It was a harder sermon than most to give last Sunday.

I reminded the church of a simple fact; as we're remodeling our building we need to remodel ourselves as well by making our parish a central part of our lives and reaching out to our community in word and deed. Our little church, like many other Orthodox parishes, can suffer from that kind of laxity that comes with age. Everyone likes the general idea of having a church but few are willing to produce the kind of effort it takes, the kind of personal responsibility required, the kind of vision turned into action that makes a parish thrive. Without it all our efforts at remodeling our building may simply mean we're preparing it for someone else, for the church, group, bookstore, or whatever that buys it when we're closed.

That's a hard thing to say, and the truth of it doesn't make it easier.

There are many things a Priest can do to help a parish but one thing always remains out of our grasp. We cannot create the will, the drive, that invisible something where people say "This is important to me, important enough for me to commit myself, my talents, my gifts, my energy, my resources, to make it happen." That will cannot be taught, it must be caught, and without it life in an Orthodox church can only be about holding on for as long as possible before time and demographics work their decay.

It's one of the stranger illusions of life in American Christianity and Orthodoxy in particular. People know if you don't feed a goldfish it will die and if you don't invest passion, time, and energy into your business it will go bankrupt. Yet that common sense often seems lost when it comes to our churches where the expectation of high returns on small investments is the order of the day.

Some of that seems to be the rancid fruit of centuries of either being a state church or a persecuted church. In the first few had to invest deeply of themselves because the church was always there, in the second the church was always in some kind of captivity so the idea of a horizon, of a dynamic, was often lost. The Orthodox who immigrated to this country largely brought one of the two of these visions with them and the combination has been poisonous to us in this land where parishes are free from persecution but required to make their own way in the world as well.

One would think that after a century or two of existence in this country we would have "gotten it" but apparently we often still miss this basic lesson, that in this country what you put in to anything often has a direct relationship to what you'll receive. And that's a hard thing to tell the people for whom you care, for whom you pray, and for whom you sometimes spend sleepless nights. I wish there was something I could say, something I could do, something to ignite an enduring passion for our little parish in people's hearts so they would find the way to reach down inside and draw on the gifts they were given in their baptism and chrismation and be what God would have them be. I know they would be better, happier, more alive, and closer to Christ. At times I ache for this in their lives.

Sadly, though, there are no words, no magic formula, no sure fire way for me to help light the spark of hope in these good people's hearts. I'll do my best to point the way, and everything else is in God's hands. But just in case you're reading this, please God, give these good people who've endured so much a glimmer of what could be and the courage to reach out and grasp it.

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