Friday, January 07, 2011

9 Ways Your Parish Can Serve and Become A More Integrated Part of the Local Community

It is very easy for an Orthodox parish to be invisible in a community, especially if the parish is set back in a quiet residential district, or is a commuter parish.  Our services are not exactly seeker friendly (even educated Christians from other churches have difficulty following what's going on in our services), nor should they be.  And for most of us, our one big community outreach event each year is a fundraiser where we invite the non-Orthodox to buy ethnic food and help pay our bills.  I'm not criticizing parish festivals.  I went to two last year and had a lot of fun.  I'm just saying that I don't think they are the best way to serve the communities where our parishes are located.  So, here is a list of things I think we can do that, I think, are completely selfless, serve the people who live around us, build the reputation of the Church, and provide a way for people to become acquainted with us.

1.  Host a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, or American Heritage Girl unit.  About all they need from the parish is a room big enough for 100 people to meet once a month.  The kids in your parish will probably be part of the unit, the non-church families will become aquainted with the parish, and begin to view it as an important part of their lives.  They might even begin to follow Jesus because of their exposure to you.

2.  Host a flu-shot clinic in the parish hall.  Because of the proximity of flu season to "The Holiday Season" have schedules of Nativity services available.

3.  Are there homless people in the neighborhood?  Send a deacon around on Sunday morning to invite them to coffee hour.  Thy probably won't come to a service but I bet they'll come to the parish hall for a free cup of coffee and some food.  And, eventually, they might start comming to services.

4.  Let the county government know the parish hall is available for use as a polling place.  Again, have information about the parish available.  Maybe even have someone from the clergy available to answer any questions.

5. Most of our parishes have pretty nice kitchens that are only used once a week.  Maybe, and I don't know the health laws so this might not fly, ask local under-employed chefs if they would be interested in using our kitchens for cooking classes.

6. Make our space available for kids to go after school and do homework. (There might be liability issues with this, though, so I'd talk to a lawyer before doing this one.) Maybe, parishoners could volunteer to be tutors.

7.  There is also my plan for evangelism. (It might or might not be God's plan, also, I've yet to try it myself.)

8.  Does your parish have a parking lot?  FARMERS MARKET!  This is especially handy in urban areas where there might not be good crocery stores.  Added benefit: The parish can have a booth, too!  Sell baklava and pierog every week not just once a year!

9.  Does your parish have bells?  Offer a bell ringing class to the people in your neighborhood.  I bet every kid within 6 blocks comes to learn how to ring them. What an opportunity!  Not only does this give the parish and the surrounding people a chance to get to know each other, but it can help diffuse the conflict that sometimes surrounds our ringing of the bells.

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