Every three years, the bishops, clergy and lay delegates of the Orthodox Church in America gather together in Council. The Church assembles for various reasons: to pray together, to discuss the state of the Church, to share experiences and thoughts, and then to deliberate and to make decisions affecting her life. Historically, the Church has gathered to elect the primate, revise the Statute, hear reports on all aspects of the Church’s life and work and thus, set priorities for that work. Just as importantly, the Church gathers in prayer, to learn from one another and have fellowship.
The 18th All-American Council was delayed a year due to a special 17th All-American Council called in 2012 for the express purpose of electing new Primate of the Orthodox Church in America. This Council builds on the work of the 16th All-American Council as part of the realization of the strategic plan. The highlights will be the adoption of the revised Statute of The Orthodox Church in America and the new finance plan for funding the Church.
Clearly, some Councils have had very particular tasks to perform, as was the case in Pittsburgh in 2008 and Parma in 2012, when delegates nominated and elected new Metropolitans. Other Councils may not have such particular tasks but nevertheless are as important, for they offer the opportunity to reflect together about the life of our Church. Councils give us the opportunity to gather, as the local Orthodox Church in America, to affirm what we are called to be here in North America. Thus, the very act of gathering together every three years is an essential aspect of what it means to be the autocephalous Orthodox Church in North America.
An interesting aspect of the First All-American Sobor was that Archbishop Tikhon had already learned of his transfer to a new See in Yaroslavl. His replacement, Archbishop Platon, had not yet arrived in the US, so Archbishop Tikhon presided over the gathering. The closing remarks of the Council were made by Archpriest Leonid Turkevich, who later became Metropolitan Leonty. It was Metropolitan Leonty who initiated the preliminary steps that would eventually lead towards reconciliation with the Moscow Patriarchate and the subsequent granting of autocephaly. Also, three clergy who were present at the Council — Archpriests Alexander Hotovitzky, John Kochurov and Alexis Toth — would eventually be canonized as saints.
With this amazing legacy in mind, the Holy Synod of Bishops decided to revisit the theme of that first Sobor as a step of not only revisiting the past, but building for the future. The theme will not only provide the context of the 18th All-American Council, but will also guide the discussions and presentations throughout the Council.
Being a delegate to the All-American Council is an honor and responsibility. Delegates have been chosen by their parishs or institutions to act on their behalf at the deliberations that will occur. However, they will also function as the representative of the Council to their parish or institution. The conciliar process of arriving at decisions, made in truth and love, can only come about when through open, honest and respectful dialogue, as well as the willingness to accept the “will of the Holy Spirit,” as it becomes manifest at the Council. For this to happen, all are encouraged to spend time in quiet prayer and reflection before the Council.
There are also opportunities for observers to attend the Council. While not serving as official delegates and while they do not have a vote during the Council, observers may attend plenary sessions and participate in all other Council functions. They may register on-line as daily or weekly observers and also may register to attend the formal dinner on Thursday evening. All liturgical services are open to the public. In addition, the 18th AAC will be podcast over Ancient Faith Radio and possibly via video simulcast on the OCA website — http://oca.org.
A typical attendance cost will include the cost of travel. Atlanta is a major hub and there will be discounts on certain airlines. All travel options and information will be released during the registration process. Another additional cost is the hotel. The Preconciliar Commission considered many hotels and discerned the best prices for rooms for the area. The special discounted rate applies to the delegates and observers, and the number of rooms sold at the AAC translates to lower costs for the OCA during the Council itself. A final cost is meals. There will be certain meals provided — the Formal Dinner is paid through the assessment to the parish, so there is no cost to delegates — and these will be clearly indicated. It is anticipated that there will be a breakfast with the Holy Synod and clergy wives and another breakfast with the youth. But most meals are the responsibility of the delegates. Fortunately, there are numerous options in all price ranges in and within walking distance of the hotel.
Assessment information is being sent out early so parishes can include All-American Council expenses in their 2015 budgets One can expect to budget around $1500 to $2000 per delegate, depending on travel costs. Observer registration costs, which include the Formal Dinner, will be $250 for the week. The daily observer fee is $75 per day and $75 for the Formal Dinner. Retired clergy will receive a 50% discount on the weekly fee.
The youth component will have its own expenses. The cost of the events, meals and other activities are built into the registration fee. The Church has also provided funds to offset the cost for the youth in order to encourage attendance. Youth should start planning now on how to raise the funds to attend the AAC. Costs such as transportation, hotel and most meals will need to be covered. The registration cost for a youth participant will be around $150 per youth, not including the cost of travel and room.
Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America [FOCA] registration and expenses are totally separate and will be provided through a separate registration process. However, the hotel room rate has been extended to FOCA delegates.
Finally, it should be noted that there is a collection taken at each liturgical service. The money raised from the collections will support a local charity on behalf of the Orthodox Church in America. In Seattle, the collection assisted Martha and Mary Home. Collections at the 18th All-American Council will benefit the Loaves and Fishes Ministry, a local Orthodox charity of Atlanta’s Saint John the Wonderworker parish which has assisted and fed more than a thousand homeless and needy people every day for over 30 years.
Fortunately the Church provides a method of putting all of the pieces together. The Executive Committee consists of experienced people who have been involved in All-American Councils over the years. This team is led by the Secretary of the OCA, per his job description. By Statute, a Preconcliar Committee [PCC] is formed; the PCC bears the overall responsibility for the Council (See Article III, Section 5). The PCC has many responsibilities, including the publishing of reports and the establishment of committees and preparation of the agenda, with the input and guidance of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council. In addition, the PCC is assisted by the local committee, which consists of clergy and lay volunteers from the area in which the AAC is being held. Their function is to provide the “behind the scenes” support, ranging from manning registration booths to ensuring that all the necessary items for liturgical services are available. A Council could not happen without plenty of local support.
Every Council agenda is intense and full. This is a reality in gathering together and trying to fit as many programs and pieces together as possible. This does not mean that everyone must participate in every event. However, the PCC tries to strike a balance between prayer and worship, work, education and social aspects to provide a full and memorable experience. It was decided that this Council will have some unique aspects.
First, there will be a youth component. The Holy Synod believes that the youth need to be involved, and they specifically directed that a youth program for all ages be put into place. There had not been a youth program since the 14th All-American Council in Toronto in 2005. This Council’s youth program will be directed by Priest Benjamin Tucci, and costs have been kept as low as possible to ensure maximum participation. Information on registration for the youth program will be made available this summer in order to allow appropriate preparation time for the youth to raise money to attend the Council. There will be education sessions mixed with fun outings to many of the interesting sites in and around Atlanta.
Second, the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America [FOCA] is holding their annual convention in conjunction with the Council so that the OCA and the FOCA can mutually support each other in their respective work. The FOCA continues to provide invaluable resources for the OCA, and it is a wonderful opportunity for them to be together in Council for the first time. For more information on the important work that FOCA pursues, please see their web site at http://www.orthodoxfellowship.org. Delegates will have an opportunity to attend FOCA events, which begin the weekend before the AAC. A full list of these events will be posted once they are finalized.
Third, there will be a series of workshop for two dedicated afternoons. These workshops will be sponsored by the Church’s departments and other ancillary agencies of both the OCA and the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America. The purpose will be to gather to reflect on the Council theme in their respective areas and to hold practical workshops to develop skills that can be brought back to the parishes and institutions in order to continue “expanding the mission.” A complete listing of workshops will be posted in the registration material with an opportunity to choose two of the workshops.
Finally, there will be other events at the AAC, including social gatherings and receptions, displays and vendors, and opportunities to explore Atlanta and discover the unique and dynamic history of the Orthodox Church in the region. All of this will make an unforgettable experience. It is expected that there will be a number of the relics of the North American saints and wonderworking icons present at the Council for veneration. There will be liturgical services twice a day and a room dedicated to prayer during the Council. The service schedule will include daily akathists in the morning (with the exception of a Sunday and Friday hierarchical Liturgy) and Vespers in the evening.
- The web site will go “live” on July 20, 2014 — a full year before the Council opening. The site will feature videos, interviews, articles and all material and resources for the 18th AAC. A unique feature will be the release of the recommended new Statute which the Statute Commission has been developing over the past year. The web site will have a blog feature for comments on the revisions for the Commission’s review.
- At the end of August 2014, the assessments for the AAC will be sent to every parish and institution. The level has been set by the Holy Synod at $12.50 per parishioner in order to defray Council expenses. This assessment will cover the costs of the Council, including the formal dinner. The costs of the hotel room, travel and other meals are the responsibility of the delegates and their parishes. The assessment is based on the budget developed by the PCC and approved by the Holy Synod. It should be noted that the 16th AAC realized a surplus in income, with funds returned to the host diocese for its use. The assessment must be paid prior to the Council in order for delegates to participate.
