his place and time. Basically, what it means is that he shared his teachings in a venue where people generally went to share their ideas, does it not?

    As for the laity and their role, you must understand that as an Evangelical, I see things with a completely different paradigm than you. That’s why I read your blog. I also like to read the writings of Jews, for the same reason. I am fascinated by people with whom I have so much in common, yet fail to see eye to eye on matters that would seem to arise from the things that we have in common. My dispute is not with the authority of the priest, as you might imagine. The problem with the priest is that he preaches to the converted and their children. Only the laity have the ability to develop relationships with non-members in their everyday lives, fostering relationships that might lead to a conversion. Pardon me if I’m not always focused. I am not Orthodox, but I would be happy to see the Orthodox church grow. If the laity depend too heavily on the priests for the one function that is best done by the laity, which is to bring new members into the church, then I must say that the best way to grow the church is through having children, because the priest will never be able to win new believers faster than the old ones lose faith and leave.

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  8. Well, I for one think it’s a great idea, and I hope things work out and that the outreach has a successful turnout. Any reasonable opportunity to sow seeds and give glory to God is a noble cause and will honor His name.

    My only fear would be that people would flock to the church at the first sign of free food, and show false sincerity in order for you to feel good about your event and hold another one at which they’ll be able to get another free lunch. Then they go home and completely forget all about it, but only after they laugh and joke to their kids about what a good one they pulled over on those prissy cracker church people. (Maybe having just a light snack instead of a full lunch might help this??)

    Being also an Evangelical, I must say I’m not sure where M. P.’s notion of outreach is coming from. Where does the Bible say that pastors or priests are limited to ministering to existing converts only? First of all, Jesus’ great commission in Matthew 28 was not given to the laity alone, but to all believers. (Paul himself said to follow him even as he followed Christ. Yes, the scriptures along should technically be good enough for all Christians indwelt with the Holy Spirit, but He knows that we frail humans sometimes need a good example in our presence to be able to to better understand God’s will and better see and follow Christ, and what better earthly example of sharing the gospel can we have but to learn as children from our spiritual fathers the essential skills of the Christian life.) Once a church (and by church, of course I mean the collective members) is spiritually strong enough and healthy enough to handle turning their focus outward some of the time, then they certainly should, that they may not hide their light under a bushel, but shine the blessed gospel light out to all those around them that are still in darkness. Also, I wouldn’t think that a healthy congregation participating in an outreach event such as that suggested by Alana would be inclined to lose faith and leave, but instead be encouraged in their faith by joyfully obeying God’s commands together and potentially seeing Him work in people’s hearts with their own eyes in a different way than they may be able to see in a normal church service setting. But maybe I simply misunderstood M. P.’s intent…

    Besides, it’s not like the lay people present to help with the event would be silent as mice in a hole, they would mingle and fellowship with visitors I am sure.

    Is the Orthodox church opposed to object lessons that teach the gospel such as “wordless book” items? I’ve visited inner city kids weeks after an outreach event who were still excited to be faithfully wearing and talking about their colorful bracelets, you know the handmade ones with the colors representing the different necessary truths of the gospel?

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  9. M Patterson: Well…there was that time the Lord jumped in a boat, told the owners to push out from land a ways, and shouted his sermon to shore. And there was the sermon on the mountain and the sermons by the side of the road and while walking through fields, and probably more that I’m forgetting. The idea I get of Jesus of Nazareth is that he was pretty much always teaching even when he was praying or healing or eating or sleeping. (He slept in unexpected places, too.)

    Maybe “ready in season and out of season” is the best summary of Christ’s methods. I also think it would be a fallacy to try duplicating Christ’s ministry and I don’t mean to suggest that here.

    All right, after ruminating through the night I think I understand better the nature of your objection. We’ve all seen the “revolving door” churches in which the leadership devotes itself to bringing in new folks while the old ones languish and bleed away. You have concluded, I think, that it’s better if evangelization is pretty much left to the laity while the clergy ministers to church members and prepares them to do their thing? I assume that a specific office of evangelist is included in this scheme of things?

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  10. Thanks Em. It’s hard to introduce original ideas but your adroit and honest mind is ever ready to seize upon what is good in them.

    Your warnings come from experience I’m sure. I think blessing the children would be the main event and the lunch might be a surprise. Most charities appeal, as you’ve pointed out, to those who are generally the most hard-hearted and spirituall dull. Short a miracle (which can always happen) such people will never become pillars. The reason I thought of blessing the children is that it’s a sort of “spiritual charity.” That is, a gift we can give that is spiritual in nature. My hope would be that we would communicate the Lord’s love in a way that would be appealing to those in whom God is already moving but who would not know to seek us out and whom we would never get a chance to meet socially.

    I think if we are able to influence the piety of the more spiritually awake members of innercity society, we have hope of establishing a presence there. They are the only ones who can do anything directly about the rest of their culture but right now the state of their religion doesn’t seem to be helping them to do that. I think the day I see a Black Orthodox priest in the city might just be the high point of my life. The advantage to such a man, over more independant clergy, is that however alone he might look he’d have the whole Church backing him up through communion and heierarchy.

    I think I’ve heard of Orthodox missions doing bracelets but I’m not sure if they were object lessons or prayer bracelets. Operation Meaning, if she’s around, could enlighten us. Icons are, of course, the ultimate object lesson as they were created to teach children and the illiterate. However I don’t know that we would want to send icons home with the kids, the fear being that they would not treat the sacred objects with respect. In this sense a craft of some kind would be superior. But the question arises, whether it’s ultimately beneficial to the state of religion if we spread Christianity through non-sacred objects. Often such outreaches are attractive to people but leave them with an inferior and ultimately unmoving sense of the nature of Christianity. More questions.

    The context is that Orthodoxy, for various reasons, is a sort of sleeping giant in the arena of evangelism right now. Our focus is on the inner health of the church. But a discussion is going on, in our own slow conservative manner, about how to “turn our focus outward some of the time” as you say.

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  11. I don’t think that Emily understood my point, but AR seems to be a little closer. My issue is not doctrinal. Yes, God gave the great comission to everyone, not just the laity, as Emily said, but effective evangelization requires a lot of people. The minister often does not have a non-religious job outside of the church, one where he might meet people very unlike himself, in their most routine setting, where he can relate to them on a human level. There’s a huge difference between playing the role of a minister and just being an average guy who takes the Bible seriously, as the unbeliever sees it. Evangelists are effective, often, but only because the laity invite their friends. Otherwise, the problem is the same. Only the converted would hear the message.

    The laity are the priests to the unbelieving world. However, the laity generally tend to be lazy in this respect. The more they rely on the priests to do everything, the lazier they become. They could be preaching the message on the forums, in the blogs, and to their friends. They’ve listened to enough sermons to become theologians, themselves.

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