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Joined: May 2022
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Christ is Risen!

Hi folks,

I’m heavily involved with a Byzantine mission in Knoxville, TN that has been through quite a bit over the years. We have a couple core families, but we’re struggling to grow. Founding members are beginning to become quite discouraged. There was a time when this parish truly thrived. I was hoping y’all could help me brainstorm some ways to help this parish move back in that direction.

Here are some of the issues we’re facing and some proposed solutions:

1) Communication:
historically our media presence has been sorely lacking, and our internal communication hasn’t been great either. We’ve begun to address this in a couple ways: a) building a solid website, b) setting up a parish email address, and c) transferring management of the parish Facebook page to someone with a bit more time and experience in using social media for evangelization.

2) Access to the Mysteries:
Let me preface this by saying that we have a fantastic priest. He is a reverent celebrant of the Liturgy, a fantastic homilist, and a good counselor. Through no fault of his own, he is in a position where he is unable to be as present and involved with our parish as he once was. I will not disclose the details of his personal situation here. Suffice to say that his frequent absences are frustrating, but very understandable.

Unfortunately what this means for our community is that we really never know when we will have access to the Mysteries, specifically Confession and the Holy Eucharist. There is a growing fear that unless we find some way to secure consistent access to the Sacraments the church may not be able to hold on much longer.

Proposed solutions:
a) find some way to lessen Father’s load so he can be more present with the Mission. Apparently this has been tried and for various reasons is not a feasible solution. Again, I’ll not divulge details touching his personal situation.

b) one of the men in the parish pursues Holy Orders, possibly either becoming a deacon or an assisting priest.

The most obvious candidate would be our subdeacon. He is willing, but lacks the requisite education requirements. It has been suggested that I consider discerning Holy Orders, given my background in ministry before reverting to the Catholic Church. There are all kinds of issues with that, most notably that I am canonically resident in the Latin Rite which opens up a can of worms I am not eager to step in.

c) Request a supply priest from the Eparchy scheduled to celebrate Liturgy and hear confessions at least once a month, thus giving Father a bit of breathing room. We’re not sure if this is even a thing we can do, but we’re exploring it.

Any suggestions (and best of all, your prayers) are most welcome.

Charbel

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I feel you. We have sacramental ministry once a month, sometimes twice, sometimes none. Our priests come from 3+ hours away, so it is rough on them. We have Reader's services, and about half come, and the other end up attending a local (to them) or Latin language Mass because the sacraments are available. Non-sacramental services get de-prioritized (for a variety of reasons, some due to distance, some due to minimalism). Leading people to understand that worship for the sake of worship is a good and necessary thing. If the community lives or dies by access to sacraments demonstrates there is an opportunity for personal spiritual growth, and that there may be an attitude that the mission is a "chapel of convenience". If the latter is true, the community is not a community and won't last.

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Y'all, I wish I could do something to help. Can't help financially, because I don't have enough money. But, prayers, all the same.

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Don't have any experience in this but here's my advice anyway:

1.) Pray. I know, it sounds trite. It sounds like the kind of thing religious people say to do when they don't have any real advice. But that's wrong; prayer is the most important and effective thing that can possibly be done about any situation at all. Nothing we can do will be on our own without God. Nothing that happens can happen apart from His will.

2.) Tackle the easy stuff first. Definitely get a good website. Take a look at Orthodox Web Solutions; they have some experience in this. Alternatively, look at some cheap hosting options that let you deploy a Wordpress server. You could then import a pre-built template and customize it. It won't be as flexible as a fully custom site, but it will be cheaper and can be done well with a bit of work and care.

3.) See if there are opportunities to take care of the poor in your area. Maybe partner with a Roman Catholic church if they have any apostolates for this. The Church doesn't grow without evangelization, and that always involves real love. Even if it is difficult to provide for the needs of the people in your area sacramentally, it may be possible to do so materially. This will open the door for those who are served materially to also find that Christianity offers the answer to their greatest need.

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I will pray for your community. Here are my suggestions.

1) Readers Services -1x per week, perhaps reader’s vespers on Saturday or Wednesday evenings followed by fellowship and spiritual enrichment. Then you could participate in the sacramental life of the nearby Roman Catholic parish.

2) I would write the Eparchy and explain your situation. Then present the three options you laid out.

i) the ordination of your subdeacon and the obstacles involved
ii) the ordination of yourself along with the obstacles involved
iii) request a supply priest

See what the Bishop saids. Perhaps there are work arounds.

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Wow that is tough! Here's hoping for more vocations out of that small community. One of their own stepping up to take care of the needs of the parish. As to make it grow, perhaps hosting events at the parish that appeal to young Catholics and their families? Offer a theology on tap program that meets twice a month for the young men (or men of any age) and have the women of the parish simultaneously offer a ladies group and/or run something for the children, so they can learn a bit and play and socialize while the adults are engaging in their respective programs?

What keeps people in Byzantine Catholic Churches is the unparalleled sense of community. Keep the community strong with lots to offer young families, and the parish will grow. Putting together newsletters or one page invites and getting permission from all the local Roman Catholic priests to post it in their parishes, maybe even have someone from the parish give an announcement during a sunday Mass to invite everyone to the event. The goal isn't to poach Roman Catholics per se, but I think many Roman Catholics who experience a Byzantine Divine Liturgy will find everything they've never known they were missing. Once I experienced the Divine Liturgy, I could never go back to a Roman Mass the same way again. Even the high mass of the TLM communities feels cold, distant and empty by comparison. All you need do is invite people and let them get a taste of the Byzantine life.

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Ruthenian, as a Latin, I don't feel that way at all. (I don't like being called Roman Catholic, as I live in South Carolina and always associate it with the "romanism", insult). I agree that sometimes Latins can be cold. But, I tell you what, when I went to a smaller church, there was a greater sense of community.
Having said that, I am fine with both Eastern Catholicism and Latin Catholicism. And I love doing what I can to tell people about the little Melkite community in Augusta.


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