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Author Topic: Are dioceses in America too big?  (Read 891 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: March 16, 2011, 03:47:57 PM »

I've read references in other threads lately to parishes going without visits from their bishop for extended periods of time, of bishops being constantly on the road traveling between parishes, and about how much individual bishops have to deal with.  That prompted me to wonder if our dioceses are at the point where they're simply too big, both in terms of number of parishes and sheer distance.  I know that here in the OCA Diocese of the South, we have over 70 parishes and missions scattered across 14 states and 3 time zones.  Should our dioceses be smaller?

(I realize that this assumes the model I'm familiar with from the Episcopal Church is the ideal, where dioceses were small enough that the bishop could visit them all regularly as well as taking care of all his other duties; if someone disagrees as to what the scope of the bishop's involvement should be, I'm up for discussing that, too.)
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« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2011, 04:13:22 PM »

I've read references in other threads lately to parishes going without visits from their bishop for extended periods of time, of bishops being constantly on the road traveling between parishes, and about how much individual bishops have to deal with.  That prompted me to wonder if our dioceses are at the point where they're simply too big, both in terms of number of parishes and sheer distance.  I know that here in the OCA Diocese of the South, we have over 70 parishes and missions scattered across 14 states and 3 time zones.  Should our dioceses be smaller?

(I realize that this assumes the model I'm familiar with from the Episcopal Church is the ideal, where dioceses were small enough that the bishop could visit them all regularly as well as taking care of all his other duties; if someone disagrees as to what the scope of the bishop's involvement should be, I'm up for discussing that, too.)

I agree that dioceses in America are too big to allow a bishop to have normal pastoral relationships with the many local congregations of which he is the arch-pastor. However, the local congregations are not orphans for they have deputy bishops as their pastors. Our priests are every bit as much pastors and overseers as our bishops, who obviously do have ultimate authority. If in the early church the ontologically complete local church was made up of a bishop, surrounded by his priests, deacons and laity, so it is today with one slight change: the local congregation is ontologically complete when it is made up of a long-distance arch-pastor/bishop and his on-site deputy bishop/rector who is surrounded by his laity, and if assigned, deacons and other priests. Indeed, we have confronted the distance/numbers issue by the creation of deaneries that allows for some of the deputy bishops to function a bit more as chief deputy bishops. You know, if one were to devise a table that lists all of the sacramental, teaching and administrative responsibilities of the clergy (deacon through patriarch), one could see that there are very few functions that are reserved only for the bishops. (I guess the table should be three dimensional as the higher up you go, the greater the reach and scope).
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« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2011, 04:16:29 PM »

Only in therms of territory, otherwise they tend to be quite small.
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« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2011, 04:34:28 PM »

territorially, they are really huge... however, in terms of number of parishes, they are usually quite small.

What I think sometimes we don't realize, is that our states are pretty much the same (theoretically) as the "states" of the European Union. Not only in function and status, but also size. My home state is slightly larger than the entire country of Greece. (yet Thessaloniki alone holds more Orthodox than all of the U.S.)

I would say that yes, the diocese are way too big. IMO it's a good thing we have a total of 55 (or around there) bishops throughout all jurisdictions. Maybe they could eventually be spread out a bit more (and concentrated where needed)

Or maybe a model somewhat similar to the early days of the Orthodox Church might be appropriate, you could easily solve the problem of Bishops & the size of their diocese, and each parish would have a lot more access to their Bishop.
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« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2011, 04:40:44 PM »

I've read references in other threads lately to parishes going without visits from their bishop for extended periods of time, of bishops being constantly on the road traveling between parishes, and about how much individual bishops have to deal with.  That prompted me to wonder if our dioceses are at the point where they're simply too big, both in terms of number of parishes and sheer distance.  I know that here in the OCA Diocese of the South, we have over 70 parishes and missions scattered across 14 states and 3 time zones.  Should our dioceses be smaller?

