St. George’s Parish Council President: We Won’t Back Down - Ever!
BOSTON - The President of St. George’s Church in Lynn, Massachusetts, John Meklis, in an exclusive interview with The National Herald, said the members stand strong and united against what they called the imposing tactics of Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, who has raised their annual assessment by $20,000 a year, up to $88,000 annually. Meklis told TNH that, “We are determined for everything.” If they receive a letter from Methodios directing the removal of the church’s priest, Fr. George Tsoukalas and the parish council, Meklis said: “We are going to send the letter back to him.” The interview showed the church’s determination to remain firm and united against Methodios.
TNH: How was your Holy Week at St. George?
MEKLIS: It was both difficult but very spiritual and very moving. We were very disappointed that Fr. George (Tsoukalas) was left by himself; no assistant was sent by the Metropolis.
TNH: Did you request one?
MEKLIS: We did not directly request one, no.
TNH: Did you request in the previous years?
MEKLIS: No. They know we are one of largest parishes in the Metropolis and in the past they automatically sent someone for assistance. For years, we had a second priest and they still sent us assistance. They knew assistance was needed and none was given to us.
TNH: How was the attendance?
MEKLIS: Equivalent to past years, maybe a little more.
TNH: What did the faithful tell you during Holy Week?
MEKLIS: They are upset seeing Fr. George struggling physically, being by himself. They continue to show support of our stance with the Metropolis and this financial matter we are in.
TNH: Where does the issue stand as we speak?
MEKLIS: We stand in No Man’s Land; we are waiting. As you know we handed 68,000 dollars of what they have requested; now they started to send the money back to us; there is no direct correspondence with anybody including the Metropolis, we continue to go forward as a church.
TNH: What did you do with those returned checks?
MEKLIS: We haven’t cashed them. They cashed the January and February checks, so they issued a check from the Archdiocese, the March (check) was sent back to us and I found it a little strange because in the letter they said they are sending them back to us upon the advisement of Chancellor Fr. Ted Barbas because we should be paying $9,000 a month. I was led to believe that the local Metropolis has no say. This financial matter is from the Archdiocese, yet the letter states that the money was sent back based upon Fr. Ted’s recommendation, so it confused me a little a bit about who actually makes the decisions, but anyway.
TNH: Is the parish council united?
MEKLIS: The parish council and the whole church is the most united it has been in my history here.
TNH: How far are you determined to go?
MEKLIS: We will go all the way.
TNH: What do you mean?
MEKLIS: We will fight this to the end; the people have spoken.
TNH: Let us say that you receive a letter tomorrow or next week from Metropolitan Methodios that you the parish council and also Fr. Tsoukalas are removed. What are you going to do?
MEKLIS: We are going to send the letter back; we are not going to leave; we are going to get our direction from our parishioners; we strongly believe that this church belongs to the St. George’s community.
TNH: How do you answer the fact and those who say that we are a hierarchical Church and we should obey to the hierarch? We are not a Congregationalist church.
MEKLIS: That is the problem that we have, and the problem is bigger than St. George. I am not knowledgeable enough to speak on it. It is hierarchical. We want to respect and we want to be a part of the Archdiocese as a whole, however there is a point that enough is enough. I thought that hierarchical was about sacrificial love and approach but it was shown to me the last four months it is about money, power and ego; Over the last two months I really think its more about power and ego than money.
TNH: Are you really going to send the letter back?
MEKLIS: We are going to send the letter back; we are going to stay here; If they want to bring it to point of a public relations nightmare of bringing in the courts or the Sheriff’s Department we are ready to go there. People are ready to protest and march and stand around the church and not let anybody in, and if that is what they want that is what they are going to get. Primarily we are not going to let Fr. George leave this church and we as parish council are not going to leave.
TNH: Is this issue about $20,000 or is it an issue of principle?
MEKLIS: It is a little a bit of both; Fr. George and myself went and met with the Metropolis finance committee three times going back two years. I brought them our operating funds and balance sheets and we showed them that in 2010 we ran at loss of $10,000 giving them $68,000 and we said if we give you any more we are going to continue lose money. I told them this is all we can afford; we offered them $78,000, we said we want to continue to work, we want a part of this but from that point on the way we were treated in these meetings it is really what needs to told. When I told my parish council the way we were spoken to they wouldn’t believe me.
TNH: Can you please explain?
MEKLIS: They need to understand that we are volunteers here and we are giving our time and money and family time. We are killing ourselves and instead of having a dialogue with us and negotiating, they say the Clergy Laity Congress voted this is how you are going to pay and you must pay. I said I understand how the Clergy Laity established this process, our problem is we do not agree with this process and not every process works for everybody, we are struggling to pay our bills. We go for the whole summer until our festival to catch up with our bills.
