What Will It Take to Change Our Church?

By Fr. Andrew Jarmus
Director of Missions, Education and Communications
Winnipeg, Manitoba

I doubt if there is a single committed member of the U.O.C.C. who has not asked the question, “What is it going to take to turn things around for our Church?” Sometimes they may be speaking of the Church in general and other times they may be referring to their parish. Regardless, in both cases they express a concern that the current trends in the life of our communities has become unmanageable. Parishes continue to face declining membership. Individuals wrestle with contemporary issues that get more complicated day by day (“Better living through science.”). Priests feel more and more pressure to be “relevant,” “popular,” and “with the times.”

Like the addict on the verge of recovery, we know that there is a problem, but we have no idea what to do about it. Also like the addict, knowing that something is wrong is not enough to make things better. We must take concrete steps towards pulling out of the downward spiral in which many people feel our Church is stuck. In this work of healing and rebuilding (or “rebooting”) our Church life, each member must take personal responsibility for effecting change. A person with an addiction will, at first, try to place the blame for his/her problem on every external source s/he can think of. “If my coach wasn’t so hard on me, I wouldn’t drink so much.” “If my family will just back off, I’ll quit gambling on my own.” “If I get my promotion at work, I’ll stop over eating.” Each of these statement reflects an effort to shed oneself of one’s responsibility for growth and healing.

If we listen closely at parish executive meetings, coffee hours and other community functions throughout the country, will we hear similar statements regarding our Church. “If the priest would just learn to speak English (or Ukrainian) better…” “If the choir sounded nicer…” “If the Church would get with the times on moral issues…” “If the older members would just listen to the needs of the youth…” “If the youth would just respect the customs of the older members…” Each of these statements might bear some truth. However, knowing and articulating these things helps no one if we are not willing to ask ourselves, “What do I need to change about myself that would help my Church?”

People spend a great deal of time and personal energy agonizing over the failures and faults of others. We would be much better off if we spent even half of that much time looking honestly at ourselves. Thus, in the Gospel of Matthew (7:3-6) Jesus warns us: “Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye? How dare you say to your brother, ‘Please, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you have a log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”(cf. Luke 5:41,42) The devil tempts us to judge and complain about the failings of others, because he knows that when we do this we are neglecting the important spiritual work of examining ourselves.

Ultimately, the only thing we truly have a complete hand in changing is ourselves. I cannot change the decision of a past Sobor. There is no guarantee that I can alter the way someone thinks about the mission of the Church. What will it take to change our Church? Courage needed by every individual member to change themselves, more and more conforming to God’s will and the calling He has given each of us. Since each of us is part of the Church—the Body of Christ—when the members grow and heal, the whole body experiences growth and healing.