(I realize that this assumes the model I'm familiar with from the Episcopal Church is the ideal, where dioceses were small enough that the bishop could visit them all regularly as well as taking care of all his other duties; if someone disagrees as to what the scope of the bishop's involvement should be, I'm up for discussing that, too.)
That depends on the Church and the period.  The Church of Greece has always had small dioceses (in area and population), the Church of Russia always having large dioceses (both in area and population; it also had distance and other issues-the germ of the mission to America started when the appointed bishop of Yakutsk refused to leave Moscow and go back to his see).  In much of the bad old days of the Crusades and Ottomans, if you were in the ancient Patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch, the only time you saw your bishop was if you went to Constantinople/the Phanar.  Most Churches all periods have been inbetween.

Yes, they are on average too big: if we could get the Episcopal Assembly of Canonical Bishops of North America formed into the Holy Synod of North America, and apportion the dioceses according (like one bishop in Chicago and not half a dozen) that would solve much if not all of the problem.
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« Reply #5 on: March 16, 2011, 05:44:08 PM »

I've read references in other threads lately to parishes going without visits from their bishop for extended periods of time, of bishops being constantly on the road traveling between parishes, and about how much individual bishops have to deal with.  That prompted me to wonder if our dioceses are at the point where they're simply too big, both in terms of number of parishes and sheer distance.  I know that here in the OCA Diocese of the South, we have over 70 parishes and missions scattered across 14 states and 3 time zones.  Should our dioceses be smaller?

(I realize that this assumes the model I'm familiar with from the Episcopal Church is the ideal, where dioceses were small enough that the bishop could visit them all regularly as well as taking care of all his other duties; if someone disagrees as to what the scope of the bishop's involvement should be, I'm up for discussing that, too.)
That depends on the Church and the period.  The Church of Greece has always had small dioceses (in area and population), the Church of Russia always having large dioceses (both in area and population; it also had distance and other issues-the germ of the mission to America started when the appointed bishop of Yakutsk refused to leave Moscow and go back to his see).  In much of the bad old days of the Crusades and Ottomans, if you were in the ancient Patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch, the only time you saw your bishop was if you went to Constantinople/the Phanar.  Most Churches all periods have been inbetween.

Yes, they are on average too big: if we could get the Episcopal Assembly of Canonical Bishops of North America formed into the Holy Synod of North America, and apportion the dioceses according (like one bishop in Chicago and not half a dozen) that would solve much if not all of the problem.

I agree... I think if we merged the jurisdictions, and kept some of the existing locations including ones that aren't so obvious (for example, Wichita),  then it could help alleviate some of the problems.

For some sort of a size comparison. The place I'm at now in Greece, the Metropolitan here has a diocese (I think) of about 900 square miles with 200,000 people. However, there is no telling how many parishes and monasteries he has, there are tons of monasteries in the mountains and on the islands. I could easily take 10 minutes and walk to the main Metropolitan building in town, and I have a 20-30 minute walk to any Church in this city. (and I could easily take a bus or ferry to outlying areas and islands)

But if you think about it, our problem in the United States is that we have a lot of people spread out over a vast area.

If your willing to take Krindatch's Census Study as relative fact, we only have (at most) 1 million Orthodox in the United States. That is just .2% of the total United States population. Our whole country alone is pretty much surpassed in numbers by the Orthodox in Central America. (however, I think that is a great complement to the Orthodox efforts in Central America)
Normally a diocese might be a single state at most (equivalent to most European countries), but often in majority Orthodox countries, it would be the size of one of our counties.

The size of our diocese are definitely an issue, and I think we probably ought to look at distribution rather than population. Don't give each Bishop an equal number of parishes and people. Try to give a Bishop a reasonable service area, and centralize him in a location where he can best serve those people...

