End of March 1998
My Goal in Chicago
By Peter J. Pappas, NY, NY
Attending the GOAL Conference in Chicago was most interesting and informative. My purpose for being there was twofold: first, to hear the concerns of the group and determine their position; secondly, to listen to what would be said for its content and accuracy as I know it. I must say there were many familiar faces there from around the country, Archons, Archdiocesan Council members, Leadership 100 members, church leaders, philoptochos members, and self-proclaimed dedicated church people. High marks must be given to those who thought out every aspect of this well-organized conference. Registration was smooth, neat and complete, concise agenda and speakers were brief along with prepared prayers for the group. The first session Friday evening was an orientation for GOAL attendees, and a welcome to all following a prayer session.
Much to my surprise the invited speakers were people who were selected to complain and discredit Archbishop Spyridon, based on their personal experiences with him. One by one they told their stories of how disappointed they were with their experience with Archbishop Spyridon. It was obviously a sensitive couple of hours for me, listening to story after story, each telling their side of an incapable, arrogant, and insensitive Archbishop.
Some in the audience had heard parts of these episodes and others had no idea what to expect. The trend became very apparent, the Archbishop was the target this evening and some in the crowd seemed to enjoy this theater like presentation. At times it became ugly as some speakers angrily made sly remarks. Character assassination was the order of the evening. This now had set the direction for this conference; oust the Archbishop. Unfortunately what we heard was a portrayal of a one sided episode without knowing clearly why the actions or comments were made in each case. Nonetheless, these people were not happy, and continued routinely to discredit the Archbishop. There were no questions allowed at this session as each began to unload with both barrels charging the Archbishop and the Archdiocese with crude and unsavory communications and management. A friend from Birmingham tried to give another slant to these proceedings regarding our church and its history with reference to the laity participation. It was his attempt to make a forum of what turned out to be a cleverly orchestrated attack on Archbishop Spyridon. How sad.
While exiting from the meeting room I met many friends and colleagues involved with our church, and many new faces. I must say, the mix of well known leaders made up approximately 15% of some 350 attendees, of which many were husbands and wives. It was mentioned that members came from more than twenty states. Although, it was clear that Chicago was in the majority. As I talked to many of the people after this session to determine their feelings, I received mixed reviews. Most felt that this organization had set the tone for this conference to get rid of the Archbishop, and were somewhat embarrassed. It became clear that they believe he is not equipped to deal with the administration of our Archdiocese. Further more, he has clearly surrounded himself with only clergy and laity that agreed with him, while replacing those who do not. That does not seem strange to me, its done all the time in every walk of life whether church, politics or business. Great managers most do what they must to enact their policy, procedures, and implementation. Others that I spoke with agreed with the speakers that Archbishop Spyridon has serious flaws in his personality and ability to lead. One must wonder what happened to the tradition of are faithful? Or have we been fooled to believe that issues we mentioned would be the determining factors to talk about removing or ousting an Archbishop? What happened to the kindness and respect we were conditioned to have for our clergy? I felt somehow if the other side to these stories were told, a fair conclusion could be reached as opposed to a one sided version condemning the Archbishop. Continuing the evening conversations with old friends and new ones, the discussions became more conciliatory. As the evening concluded, Patriarch Bartholomew is brought into the conversations insinuating a planned involvement within the structure of our church in America.
The lead issues are the elevation of our Diocese Bishops to Metropolitans and how that is in disagreement with the Archdiocesan charter of 1977. In addition, many believe that this is only the beginning, and that the division of America will follow. The two issues that seemed to be prominent were the North and South American breakup and the elevation of Bishops to Metropolitans. I personally agree with both. Simply the territory for the Primate of North and South America was far too massive for one Archbishop to provide leadership consistent with the United States. Historically, visits be previous Archbishops were infrequent not giving worshipers a true sense of that experience.
In addition, our financial commitment to South and Central America will reduce as well. Nevertheless, I saw no loss in this for our Archdiocese and agreed with this reconstruction of North and South America. Year after year the metropolitans lobbied for this elevation of distinction and recognition for their time of service as Bishops. The opinion of some that believe that this is a plan to further cut up America into Metropolitan Sees is absurd. I listened to theory after theory of how this was the master plan and in conclusion, Archbishop Spyridon would end up with his choice, keeping the Archdiocese in the Northeast.
The thinking became more and more creative as the evening drew to an end. As more issues were addressed the Archbishop remained on the hit list.
The next morning, after breakfast, I attended the general session welcome. The attendees grew by maybe 100; again it seemed made up of locals. Now we heard from the organizers who gave the audience a full description of the conference and defined all the workshops along with missions and resolutions to be reviewed. These speakers were very articulate and knowledgeable individuals who have studied in depth all of the disciplines. More facts and information were given in impressive details regarding the concerns and reason for the formation of the Goal organization. That session concluded with a remark to perhaps hold back the parish's financial commitment to the Archdiocese. What an ending.
Next, I attended the Organization Structure workshop, one of four workshops organized. Each workshop was to review and comment on designated resolutions that have been prepared by the committee for substance and value to the Goal cause and to further elaborate on other positions. The most consistent remarks were to include and maintain the present charter revised in 1977. That seemed to cover most concerns and satisfy all. Although, some stated even the charter needs change. However, that was tabled for the future. As everyone engaged in review and discussions of these resolutions, it became apparent again that this forum was designed to officially deal with Archbishop Spyridon. None of the resolutions stated that the Archbishop must adhere to the 1977 charter while officiating our church. And at no time did I hear a warning would be appropriate. The resolution directly said if you can't conform to Goals request, you should resign, and if not, the Patriarch replace Him: wow, that's tough stuff. Needless to say many spoke on these issues and the moderators were attentive. The OCL members seemed to be very involved with this process. I left early that afternoon, saddened and dismayed as I greeted friends who also seemed unsettled. How dare any group attack and attempt to dismantle our Church without any attempt at reconciliation. Those who are unhappy with the Archbishop can not expect to provoke or use radical tactics within the Greek/American Community -- that would be disastrous for them as well as our church communities.
So, after all is said and done, what will happen? I feel that Goal is not a threat and believe that their actions will have an adverse affect on their mission. The Archbishop can only gain an enormous vote of confidence from his flock in empathy alone. My concern is what will happen to this group and how we can become one again. Open dialogue and communications must be available in the spirit of communion to resolve their issues.
In summation the intellectual quality and talent of this group must be harnessed to work within the structure of the church and not from the outside. We all must reexamine our thoughts, redemption must be the call for all to join together and build our church brighter for future generations to come.
[ EKKLISIA | www.ekklisia.org/eart-3-31.htm - March 31, 1998 ]