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Ethnicity is often downplayed as just part of the cultural majority in a given church, not an actual requirement for active involvement as a believer.

Years ago my wife and I attended a Greek Orthodox service on our spiritual quest. At the time, I was recently retired, my family has been in the U.S. since the 1720s, and is thoroughly americanized, mainly southern protestants, especially Southern Baptists. My wife's family has a closer ethnic tie on her paternal side, to eastern Europe. When I asked her if she would consider attending the Greek parish regularly, she replied, "You need another job. You have too much time on your hands if you think I could do that." (Even a Greek priest found that amusing. Nothing like a wife putting a husband in his place.)

I know there are non-ethnic converts to most jurisdictions. Some are unmarried, and some marry into the church. Some jurisdictions, the Antiocheans in particular, have had more success by starting missions with converts, minimizing the ethnicity as much as possible.

So, to my question: If ethnicity IS a stumbling block to conversion, what are various churches doing about it?

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Dear Jim,

I am not trying to be contrary, but sometimes ethnicity can also be a draw. I know of a few converts that love being in an American Greek environment--whether it is for the warmth, the food, the emphasis on family, or any other diverse reasons.

One of our most recent parishioners, for instance, is an Irish-American woman, and her husband of Irish-Polish descent. They originally joined an OCA community, and loved the spirituality, but didn't feel comfortable fitting in with the particular community. My community fit their bill much more--we have a very spiritual priest and great ministries, but also alot of community social functions which they love.

One of our posters, with not a drop of Southern or Eastern European blood in him, and whom I NEVER encouraged one way or another, used to pm me about how much he loved visiting his local GO church. He said they were the friendliest people he had ever met. A half year ago, he converted to the Greek Orthodox church because of that.

Though most of us in my parish are third or fourth generation Greek-Americans, ( and frankly, we are not TOO Greek like alot of churches w/first generation Greeks may be--I can definitely see those churches being a turn off to converts and potential converts, because sometimes they are even a turn off to ME wink ), if we were to take out everything that classifies us as 'ethnic', I don't think that we would be much different than the RC or Protestant church down the block, and I don't think that we would be as vibrant and appealing community as we are.

My suggestion about any ethnic church is to try it out a few times. If you feel comfortable and like the Liturgy and the Priest, then you should also stay for coffee and get to know the people. That is how one will know if this is a church 'family' which you can really feel 'at home' in. There are many factors that make a person feel comfortable in a spiritual home and I believe that ethnicity or lack of it is only one factor.

My conclusion, therefore, to your question is that ethnicity can be *both* a stumbling block to some, and a draw to others, in the matter of conversion.

Alice

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I agree with Alice.

For me, the ethnic character of my church has not been a stumbling block. My Church is Ruthenian, and the founding families came mostly from the Presov area in modern day Slovakia.

I myself have no Slavic blood that I know of- I have a Slavic grandparent and great grandparent, but they are step-parents in both cases.

However, I have become somewhat of a Slavophile. I enjoy studying East Slavic- Rusyn, Ukrainian, Russian, Belarusan- history and language. I appreciate the ethnic character of our Church. I want to learn Rusyn and Ukrainian, and I occasionally read my prayers in Slavonic. I have enjoyed learning the Cyrillic alphabet.

There are people there who are very proud of the heritage, and yet, I have felt very warmly welcomed from day one. I bet hardly any of our new members have Slavic heritage.The first day I visited our church was on a day when we had our parish festival.

I enjoy the ethnic food, and the occasional hymn sung in Slavonic at our Church. I would hate to see those things ever go by the wayside.

I have a devotion to our priest-martyr Blessed Bishop Theodore Romzha, who has his feast day today.

Blessed Theodore, pray for us!

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Dear Lance,

I believe that there are quite a few non-ethnic Slavophiles on this board besides you! smile

Regards,
Alice


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Thanks, Lance and Alice. I myself find no particular problem with the emphasis on Greek language, cuisine, etc. as long as worshipers have an opportunity to express their own culture, and can participate without necessarily adopting another culture instead. I AM more interested in the language and cuisine in my own family's background, but I have seen the multi-cultural mix work in some OCA parishes. (Went to a conference once where each luncheon was prepared by a different ethnic group in that parish, for example.)