What I'm afraid of, is that we are going to try to think big first, and will eventually run into the canonical problem of needing many bishops in a diocese. We know historically that Bishops would serve a single city, then their diocese grew as the faith grew. So maybe that would be the model for here... Sure it'd be nice if the Bishop had a lot of people. But I don't really think some of the first Bishops appointed by the Apostles served a lot of faithful.
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« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2011, 09:40:50 PM »

In the Episcopal Church the ideal is that the bishop can visit every parish each year, preferably on Sunday. In the big east coast dioceses this is only possible with auxiliary bishops of some form, so that Maryland (which really means "Maryland west of the Chesapeake and minus the southern and DC counties"), having over a hundred parishes, always has a suffragan bishop (i.e. a bishop specifically consecrated to assist the diocesan) and often has an assisting bishop (generally a retired bishop helping out). Even the Diocese of Washington (DC and four counties on the west side of the bay) normally has two bishops because there are too many parishes to visit otherwise. On the other hand Michigan's upper peninsula is a separate diocese for the now-obsolescent reason that getting there back in the 1800s was too difficult and slow. There's no reason for that now, and a lot of people have suggested (especially after the debacle around their last Episcopal election-- WAY too long to relate here) that it ought to be merged into a neighboring diocese.
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« Reply #7 on: March 16, 2011, 09:51:01 PM »

My church is the only one within I think 20 or 30 miles of another church. I'd say so.  Undecided

However, the membership doesn't seem large at all (well, the membership number might be different than the number of people who attend the Divine Liturgy on a weekly basis).

But maybe I'm used to megachurches.
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« Reply #8 on: March 16, 2011, 10:14:59 PM »

(I realize that this assumes the model I'm familiar with from the Episcopal Church is the ideal, where dioceses were small enough that the bishop could visit them all regularly as well as taking care of all his other duties;

I pretty much agree with your assumption and this model seems to much more reflect the governance of the early church of the Roman Empire.
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« Reply #9 on: March 16, 2011, 10:18:07 PM »

Yes, they are on average too big: if we could get the Episcopal Assembly of Canonical Bishops of North America formed into the Holy Synod of North America, and apportion the dioceses according (like one bishop in Chicago and not half a dozen) that would solve much if not all of the problem.

Since I've treated this question (the OP's) once before (in depth, IMO), I'll chime in and agree to a point: there is no "solving" the problem of physically large diocese in the west (outside of the coastal states) and in the south (outside of FL) until the Orthodox populations grow (or, unless the larger Northeastern, Midwestern, and Far Western folks are willing to foot the bill for a smaller bishop:parish ratio (which they should, if they're being mission-minded).  If the density of Orthodox parishes in the currently-sparse states were the same as the NE/MW/FW, then nationwide we'd need at least 2 bishops per state, which would be ideal for travel (and reducing transportation costs).
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« Reply #10 on: March 16, 2011, 11:13:23 PM »

My church is the only one within I think 20 or 30 miles of another church. I'd say so.  Undecided

However, the membership doesn't seem large at all (well, the membership number might be different than the number of people who attend the Divine Liturgy on a weekly basis).

But maybe I'm used to megachurches.
We're not.  Even in places where practically everyone is Orthodox, Churches still tend on the small size.  Only in the Metropolitan Cathedrals do you get something like a megachurch.  Even then, the Patriarch's Cathedral in Bucharest is around the size of an average large church here, although the Romanian Patriarchate is the second largest in the Orthodox diptychs.

In this country, btw, 20 or 30 miles to another Orthodox Church is good.
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« Reply #11 on: March 16, 2011, 11:44:25 PM »

Yes, they are on average too big: if we could get the Episcopal Assembly of Canonical Bishops of North America formed into the Holy Synod of North America, and apportion the dioceses according (like one bishop in Chicago and not half a dozen) that would solve much if not all of the problem.

Since I've treated this question (the OP's) once before (in depth, IMO), I'll chime in and agree to a point: there is no "solving" the problem of physically large diocese in the west (outside of the coastal states) and in the south (outside of FL) until the Orthodox populations grow (or, unless the larger Northeastern, Midwestern, and Far Western folks are willing to foot the bill for a smaller bishop:parish ratio (which they should, if they're being mission-minded).  If the density of Orthodox parishes in the currently-sparse states were the same as the NE/MW/FW, then nationwide we'd need at least 2 bishops per state, which would be ideal for travel (and reducing transportation costs).

I seem to remember when you had gone through and looked at that.  Do you happen to have a link to where you had posted that?

