UOC of the USA Holds Annual Clergy Conference
UOC of the USA Holds Annual Clergy Conference

There are many different brothers in the Bible. When Scripture talks about brothers it’s not always blood related. Brotherhood can be a close friendship you have with someone, or perhaps a common interest, goal, or calling.  As Christians we are called to be our brother’s keeper, and thereby we are to build them up, show them love, and walk with them along the path to salvation.

One such brotherhood gathered from 15-18 October at the beautiful Metropolia Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, located in Somerset, NJ.  Every year the hierarchs of the Church organize a Clergy Conference, where all the brother priests gather together for prayer, discussion, education, and encouragement.

On Sunday, October 15th, the clergy of the UOC of the USA, arrived to register and socialize on the evening before the three-day conference - the much-anticipated event – was formally convened.  For most it had been a year since last they met.  The months had flown by, and the brother clergy were laughing and hugging and once again enjoying each other’s company.

The conference officially convened the following morning as the sun just rose over the horizon, and the clergy gathered at the St. Andrew Memorial Church for Divine Liturgy, celebrated by Archbishop Daniel.  The church filled with dozens of clergy as they joined their hearts and minds in prayer and worship.  After the reading of the Gospel (Luke 6:24-30) on loving others and turning the “other cheek”, Archbishop Daniel delivered a moving sermon stressing the importance of listening to God’s Will and not being afraid to preach His saving Gospel to the world through our daily lives, especially in light of all the current atrocities occurring in the world around us.  He stated that we are called to love everyone, without exception, even those whom we consider our enemies.  He gave personal examples of how God has guided him through his life and led him to this point, where he is able to preach the Lord and be a vessel of Christ’s Light to the world, as all Orthodox Christians are called to be.

The climax of the Liturgy was the partaking of the Eucharist, as the dozens upon dozens of priests and deacons crowded into the Altar to partake of the Holy Eucharist – the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  While it is always a moving experience, being surrounded by brother clergy, shoulder to shoulder, around the Holy Altar, in common prayer, “of one mind and one heart” - one body.

At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, the conference participants made their way over to the Cultural Center where having enjoyed a delicious breakfast, they filled the Conference Room and got down to the business at hand.  Opening the session with prayer, Metropolitan Antony blessed the clergy, expressing the importance of faith and belief.  His Eminence stressed the importance of living the Faith, with faith, daily in our lives.  The clergy are called to minister to the diverse communities in which they have been placed, and to minister to people of various backgrounds and needs.  They must seek to recognize the personal characters and attitudes of each of their spiritual children and to comprehend the fact that they must be the influence in each of their lives individually – the influence that leads them all along the narrow path following our Lord.  His Eminence encouraged all those gathered to put their trust in God and ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit each day, so that they can successfully minister to those entrusted to their care, each as to his or her own personal need.

To be able to help others, it is of great benefit for us to understand ourselves first.  Everyone has different personalities, and knowing our own will help us see ourselves as others see us and will allow us to realize how we act and react in various situations.  To assist the clergy in better gauging their own strengths and weaknesses, they were asked to complete prior to the conference, a two part self-assessment which helps to identify individual “strengths” and “struggles.  The assessment summarized the single word characteristics that each individual considered to be most descriptive of himself.  The report compiled at the end of the assessment identified leadership types and styles for each individual priest.  Mr. Dean Harbry, Chariman of the Board of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative and Orthodox Christian Coaching, delivered a riveting presentation on how to utilize the results identifying each of our priests.  Nearly every participant was astounded at how accurately the abundance of choices they made during the assessment summarized their leadership style in ways they had not contemplated. Armed with the information to identify practical clues as to why people behave the way they do, how different personalities best interact, and how best to lead varied individuals by choosing to show the “middle way” in their ministry that will help their spiritual children avoid the extremes of thought and action that often cause strife and division in parish life or interpersonal relationships.  Being able to comprehend and share the middle way will allow the clergy to better minister to their flocks.

The clergy shared stories later in the day with each other. It was beneficial for them to understand what other parishes are experiencing – their success, their failures, their joy, and their difficulties. By sharing experiences, the clergy were able to learn from each other, pick up tips, encourage their brothers who were struggling, and connect with clergy promising to keep in touch and assist each other, emphasizing Metropolitan Antony’s words quoting Fr. George Hnatko of Blesses Memory, that “Priests need priests too!”