As each generation gets more distant from the ethnic base, it may be easier for U.S. non-Orthodox or non-eastern Catholics to relate to them. In the meantime, it would appear that church members often do not see this as a priority issue, or are not interested in working it as such in order to help conversions. Maybe it's the old problem of not being very good at missionary work anymore, which seems to dog the Christian east, mainly because they don't usually have to compete with churches in the homeland. No beating the bushes, but reliance on being sought out, instead. For me it is an issue that is not taken seriously enough in this country given how the people live, but should be, because not everyone finds the culture of one group worthwhile for their lives day to day, when they are used to all kinds of cuisines, etc.

Don't get me wrong. I don't doubt anything that you both have said already. I just think that if there are more options on the table, there is a greater chance of folks being able to relate.

(Also, happy feast of Ss. Cosmas and Damian! It was on this day that my wife was chrismated some years ago.)

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It�s in an interesting topic, but not one that I think you could really come up with a definitive answer for. The reason being there is no one type of potential convert and no one definition of what�s �ethnic�. Two factors that I think are of principle importance are the pervasiveness of the ethnic component and what language is in use.

I think I�ve sort of seen both sides. The first parishes I visited were OCA and definitely in the Great Russian tradition (I had previously taken some Russian in High School and visited the then Soviet Union, so it wasn�t like a complete culture shock). These parishes were more second and third generation though, with converts and the services for the most part in English. So I was attracted not only to the religious component, but I liked the cultural aspect as well. I�m basically from a generic, Northern European, whitebread background. I felt like I could fit in without much problem. I did attend a couple of UGCC parishes around the same time, and I did not feel particularly comfortable there, because the Ukrainian component seemed really, really important. Nobody seemed to care that I was there, at least due in part as far as I could tell, because it was obvious I was not Ukrainian. Nobody greeted or talked to me though, so it�s hard to say.

Going forward a few years we spent some time in an Antiochian mission. They did not have the ethnic/cultural component at all, due in large part to the fact that without a permanent building it�s hard to do some of the stuff more established parishes can. The parish profile (including the priest) was also overwhelmingly convert. It became increasingly clear there was not only a lack of facilities to support ethnic/cultural activities, or even a lack of support for them, but really an open hostility to making the church look and feel like anything but a completely generic Americanized Orthodox parish. I heard a lot of derisive and unseemly comments made about other jurisdictions and other ways of doing things. It was kind of a mindset, adopted even by people who grew up Orthodox but were attracted to this way of doing things. The attitude filtered down in various ways and had some odd permutations that weren�t for me. I could appreciate they wanted to reinforce the religious component of the church (and I�m very aware things can go the other direction), but I don�t think it has to be carried out in a way that simply excludes of parts of the traditions of the people who make up the church.

Eventually we left there and went to a Carpatho-Russian parish that I feel very much at home in. One of the things I like best about it is that I think it does a good job of retaining aspects of the church that are cultural/ethnic, but not making them seem like they are central to the reason you go to the parish. I guess I feel like the ethnic/cultural side is just there for you to take part in as little or as much as you would like. I�m sure there are people out there who would still find my parish foreign, ethnic or strange; but the mix of old world and new in the parish feels very American to me, even if it isn�t my ethnicity.

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I think that this is a great thread and discussion, and I hope that more posters will add their personal thoughts...

On a silly note, and forgive me, but I can't help myself:

Jim said:
Quote
I just think that if there are more options on the table, there is a greater chance of folks being able to relate.

...and all I could think of, (after reading so many posts all over this forum about food), was: there are many options on the table; pirogy, souvlaki, kibbe, etc. !! wink

Alice

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OOOPS Alice - here we go again biggrin FOOD.

Errr .....umm ........have I missed something ?

We aren't yet fasting again are we ? Have I messed up my calendar again ?

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Originally Posted by Our Lady's slave
OOOPS Alice - here we go again biggrin FOOD.

Errr .....umm ........have I missed something ?

We aren't yet fasting again are we ? Have I messed up my calendar again ?

LOL! grin


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So come to Dublin and enjoy our peculiar version of Irish Orthodox Greek-Catholicism welcoming the Ukrainians (and everyone else who cares to come). I'm handicapped in one important regard: the artificial famine in the nineteenth century destroyed indigenous Irish cuisine, so we must reconstruct appropriate recipes - preferably using indigenous ingredients - for the fasting periods (there is, however, no lack of local traditions on the subject - in the West of Ireland the older people insist that eating duck on fast days is OK, because the ducks eat fish).

On the other hand, at least the Irish language is explicitly Christian. A rude expression for our rude neighbors involves calling them "the weathermen", because when one greets someone in Irish one speaks of God, the Theotokos, and the Saints, while when them ones greet somebody in their mongrel dialect, they talk about the weather!