At any rate, one of the things that had me thinking about this was the fact that in my seven years in the Church, episcopal visits have been few and far between (as in once, maybe twice).  That seemed odd compared to when I was Episcopalian, when (as Keble noted) we could expect to see the bishop at least once a year, more if you counted diocesan retreats and conferences.  That combined with the DOS being large enough it could probably be split in two and the recent discussion about Archbishop Job's ill health being tied to constantly traveling in the even larger Diocese of the Midwest and I started to wonder if we're stretching some of our bishops a little too far, both in terms of their own good and for their parishes.
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« Reply #12 on: March 16, 2011, 11:52:20 PM »

I seem to remember when you had gone through and looked at that.  Do you happen to have a link to where you had posted that?

My in-depth treatment of the subject begins with this post:
http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,14412.msg205010.html#msg205010

At any rate, one of the things that had me thinking about this was the fact that in my seven years in the Church, episcopal visits have been few and far between (as in once, maybe twice).  That seemed odd compared to when I was Episcopalian, when (as Keble noted) we could expect to see the bishop at least once a year, more if you counted diocesan retreats and conferences.  That combined with the DOS being large enough it could probably be split in two and the recent discussion about Archbishop Job's ill health being tied to constantly traveling in the even larger Diocese of the Midwest and I started to wonder if we're stretching some of our bishops a little too far, both in terms of their own good and for their parishes.

I think we are - what you mention about travel and taxing our hierarchs is one of the places where administrative division (remember, we are unified in the One Cup and One Body of Christ) rears its ugly head.  Why have 7 hierarchs in Chicago who all have to travel quite a bit to visit their parishes?  The travel takes a toll on them physically, in addition to the more pragmatic issue of paying for all that travel in each diocese.
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« Reply #13 on: March 17, 2011, 09:40:17 AM »

I seem to remember when you had gone through and looked at that.  Do you happen to have a link to where you had posted that?

My in-depth treatment of the subject begins with this post:
http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,14412.msg205010.html#msg205010

At any rate, one of the things that had me thinking about this was the fact that in my seven years in the Church, episcopal visits have been few and far between (as in once, maybe twice).  That seemed odd compared to when I was Episcopalian, when (as Keble noted) we could expect to see the bishop at least once a year, more if you counted diocesan retreats and conferences.  That combined with the DOS being large enough it could probably be split in two and the recent discussion about Archbishop Job's ill health being tied to constantly traveling in the even larger Diocese of the Midwest and I started to wonder if we're stretching some of our bishops a little too far, both in terms of their own good and for their parishes.

I think we are - what you mention about travel and taxing our hierarchs is one of the places where administrative division (remember, we are unified in the One Cup and One Body of Christ) rears its ugly head.  Why have 7 hierarchs in Chicago who all have to travel quite a bit to visit their parishes?  The travel takes a toll on them physically, in addition to the more pragmatic issue of paying for all that travel in each diocese.

Thank you for the link, it predates my participation in the forum and it was most interesting.

It would be an interesting exercise to try to move from that framework to prepare a hypothetical model of actual administration under such a plan. A few topics jump out:

      1. Legal: How would title to property be handled. There are several layers to consider as follows:

                          A. Current Diocesan Properties Including but not limited to:

                                    i. Cathedrals and chancery buildings
                                   ii. Diocesan Cemeteries
                                  iii. Camps and educational facilities
                                  iv. Seminaries
                                   v. Trust funds and endowments

                          B. The status of title and ownership of local Church properties

                                  i. Local properties currently titled to existing Diocesan hierarchy

                                 ii. The 'sticky wicket' of local properties which are congregationally held
                                     or held in trust. Issues may include local charters or by-laws which
                                     mandate or prohibit participation in jurisdiction or another.

                                iii. Halls, social clubs and associated properties which may be held by a
                                     local congregation or held in trust or otherwise by a membership club
                                     or a benevolent trust.