- Fall of 2014 will be focused on the presentation of the Statute and the Finance Plan. All parishes are encouraged to discuss the items and offer input to their dioceses. In addition, each diocese will be dedicating sessions at its annual assembly, deanery meetings or special gatherings to discuss not only these items, but also to offer resolutions to be presented to the 18th AAC. The results will be gathered, analyzed and presented at the Council during the plenary sessions.
- In early January, 2015, registration will open for the 18th All-American Council. This Council will see the transition from the old paper system to a new on-line electronic registration system. The PCC has looked at a number of options and has contracted a company to assist in the design of the system. This means that all Council registrations, including the youth component, workshop selection and meal choice, will be done through the AAC web site. This will make registration at the Council itself easier, as delegates will only have to check in and pick up their delegate packets. The name cards will have a code which can be scanned for entrance into plenary and workshop sessions, thereby speeding up the registration and credentials processes. Once a delegate has been approved (after the parish has paid its assessment and the diocesan hierarch has approved the delegate), an e-mail will be sent confirming the approval. Additional e-mails will be sent during the ensuing months informing the delegates of news and action items. There will also be a separate link for on-line registration for the hotel.
- During early Spring 2015, notice will go out calling for resolutions that will be gathered by a specially appointed committee to review, organize and present to the Council. All resolutions must be submitted by April 17, 2015 — 90 days before the Council opens.
- Around April 17, 2015, the final Statute revision comments will close in order to prepare a final draft.
- Around May 15, 2015 — 60 days before the Council opens — a series of reports and notices will be posted. This includes the final draft of the new Statute, per Article XIII of the current Statute. Also the final agenda, notice and arrangements will be posted, per Article III ,Section 5.
- Around June 17, 2015 — 30 days before the Council opens — the official delegate handbook, all of the reports of the Church, credentials and certification will be posted for review. During this time, clergy and lay delegates may be asked to serve on different committees of the AAC which operate while the AAC is in session. These committees are approved at the first plenary session.
- Arrival at the Council can be up to three days prior and departure can be up to three days afterward. The hotel has provided a special rate of $124 per night. As a note, there will be a special pan-Orthodox Vespers on Saturday evening before the Council and a Hierarchical Liturgy on the Sunday before the Council. Some dioceses will be holding their annual assemblies on the Monday of the Council. There will be a closing Liturgy on Friday morning. The final session will include a presentation by the youth who participated in the Council. There will also be FOCA events from Saturday to Monday during the Council.
- There will be a registration booth at the hotel. Delegates simply need to check in, get their registration packets, which will include a name badge (used for entrance into all events), tote bag with a notebook and other material (to put in reports). As a reminder, there will be no printed reports available at the Council. Delegates are requested to print out the reports and bring them with them to the Council. Signs will be posted throughout the hotel to assist the delegates. All events will be located on the first four floors of the hotel.
- Prepare through prayer for the All-American Council and ask for wisdom and guidance for all participants.
- Reflect on the theme, “How to Expand the Mission,” as it will guide discussions before, during and after the Council.
- Plan to participate in the workshops while at the Council.
- Share insights, concerns, and hopes on a variety of issues affecting the life of the Church, not only on the continental level, but also on the local and individual level.
- Explore and propose concrete plans and actions by which the Orthodox Church in America can participate in a vision that will continue to bring the Church to all people.
- Contribute to an open, honest and transparent dialogue between clergy, laity, parishes, dioceses and the Church.
- With your fellow parishioners and in your personal life, pray for and support the work of the All-American Council.
It is not the goal of this All-American Council to resolve all the issues that we face as a Church, but rather to set a clear path as we move forward for the next three years. The dialogue, initiatives, resolutions and information gathered at the Council will be utilized and implemented over the next three years to ensure a healthy future. We also pray that the discussions and results will enable us as a Church to grow a vision of the Orthodox Church in America, the autocephalous Orthodox Church in this land.
Each delegate is asked to come to the sessions in a timely manner prior to each session and to dress appropriately. There will be signs posted throughout the hotel directing people to different locations, as well as an electronic bulletin board to assist in finding different locations and to post important messages.
There are many places in the adjacent mall and locale for meals in all prices ranges. The PCC has scheduled longer meal breaks so that people can move to any of the locations to eat. Delegates and paid observers will receive tickets for the Formal Dinner on Thursday night. There will be opportunities for observers to register for the events and to come to the Formal Dinner. All other meals are one’s own. A list of the many easily accessible restaurants in the area will be included in the registration packet.
If there are concerns or issues during the Council, they may be addressed to members of the Preconciliar Commission who will meet each evening during the Council itself. Other immediate issues should be brought to the attention of the Local Committee or the Central Church Administration.