Later in the conference, the gathering was pleased to learn about the newest Central Organization and ministry of the Church, the Guardians of the Metropolia (GoM). Fr. Andrii Pokotylo, President of the GoM Board and Howard West, Vice-President, explained the importance of the Guardians, their mission, their goals, and how to join them in making the Church even stronger than it is today. They asked the clergy to refer individuals in their parish communities who might consider becoming part of the GoM.

Archbishop Daniel spoke on the strategic outlook for the Church, and the plan for spiritual success and the salvation of souls. As society becomes ever more secularized, the work of the priest becomes ever more difficult. However, requiring greater effort and sacrifice on behalf of the priest, may lead to burn out, and therefore, it is imperative that the clergy reach out to each other, help each other, support each other, reiterating once again the need of priest working together to support each other.

In addition to being mentally stimulated and educated, the clergy were also spiritually fulfilled throughout the conference. Each day was filled with services, Liturgies, Molebens, Vespers, etc. Nothing is as successful at bolstering one’s spirit and exciting their souls as worshipping the Lord, and even more so in the company of brother clergy.

A particularly moving service was a Moleben on Tuesday evening to Sts. Julian and Chrisina, the patrons of our UOC Youth Ministry Program directed by Natalie Kapeluck-Nixon for over twenty years.  We must not only train up our youth, but we must also continually pray for them.  The UOC of the USA, under the leadership of UOC Youth Ministry Director, Natalie Kapeluck-Nixon, undertook a project several years ago to select patron saints for the youth of the Church.  The children were given numerous options, they learned about the lives of the numerous saints, their hardships, their suffering, their ultimate victory, and in the end, cast votes to beseech two saints to intercede on their behalf before the Lord: St. Christina of Tyre, and St. Julian of Tarsus, both were young adults who were martyred for their unflinching commitment to Christ.  Church iconographer, Michael Kapeluck was commissioned to write an icon depicting both saints.  87 reproductions of that icon were blessed at the Vespers service and distributed to the clergy to take with them back to their home parishes where they can also serve the Moleben WITH their own parish children beseeching the Lord will enable them to live following the dedication and love for God and fellow man of Sts. Christina and Julian. 

The conference concluded with a moving Divine Liturgy celebrated by Metropolitan Antony.   During his summary of the Clergy Conference, he urged the clergy to absorb what they learned about their particular skills and leadership styles and to utilize it in their ministry without fail and without excuse for why they cannot.  “May we never hear the words of our Lord about us that He spoke about the Pharisees who were “offended” by His teachings… “Let them alone: they are blind leaders of the blind.  And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into the ditch.” (Mt. 15:14) We, priests of the New Covenant, must ALWAYS seek to guide our spiritual children along the “narrow path”, which leads to salvation.  No excuse will suffice to justify ourselves if we lead a spiritual child into the ditch or to veer off the narrow path.  Our lives must be filled with the Grace inspired into our lives, especially at the moment of our ordination to the Deaconate and the Holy Priesthood – the Grace that will put the words we need in our mouths when we need them, the Grace that should abound in us and grow, overflowing into the lives of those God has given to us.  What trust He has in us!  What spiritual power He has given us!  What instruction He has given us to work miracles in human lives!  God save us if we abandon our pastoral responsibilities.  God save us if we choose the “things” of the temporal world over storing up treasures in Heaven.  God save us if we get lazy and simply “go through the motions of priestly responsibility with no intent, no personal prayer outside of liturgical services, no attempt to discover and share the middle way in our relationships with all and especially when we fail to practice what we preach!  Hypocrisy – the only time we see an angry and vocal response from our Lord in the Gospels is when He is confronted with it.  God save us, my brothers, from ALL that weakens us and our Holy Priesthood.  You all are in my prayers daily and I ask for your prayers for my own failures and weaknesses.”

Following Divine Liturgy, the brothers gathered again to break bread and discuss what they were personally enlightened with during the conference. They asked their hierarchs to definitely schedule regional conferences in each quarter of the year so that their distance from one another across the entire USA will be overcome by the opportunity to learn together, to worship together and simply socialize.  This was the largest conference we have experienced in many years – especially through the pandemic that separated us from each other for so long.  “O Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance.  Grant victory to Orthodox Christians over their adversaries and by virtue of Your Cross, protect us as Your community.”

UOC of the USA Holds Annual Clergy Conference

Photos by Subdeacons Maksym Zhuravchyk and Mykola Stefanyk

(145 images)

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Mailing Address
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
P.O. Box 495
South Bound Brook, NJ 08880

Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
Metropolia Center
135 Davidson Avenue
Somerset, NJ 08873