SUMMARY REPORT TO HIS EMINENCE METROPOLITAN ISAIAH
& TO THE GREEK ORTHODOX COMMUNITY OF GREATER SALT LAKE
Internal and external tensions in the Salt Lake City Greek Orthodox Community have become untenable. Those issues, ranging from rumors of our parish splitting, allegations of mismanaged community funds, personal attacks on parish members, and the absence of general assemblies and free elections, have gotten to the point where our parish can barely function. Those tensions came to a head at the November 20, 2011 Special Assembly during which articles and bylaws meant to supposedly bring our parish into
uniformity with other Greek Orthodox parishes were soundly rejected by the members. Indeed, that assembly vote is better interpreted as a referendum vote--wrought of frustration against current parish operations and less so as an outright rejection of the UPRs or of the Archdiocese.
In early December, Metropolitan Isaiah wisely contacted Father Matthew Gilbert, asking him to gather a small group of parishioners who primarily worship at Holy Trinity to meet informally with the Metropolitan for a lunch meeting in Salt Lake City. The Metropolitan was concerned that he had only been informed about “one side” of the sundry issues in Salt Lake City and wished to hear from Holy Trinity parishioners directly, as they are broadly considered to be on “the other side.” He also sought to learn why all representatives from Holy Trinity previously asked this past year to serve on an interim parish council had each declined. To that end, he also hoped there might be some persons from Holy Trinity who would serve on an upcoming interim parish council if the need arises.
Father Matthew settled on eight persons to meet with His Eminence. They were Christina Athas, Bill Chaus, Nicole Mouskondis, George Pappas, John Saltas, Ted Sargetakis, Tykie Skedros and Harry Souvall. The group was told they were chosen because they are informed on community issues, and because they comprise individuals who could reliably and respectfully articulate parish concerns. Each also represented segments of the larger community via their familial and cultural ties or had previous expertise in parish operations. Three have relatives who were banned from the Special Assembly, three previously served on the parish council (one a past president), and one had served on a parish council outside of Utah and could also address legal issues. Our youth organizations, the choir and Sunday School also had voice. The group was instructed to speak openly. And each person did.
The group met with His Eminence on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at the Alta Club in downtown Salt Lake City. Father Matthew was present, as well as John Johns, legal counsel for the Metropolis in Denver. The meeting began at 11:30 a.m. and ended at nearly 2:30 p.m. Lunch was served. Everyone chose Lenten fare, despite Lamb and Greek Chicken being offered on our special Greek menu.
His Eminence began with a prayer, followed by a short, anecdotal talk regarding his feelings and insights about Salt Lake City, the Metropolis, the Archdiocese and Orthodoxy generally. He relayed that he was in Salt Lake City without an agenda, had come with an open mind, and was here to listen. We expressed our appreciation to speak directly to him. We also shared our sincere wish that persons from Prophet Elias might also have attended in order to assert we are indeed one community.
What the Metropolitan heard follows.
It is impossible to adequately and accurately convey every nuance and discussion point here. To that end, below is a bullet point summary of the major concerns that were delivered to His Eminence. Each bullet point was first delivered by one group member, then discussed by any number of members multiple times. As a group we knew we were charged with delivering not only our personal points of view, but we were also keenly aware that we were the voice of hundreds of local parishioners who have been without voice for nearly two years, including the growing number of formerly active parishioners who have become disenfranchised from our community in recent years.
Great care was taken to consolidate the major issues of our community into a singular message designed to move our united community forward in one mission:
To restore openness and trust; to rebuild our ethical core; to assert our Orthodox values; and, to ensure our Church thrives into the next generation and beyond.
Primary Discussion Topics:
1. We follow and accept the same Orthodox faith and Orthodox principles as His Eminence.
• We are loyal Orthodox Christians. We are not a “club.” We are not “against the church or Christ.”
2. We feel strongly that our parish must remain united as one. The forced “split” has not worked.
• Most of us have become involved because we are concerned that our beloved parish is completely non-functional, causing a blanket loss of faith which could also lead to financial ruin.
3. We require General Assemblies open to the entire community without exclusion.
• Announce and hold a general assembly that follows the rules set in the UPRs.
• Elect a parish council in an open General Assembly before the end of January 2012.
4. We must forbid manipulation of parish council candidates (and members) and settle on a sustainable, equitable standard of participation absent of personal bias from the clergy.
• Several of the group indicated that they would be willing to serve on a parish council if it is a council that has true independent decision making authority.
• Candidates for parish council must not be subject to arbitrary elimination from the ballot.
• Some of us would be willing to serve on an interim council if there was a firm date for elections.
5. Create methods of open dialogue--no secrets. We must have open meetings and full transparency.
• It is important that His Eminence visit Salt Lake City more frequently. His presence is needed to begin new relationships, to restore lost trust and to correct community wrongs.
• Communication at every level is poor. We desire open, respectful communication between Denver and Salt Lake City, from the parish council to parishioners, and between Holy Trinity and Prophet Elias.
• Letters from the Metropolitan sometimes contradict previous letters, or the letters themselves sometimes enflame individuals or groups. Verbal communication is better than letter writing.
• Deliver to our community minutes and financial records they have not seen in nearly 2 years.
• We have not seen a response to the Audit Committee Report, if it even exists.
6. Restore “The Six” parishioners who were banned from the November special assembly to full parish membership, privileges and participation.
• Standing for honor, truth and integrity is not a quest for “power” or “control.”
• Not one person among the “unity” members has ever expressed desire for control of our parish, its people or its resources.
• We are not a “small group of troublemakers.” Each election or vote indicates growing support.
7. Our youth are leaving the parish. Develop a plan to keep our youth active and involved.
• Our beautiful facility at Prophet Elias is no longer used for basketball practice.
• Some of our GOYA teams are now practicing at local LDS wards--and paying for them.
• Our youth are the pawns in the war of words between clergy and laity.
• Sunday School enrollment at Prophet Elias has dropped from just over 330 students to 150 students in just the past few years. Sunday School enrollment is up at Holy Trinity, but it has not fully captured the loss from Prophet Elias.
8. External fundraising groups, including the HCF, do not compete with parish fundraising efforts.
• The HCF can attract donations from corporations and other foundations (and has done so) that are not accessible to the Church proper.
• Those additional funds are important for our parish growth.
• Those funds benefit our Church, our community, improve facilities and help expand Orthodoxy.
• Monies that remain from prior fundraising efforts are in the safe control of our General Assembly.
9. To date, His Eminence receives only one point of view regarding community matters.
• Often that message derives from the pulpit of Prophet Elias or from parish council members who have little or no contact with Holy Trinity.
• Holy Trinity is growing due to members abandoning the services at Prophet Elias. As well, a great many loyal Prophet Elias attendees side with their brothers and sisters at Holy Trinity in matters of the above. All of that creates the real truth: The vast majority of Salt Lake’s Orthodox community seeks only peace, harmony and faith, not accusatory, inflammatory or self-serving rhetoric.
• We have deep concerns that Father Michael has abdicated his early role of community healer and is now considered to be a divisive force.
• We are equally concerned that Father Michael has lost the trust of the larger Salt Lake City Greek Orthodox Community and is no longer an effective shepherd of our parish.
In the coming days, we will submit a list of recommendations to His Eminence for moving forward. We are honored to have the opportunity to work with His Eminence as we build and improve the Greek Orthodox Community of Salt Lake City together.
We were honored to have had this opportunity and greatly appreciate our time with His Eminence.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
SUMMARY REPORT TO HIS EMINENCE METROPOLITAN ISAIAH