A Rapid Reflection on a Grand Convention:
Pastoral Reflections on Grand Rapids 2019
From the 21st to the 28th of July, 2019, clergy and faithful of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese from all over North America convened in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the 54th Biennial Archdiocesan Convention which was graciously organized and hosted by St. Nicholas Church, Grand Rapids, MI. Fr. Michael Nasser, host pastor and his team put together a thoughtful schedule and a creative program that helped our Archdiocese not only conduct its business but also worship, learn, share and have fun.
11 delegates from St. Elias Cathedral, Ottawa participated in the convention. We believe that any Diocesan or Archdiocesan General gatherings don’t only relate to officials and delegates but to all the parishioners of our Church and thus I wanted to share with you some highlights from the convention.
Right off the bat, our brothers and sisters in Grand Rapids showed their hospitality by hosting a complimentary dinner on Monday evening in their beautiful parish hall in which they offered delicious Middle Eastern food served by the parishioners.
On Tuesday July 23rd, I was blessed and humbled to preach following the morning service, speaking about spiritual watchfulness and how discipline in prayer helps us attain this very important virtue. Following that, all the clergy of the Archdiocese met with His Eminence Metropolitan JOSEPH and the Bishops of the Archdiocese. His Eminence gave his fatherly instructions to the clergy. It is noteworthy that the focal point and concern of these hundreds of clergy was the urgency of being proactive in ministering to the youth and young adults.
As the Teen SOYO leadership conference went on and other departments and organizations held their meetings, others participated on Tuesday in various workshops. We decided to participate in the workshop organized by our Department of Missions and Evangelism. They spoke about their priority going forward: Revitalizing our own parishes, which is surely the best way to evangelize. We will, God willing, be working on bringing speakers and programs from this department to Ottawa in the near future. Another interesting workshop was Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ on his book on Orthodox Parenting: “Parenting towards the Kingdom” (highly recommended).
That night, the Order of St. Ignatius, the charitable arm of our Archdiocese that continues to fill in various needs, hosted their dinner.
Wednesday, July 24th, was a day in which the 50th anniversary of Teen SOYO was celebrated. A Marquee event of that day was a 5 hour workshop which all the clergy attended organized by Faithtree Resources (https://faithtree.org/), a ministry of our Archdiocese whose goal is to equip clergy and lay leaders of our Churches to better minister by offering training and material for parishes to build ministry teams. Remember: It takes more than one! We will also be looking into cooperating with them in what would help us enhance our ministries in Ottawa.
Following Vespers, Guest Speaker Paul Karos started his series of 3 talks which brought tears to our eyes and strength to our hearts. Being legally blind from his childhood – and 99% blind now – Paul overcame tribulation and became the No. 1 Airline analyst in the world and built a glamorous career and reputation in Wall Street. Despite having all the pleasures of the world, Paul realized at one point that real joy comes from within, through Jesus Christ. We were blessed that Paul shared this and much more.
The highlight of the convention, at least from our biased viewpoint, was the Bible Bowl Competition. Our Bible Bowl team, consisting of our teens and altar servers: David and Michael Massaad and Kevin El-Saikali and trained by our incredibly hard working Church School Director Kelly Hamwi, brought home the trophy for a second year in a row. Glory be to God for these young people. Congratulations, boys!
On Thursday, the General Assembly, in which business of the Archdiocese is conducted, took place. We thank the Lord for the hard work of many people that help administer our Archdiocese and its financial affairs; we also thank the Lord for His blessings that our Archdiocese is doing well from that perspective.
On that evening, the host parish put together a carnival-like family friendly evening in which people got to walk next to the river and enjoy street food, desserts and entertainment. This event highlighted the 40th anniversary of the Antiochian Village, a beacon of our Church.
The second part of the General Assembly was held on Friday. His Eminence addressed all the faithful of the Archdiocese with a beautiful speech that you can find on YouTube
Among the things he said, His Eminence reminded us that: “Our Lord did not tell us to ‘take up our easy chair’ and follow Him. He told us to take up our Cross and follow Him.” Sayidna also revealed his plans for the Antiochian Village which include a cathedral, a monastery and a retirement home for hierarchs.
At the end of the Assembly, Members were assigned and elected to the Archdiocesan Board of Trustees among whom was our parishioner Dimitri Zeidan. We wish Dimitri and the whole board a blessed ministry in God’s fear, faith and love.
Another Creative event took place that evening in which various talents from the Archdiocese put together a Broadway-like show. A confession to be made: I did not expect such professional performances! Glory be to God for such talents and gifts.
On Saturday, our own Maria Abou Nehme represented our Diocese in the Archdiocesan Oratorical Festival delivering an oration on the verse: “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me” (Phil 4: 13). Congratulations, Maria, on winning the Diocesan competition and well-representing our Church on the Archdiocesan level.
That evening the Convention Gala was held; and, on Sunday, a hierarchical Divine Liturgy concluded and brought to meaning and closure the works of a successful and creative convention.
Over 1500 people participated in the Archdiocesan convention. What made it successful is not only the participation; nor the extremely well done job by the hosts; but rather the spirit of love that directed all the events and interactions. We tried to convey the love and faith of our parish to our brothers and sisters from all over the continent. We shared our experiences and learned from theirs, both, the successful and the challenging ones.
Hoping that more people get to experience the upcoming conventions: Pittsburgh 2021, Phoenix 2023 and Chicago 2025.
Jesus Christ is one. His body is one. And thus, we too are, and shall remain, one.
Fr. Nektarios Najjar,
For more photos and details:
St. Nicholas, Grand Rapids Facebook Page
News on Archdiocesan Website