TNH: Has the decline of the economy influenced your parishioners?
MEKLIS: Yes, a large majority of our parishioners are elders and a lot are on fixed incomes and they pay what their dues are and they are here every Sunday and they give as much as they can. I have an e-mail sent on May 2010 saying we will pay $78,000 just please put it in writing for me so we do not have any discrepancies at the end of the year, but there was no response to that. A couple of years ago someone individually paid the $10,000 difference and there was a verbal agreement made that we will remain at $78,000 for five or six years.
TNH: Who gave the $10,000?
MEKLIS: I’d rather not disclose.
TNH: Was Metropolitan Methodios at the meetings with the Metropolis Finance Committee?
MEKLIS: He attended only the final meeting with George Vourvoulias from the Archdiocese Finance Committee. He did not speak. Again that meeting began by reading to us from the Uniform Parish regulations basically telling us that we are here do as they say and our opinion does not matter . That is how the meeting was started.
TNH: But Metropolitan Methodios sent a letter to the parishes saying that all these things are lies. Mr. President, you are saying the truth to the Greek American Community?
MEKLIS: Absolutely; there is no reason to lie, nothing to hide, this is a volunteer position for me.
TNH: Did you participate in the local Clergy Laity Congress of the Metropolis of Boston last October?
MEKLIS: Yes, I went with Fr. George and met with George Mathews and Fr. Ted (Barbas), there were six or eight members of our parish present, they attended the stewardship meetings both last year and this year that were held in Watertown and other churches, we have attended the meetings.
TNH: In any of those meetings did the Metropolis provide any financial statement of how they spend the money for the Philoxenia House, for the Metropolis Offices, for the Camp?
MEKLIS: I did not see any financial statements.
TNH: Did you ask yourself as an official of this parish why the Metropolis is not giving out a financial statement?
MEKLIS: I think they should. I think that everybody that collects money in the name of any organization should say how they spend that money.
TNH: Would you comment on the letter sent to Fr. Tsoukalas and the parish council by 53 priests of the Metropolis?
MEKLIS: They did not write the letter. The letter was prepared for them. The first time around they got 25 to 30 signatures; the second time around they got 54 signatures; my assumption is that there was a heavy hand having them sign that letter; I do not want to speak of any priest but I am sure they see what is going on here.
TNH: Have other parish councils contacted you?
MEKLIS: As Greeks we all know each other; they have been telling me unofficially off the record they support us, they approve of what we are doing and they wish they have the ability to do what we are doing.
TNH: You said that you are determined to go all the way, even to take the congregation and go to another building and leave this building to Metropolitan Methodios?
MEKLIS: Final try, yes, but we are not ready to give up this building either; the people you saw today built this church, that will destroy them personally; that is not our final game, but if we have to, yes. The people are not accepting him (Methodios) back right now and our community again is united. The Metropolitan has attempted to divide us in numerous ways. He attempted to divide members of the Parish Council and Fr. George with an initial letter. He attempted to divide the community by reaching out to people who were going to have the sacraments of wedding and baptism saying to them “Talk to your Parish Council,” and trying to get them to turn on us. He is campaigning to start another Parish Council. He is calling our parishioners but they are not calling him back; he is trying to separate us. We do not want to leave this building; I grew up here, I was an altar boy, I do not want to leave this building.
TNH: If you had in front of you Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew what would you tell him?
MEKLIS: I will ask him where he has been.
TNH: Parishioners told me just minutes ago that Methodios has to go from Boston. What do you think?
MEKLIS: Should he be removed? I do not know, but the Patriarch needs to take some action; I believe the Metropolitan has lost the respect of the people.
TNH: What it will take to resolve this issue?
MEKLIS: They need to lift the sanctions against Fr. George and the church and then we will sit down and discuss. The people have voted to pay no more than 68,000 dollars. They need (the Metropolis) to open a dialogue; there was never a dialogue, there was an attack immediately.
TNH: What happened to that vision of Fr. Tsoukalas and Mr. Demakis of establishing a Greek Day School?
MEKLIS: The dream is not killed; I am for it, my children are attending now a Catholic parochial school because I do not want to send them to the public school, if we had a school here I would definably send them here.
TNH: How are you going to react if Metropolitan Methodios enters the room as we speak?
MEKLIS: I will sit down and talk to him.
TNH: Would you take the initiative to call or write to him?
MEKLIS: As of right now, no, because I do not act alone. Even in speaking with you I have the approval of the parish council.
TNH: And the final word?
MEKLIS: St. George will survive; we do not like the Press publicity and the embarrassment going on but we are going to survive.
St. George’s Parish Council President: We Won’t Back Down - Ever!