Orthodox Congregations in North America

In the past 50 years, the term "congregation" has been rarely used in North America, because usually and in most places, the more permanent and complete church body - the parish - immediately became established. If at first there was a lack of something (parishioners, a priest, a church building), there was always the sense that it was only temporary. This is the way it has been usually.

Today, after May 17, 2007, it is not certain that among the opponents of union who are scattered all over the world, that new ROCOR parishes will be created any time soon which will parallel the existing ROCOR(MP) parishes. Yet, in each ROCOR(MP) parish there are laypeople in deep disagreement with what has transpired. At any given parish, there may be only several people, who may have significant abilities, but not enough for the creation of a complete church body, that is, a parish. Some may not have enough people, others may not have a priest, or their own property. Yet, such a group, even with its substantial disadvantages, can exist, grow, and develop with the hope of achieving the status of a parish. Such a group can be called a congregation. For others who share their opinions and for the church administration, this term can be used to loosely describe the status of such a group of faithful.

It is a good idea to add a name of a saint, or a feast day, or a holy icon, in whose honor this group is dedicated, to the title of a "congregation." The geographic location of the congregation can also be added. For example, a congregation located in the city of Niagara, who selected the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul as their heavenly protectors, can be known as the "ROCOR Congregation of Sts. Peter and Paul in Niagara."

It is a good idea if the diocesan administration has the postal and email address of the congregation and that all news and decisions made known to the diocese and the entire Church should immediately be transmitted to the congregations, just as if they were parishes.

It is a good idea if every congregation elects a church warden, secretary, or treasurer, or at the least a warden and a treasurer.

It is a good idea if the church directory include not only parishes, but the congragations of a diocese as well, to gather those laypeople who lost contact with their church leaders as a result of the sorrowful events of 2007. Bear in mind, in those countries where believers who do not submit to the existing church hierarchy may be persecuted, it may be better to avoid publishing all the information for a congregation, but we are speaking of North America here, where there is no such threat.

It is a good idea if neighboring congregations meet regularly to discuss and resolve common problems. They should also establish a central meeting point, that can be reached easily by a number of neighboring congregations.

Equally important is organizing the financial side of each congregation's life. The funds of a congregation can be generated through monthly dues payments or monthly donations. It is possible also to combine the two - establish a modest dues payment, say $10 a month, and a donation based on the financial ability of any given person each month.

A congregation should assist church bodies above it - the diocese and the church administration as a whole. For example, a congregation can decide to provide 10% of its monthly total to the diocese and 10% to the ROCA church administration. To provide for large, unexpected expenses, like the arrival of a bishop, a special collection can be organized.

Within the current conditions in North America, a number of congregations could be organized, some of which can grow to regular parishes eventually, when they as others gain experience, and with the help of the diocese, establish a challenging, but goal-oriented, spiritual life.

It is a good idea if all relatively large groups of faithful members organize themselves into functioning congregations, without despairing over their small number and isolation. They should also not lose hope because of the challenges they face or the inability to quickly create a functioning ROCA parish. Overcoming the challenges is much easier for us than it was for our fathers and grandfathers, who established the church structures in the USA and Canada in the 1940's and 1950's. We must remember the words of our Savior that, there where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them.

S.Z.

Canada