I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius; lest any one should say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any one else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
I Corinthians 1:10-17 (Epistle of the Eighth Sunday)
Allow me to share one of the more frustrating aspects of being a parish priest, and that is when our church becomes divided into special interest groups. Many of us are attracted to specific ministries in the church. The teenagers love GOYA, they don’t think about the Parish Council. The Parish Council by and large doesn’t think of the choir. The choir doesn’t think about the ushers. The ushers don’t necessarily think about stewardship. And so on. There have been times where I can almost hear the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians as people rally for their ministry – “We need new robes” says the choir; “we need to do a fundraiser,” says the GOYA; “It’s our money,” says the group that puts on the dinner dance on church grounds. “I came to church,” says the person who came after the service is over for the AHEPA meeting. Sometimes this kind of thing has left me wondering “where is Christ in all of this?”
The fact is that we are one church, one body of Christ. We are separated into various church communities, based on where we live. And each community is separated into various ministries, according to the needs of the parish and the interests/talents of the parishioners. However, there needs to be at least a few things that unite us, a few things that every parishioner is supposed to participate in, regardless of what specific ministry he or she participates in.
We are all called to worship, with “one voice and one heart.” (From the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) Regardless of which ministries we participate in, we are all supposed to worship and we should all be joyful about that. The most common denominator for each Christian is that we partake of the same Christ from the same chalice as we work towards the same salvation.
We are all called to be stewards of the church, not just our own ministry in it. There is one priest for the whole community, one church sanctuary, one set of buildings, and it is the financial support of the whole community that keeps the personnel employed and the buildings and ground functional for all to use. This is why is perplexes me (well, it annoys me) when people give a good deal of financial support to their favorite ministry but give very little to the whole. We are all part of the whole. We all have to support the whole.
We are all called to encourage people to come to Christ. Many times we encourage people to join a ministry – come work the festival, or come join GOYA, or come join the dance group – and we forget to invite them to join in worship, or even more simply, to come closer to Christ. Discipleship and evangelism, bringing Christ to the people and bringing the people to Christ, are aspects of the faith we are all called to do.
So, let us remember at all times that before we belong to the Parish Council or the choir or the ushers, we belong to Christ. He is the reason we have the church. He is the focus of the church. All the ministries hopefully help in leading us to Him. But He is the source and center of the church and our involvement in it. We may be subdivided into ministries, but more than our divisions, we must focus on our unity, as members of the Body of Christ, communicants of the Eucharist, and pilgrims working our way to salvation.
By means of Your Cross, O Lord, You abolished death. To the robber You opened Paradise. The lamentation of the myrrh-bearing women You transformed, and You gave Your Apostles the order to proclaim to all that You had risen, O Christ our God, and granted the world Your great mercy. (Resurrectional Apolytikion, Grave Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Plan to go to church and worship this Sunday, as members of the One Body of Christ!