Alice - please give my warm greetings to the Irish people in your parish, and bring them with you on a visit to the Homeland.

Fr. Serge

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Quote
As each generation gets more distant from the ethnic base, it may be easier for U.S. non-Orthodox or non-eastern Catholics to relate to them. In the meantime, it would appear that church members often do not see this as a priority issue, or are not interested in working it as such in order to help conversions. Maybe it's the old problem of not being very good at missionary work anymore, which seems to dog the Christian east, mainly because they don't usually have to compete with churches in the homeland. No beating the bushes, but reliance on being sought out, instead.

This is a real problem and I agree with your observation.

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As a convert to the Byzantine Catholic Church from an atheist Anglo-Nordic background, I've never felt the ethnic tones a barrier. I suppose I always saw Church Slavonic as an equivalent to the Latin of a traditional RC Church. Had the language been wholly Church Slavonic, I doubt there would have been much draw, but the parish had few cradle Ruthenians and the language was predominately English. It was perfect... for me, at least.

Any time I find myself wondering how the blood of Vikings ended up in an Eastern Catholic church, I fancy that one of my ancestors might have been a member of the Eastern Roman emperor's Varangian Guard. I'm just returning to a tradition that we allowed to lapse in my family for a thousand years.

Anyway, since it's never been a barrier, I've never given much thought to overcoming it.

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Originally Posted by AMM
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As each generation gets more distant from the ethnic base, it may be easier for U.S. non-Orthodox or non-eastern Catholics to relate to them. In the meantime, it would appear that church members often do not see this as a priority issue, or are not interested in working it as such in order to help conversions. Maybe it's the old problem of not being very good at missionary work anymore, which seems to dog the Christian east, mainly because they don't usually have to compete with churches in the homeland. No beating the bushes, but reliance on being sought out, instead.

This is a real problem and I agree with your observation.


I agree with you, Andrew. Old style ethnic Catholic parishes have the same problems. Now mostly situated in changing neighborhoods they are the ones being closed because the new neighbors were never welcomed.

I think this can be a sociological issue. Immigrant parishes are built as safe havens for ethnic minorities. They are often inward looking and serve as mutual aid associations. Hispanic communities though they often share facilities within a larger parish function in much the same way. Nothing wrong with that--except that the nature of the Church is to feed the disciples so they can be apostles to the rest of the world. The Evangelicals say they "make disciples who make disciples." This consciousness is almost absent in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Again, it is about getting back to the gospel imperatives and not letting history be an excuse for not changing.

Even as we talk between Catholics and Orthodox, we all have a lot to learn from the Evangelicals in regard to that real evangelizing spirit that they have.

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Preserve the faith, untarnished and unadulterated.

Live the faith to the best of your ability, in a personal sense and in a communal sense.

Welcome outsiders into your Church as you would into your home and they will come even if your services are in Swahili!

Alexandr

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Originally Posted by Fr J Steele CSC
I agree with you, Andrew. Old style ethnic Catholic parishes have the same problems. Now mostly situated in changing neighborhoods they are the ones being closed because the new neighbors were never welcomed.

Certainly they've suffered from demographic changes and other factors beyond their control (like an expressway cutting the boundaries of a parish in two). One thing I did notice that I found problematic was often an impersonal feeling one could get in a parish. When I attended St. Hedwig's in Chicago for instance one readily got the feeling that there was a connection that was lacking between the priests and the people, and between the people themselves. This was simply accentuated by the fact that the parish was spatially too big, and built for a congregation well beyond what the current level was at. I've gotten this impersonal feeling even at large suburban parishes though, where people don't really talk to each other and rush off after mass to whatever else they're on to next.

Quote
I think this can be a sociological issue. Immigrant parishes are built as safe havens for ethnic minorities. They are often inward looking and serve as mutual aid associations. Hispanic communities though they often share facilities within a larger parish function in much the same way. Nothing wrong with that--except that the nature of the Church is to feed the disciples so they can be apostles to the rest of the world. The Evangelicals say they "make disciples who make disciples." This consciousness is almost absent in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Again, it is about getting back to the gospel imperatives and not letting history be an excuse for not changing.

Even as we talk between Catholics and Orthodox, we all have a lot to learn from the Evangelicals in regard to that real evangelizing spirit that they have.

Catholics and Orthodox both have a lesson to learn from the Evangelicals. The people I was around with the Antiochians were former evangelicals, and though ultimately the went about things wasn't my cup of tea, I can't criticize their commitment to reaching out. Orthodox parishes often have an unfortunate tendency of just hoping interested people will show up. It really isn't enough.

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