       2. Handling Traditions : Retention and preservation of the integrity of local custom or heritage

                                  i. This has to be addressed to prevent a local hierarch from mandating
                                     practices which he may prefer but may not be the practice within an
                                     existing congregation. I refer to traditions within the praxis of Orthodoxy
                                     which certainly vary among all of the existing jurisdictions. Over the passage
                                     of time this issue may be less and less important, but coming out of the
                                     gate it will be a most difficult and troublesome problem. How can you limit
                                     the authority of a local Bishop without infringing upon his canonical rights?
                                     History tells us that congregations will not sit idly and accept radical, sudden
                                     changes to the way things have been done. Many existing parishes were born
                                     as a result of episcopal overreach and the memory of those actions has been
                                     mythologized by generations of parishioners. This reality simply can not be
                                     ignored or there will be more schism and more division, making us even more
                                     fragmented than we are today.

       3. Practical: Issues such as diocesan obligations of parishes, obligations to the Synod etc..

       4. Other issues


Perhaps, if we give some careful consideration to these practical issues, we might provide something of value that might reach the attention of our hierarchs.

Let's try to be civil and constructive. Good luck!




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« Reply #14 on: March 17, 2011, 10:15:48 AM »

If the day ever arrives, when there is a unified Orthodox Church in America, then diocese will be small and hopefully more intimate.  Bishops will no longer be forced to constantly be on the road. 
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« Reply #15 on: March 17, 2011, 11:22:01 AM »

It is obviously ideal to have the bishop in close proximity to his parishes so that he can truly perform his pastoral duties. It is equally clear that from the earliest of times the bishop had to have priests to act as on-site permanent pastors of most of his congregations. Although we had had problems with the quality of the priests over the centuries, the priests in the United States are very well educated and make wonderful preachers, teachers, and pastors. It seems to me that the priests of today are not so far removed from the bishops of today in the majority of priestly and pastoral functions and responsibilities. That is why I am calling them deputy bishops. What would be wrong to rethink our structure so that it reflects the reality of today--that is, bishops are the supervisors and pastors of priests. Bishops are not full-time, on-site pastors anyway and at the local level we are functioning quite well.

By all means let us look at redefining dioceses. Let each bishop be a Metropolitan of a number of dioceses. Let each diocese correspond to at least the present deaneries and let the deanery heads be called Adjutant Bishop for ___ Diocese. Also, in each city that has multiple Orthodox Churches but no Metropolitan or Adjutant Bishop, let the presbyters throw lots to select a Deputy Bishop for ____City. Voila! You have a semblance of the Church as it has existed in the past, you do not have to agonize about the lack of suitable candidates, the canonical irregularities are solved--all by simply recognizing the current situation. And, without disturbing the fundamental hierarchical nature of the Church or lessening the powers of the episcopate.
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« Reply #16 on: March 17, 2011, 12:04:38 PM »

I, for one, think our present system is grossly inefficient.

Numerically speaking, the Patriarchates have within their boundaries more people who consider themselves Orthodox, but parish-for-parish have roughly the same number of active members.  The only real difference is when you count all the potential Orthodox Christians that are dormant or nominal.

One hold-up to realigning our system here will be the huge outlays.  A chancery is going to run anywhere from $75,000 to $750,000.  Then you have to pay the bishop, including medical and retirement benefits, which puts that cost at close to $100,000 per year.  Add a secretary and you can add another $60,000.  With other general expenses, you have roughly $200,000 in annual costs to run a diocese.  Now, divide that by, let's say, 30 parishes: that's $6,666 per parish (I did not intend to get THAT number! Wink ).

I don't know if all of our communities could handle such a burden.  Let's not get too idealistic and say that our bishops should receive less: many of them have no real experience of monasticism and would not serve for less.  They will not abide with living a live of deprivation, and so the parishes will have to provide something that is less than luxurious but more than utter poverty.

Our present system, though spread out, unintentionally includes wealthy urban areas with poorer outlying areas, so we don't notice the cost burden.  However, if we go to a strictly geographical system, there will be inequalities between dioceses that will either have to be accepted or adjusted for.

Just something to think about.
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The most dangerous thing about riding a tiger is the dismount.  - Indian proverb
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