Vol. 2 No. 3 - Dormition 2007
Real Estate Boom
"For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens," - 2 Corinthians 5:1
Speaking demographically, the best real estate opportunities in the country may soon be found among urban Greek and Ukrainian Orthodox Parishes.
According to Canadian census data, these communities face demographic disappearance: Ukrainians as a result of low birth rate and high intermarriage rates, and Greek as a combined result of exogamy (marriage to those outside the Church and culture) and a reverse immigration that has seen many expatriots returning to the sun and clear blue waters of Greece. If such trends continue, as they likely will, these Orthodox communities will likely face the same surplus of church buildings now facing Anglicans and others across Canada.
Of course, nothing is inevitable. The key to the resuscitation of such parishes is within reach - but not through better dance classes and heritage language programs which innoculate the rapidly Canadianized grandchildren against anything that seems to come from the "Old World" - including the Orthodox Faith.
The future life of these church buildings - and indeed, the very real hope for the missionary work of the Church in Canada - can be found elsewhere:
• Put underused parish buildings to use as missions to non-Orthodox Canadians, concentrating on sharing the Orthodox faith with the neighbours, setting aside any idea of such missions as guardians of ethnic heritage, such as heritage language classes, dances, or festivals. In many inner city areas, this would mean running a soup kitchen or kids program, a shelter for street people, etc. Would wealthy, comfortably middle class Orthodox jurisdictions ever do this?
• Offer pan-Orthodox youth programs, both in the summer, and throughout the year, for children, as well as teen groups. These would make no money for the parish; they may not bring in a single person, or even involve anyone (or any children) from the sponsoring parish. They would simply provide a common Orthodox life and teaching, not to mention friendship and relationship-building times, including laying foundations for authentic Orthodox marriages in the years ahead.
• Arrange social events for unmarried young people in their early twenties, including young people from all local parishes. Centre these events on the spiritual instruction of the Church, followed by lots of food, and a fun social day or evening in a setting which reflects the Faith (i.e. not a Salsa Night).
• Provide marriage preparation classes to every couple scheduled to be married in an Orthodox church. Do this together with priests and parishes from across each community, sharing the work. Continue to provide ongoing groups for the spiritual instruction and counseling of newly married couples, and for the support of new mothers.
• Tear out the bars in the basements of churches, and shuffle out gambling nights and gala fundraisers, whose basis contradicts the Orthodox life. This is the only way to accommodate programs for building the Orthodox faith in young people, young couples, and people in need - not to mention strengthening adults for the spiritual battle at the heart of the Christian life.
One might ask: will communities continue a numeric death spiral, stubbornly oblivious to the great spiritual opportunities that sit on their doorstep? This remains to be seen. Of course, those parishes which prefer to ignore these opportunities to bring new life to their parish, and to share the Gospel with Canadians in general, can only expect current realities to unfold to their logical conclusion: dwindling spiritual life in the parish, faithful people seeking spiritual food elsewhere, and eventual closure.
If the better options are out of the question, for reasons of pride or stubbornness, perhaps the real estate agent should be called right away.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Dormition, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.