Reflections on 2015 Coptic Lands of Immigration Seminar

H.H. Pope Tawadros II presided over the first ever, 2015 Coptic Lands of Immigration Conference from May 20, 2015 – May 23, 2015.  For more information about the conference please click the link above.  Below are the reflections of an attendee at the conference.

2015 LOI Reflections by Anonymous

I’ve spent the last 10 days reflecting on the land of immigration conference, between the things discussed, the people I’ve met, and the information that was shared. Each time I began to evaluate whether the conference was a success, I found myself questioning what the measure of success was. I realized that such questioning existed because the goal or goals of the conference was not clear to me. In fact, it seemed that there were numerous goals, some that complimented one another, while others did not conflict, they just co-existed on some relational level.

If the goal was to create a forum where we as a church can meet as one body – between His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, members of the Holy Synod, Clergy from around the world, and lay people, this was a success on most levels. Each person was given an equal amount of time, courtesy, and respect to speak, and one could really feel the level of love and concern each participant has for the Church.

The conference itself was set up similar to ECCYC and other types of conventions: Prayer in the morning, followed by a presentation on a specific topic by a regional delegation, along with break out sessions/workshops that proceeded afterwards. Each workshop involved at least one Bishop, Reverend Fathers, and male and female lay people. The topics that were discussed included the creation of a universal Coptic database (aka CopticWorld), whether feast day dates should be uniform with other churches, mission churches, missionary work, language issues, uniting the land of immigration church with the church in Egypt, media relations, and education. Other topics that were discussed during Q&A was the use of the Coptic language, and priest clothing and the impact it has on “PKs.”

In my opinion, not all delegations were effective in their message and there were speakers within each delegation that were not qualified to speak about certain issues – for example, one priest discussed legal issues but never practiced as an attorney. There were discussions about the legal implications gay marriage may have on the church and whether taking a position would effect its non-profit status (again, all suggestions were unqualified). There was a question asked about whether there is any hope to change the restriction on women to take communion during the menstrual cycle in which a response was given that a ‘team of doctors’ was examining the issue (???)

Nonetheless, the delegates that were prepared and qualified, did a fantastic job, and my God bless their efforts  – these delegates were His Grace Bishop Surial, who emphasized the need for Theological schools; NYNE discussing the need to reach out to our surrounding communities; Archdiocese and connecting the churches as one body; and His Grace Bishop Angaelos and his presentation on proper media relations.

Now, with all that mentioned, if the goal was to leave with action items, that goal was not met. However, if the goal was to get the dialogue going, to recognize that, despite our numerous diocese and tremendous global growth over the last 50 years, we are one church, this was clearly accomplished. His Holiness, may God keep for us and protect him, showed a genuine level of concern and sincerity for all the concerns voiced. Objectively speaking – he demonstrated just how much of a father he is to his flock. The Bishops showed an eagerness to work with one another, and the servants/lay people, went out of their ways to get to know one another and spend every waking hour trying to think of ways to properly address any and all concerns. It was an incredibly loving atmosphere and I left feeling so proud and blessed to be a part of our church, while recognizing that there is a lot that needs to be fixed.

I think all delegates agree that the primary concern and issue that needs to be addressed is education. Towards the end of the conference, I made a comment based on the numerous discussions that were had. I explained to His Holiness that all the discussions related to changing dates, clothing, etc. has done nothing more than reveal our lack of understanding of our church, its gifts, its history, and theological foundation. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, I would ask why we did anything and everything in the church and was always responded to with because that’s how it is. As I grew older, I learned that certain stories about saints were nothing more than stories and uncorroborated by the church. As a Christian, I never had a Sunday School teacher explain to me who the desert fathers are, what they mean to the church, the idea of communion (theologically), trinity, and so on. I stated that the solution to this issue is not to get rid of the Coptic language, but to dedicate our resources to teaching the Coptic language as an actual dialectic language and not a bunch of sounds we make through a melody. Our strength will be in our comprehension of our church. The idea of a mission church and those straying are a  result of either a) laziness; or b) lack of awareness of the resources to learn things properly. I ended by telling His Holiness that my case in point is this – there are people that joined our church that I’ve met – they did it on their own, not through marriage or anything. They wouldn’t dream of changing Christmas from January 7. They wouldn’t dream of getting rid of the Coptic language and in fact, they know more Coptic as a language than some leading deacons…

So there it is, education.

7 thoughts on “Reflections on 2015 Coptic Lands of Immigration Seminar

  1. Great summary. I had imagined it to be just that, a start of a dialogue as opposed to action items.

    I strongly disagree with a few comments made. To say “I never had a Sunday School teacher explain to me who the desert fathers are, what they mean to the church, the idea of communion (theologically), trinity, and so on” solely depends on that particular parish and servant. In my church, I was taught those topics from a young age, and we still continue to do so with younger students from elementary school, and continue in middle school and high school at progressively deeper levels.

    Second comment, “The idea of a mission church and those straying are a result of either a) laziness; or b) lack of awareness of the resources to learn things properly.” This seems like a completely biased opinion, and if it was portrayed to HH on behalf of people in America, that’s sad. I agree that the label “mission” church is not ideal, so if we look past that, you can’t just say it’s because people are either lazy or don’t want to learn from a traditional Coptic Church. There are a thousand reasons behind opening parishes like this, all of which are approved by the local bishop or the pope. So if it was a matter of laziness or lack of awareness of resources, I would give a little more credit to the bishops who are approving these churches – they don’t just do things haphazardly.

    Lastly, “They wouldn’t dream of getting rid of the Coptic language and in fact, they know more Coptic as a language than some leading deacons…”. Where is this data coming from? One or two interactions with some converts? Or from one of these mission churches that have hundreds of converts and asking them? There needs to be a full survey of converts for this to be a real statistic. I can go find as many converts who would say the exact opposite, and I wouldn’t even tell that to HH because it would be biased as well.

  2. Thank you to the person who submitted the summary above. As someone who also attended the seminar, a lot of the reflections above is what I was feeling. There was an atmosphere of love. I felt that His Holiness had a true interest in listening to all issues presented at the conference with patience and love. He also gave an opportunity for everyone to voice their opinion.

    I do disagree with the above mentioned comment about ‘mission’ churches. As this was part of the NY/NE diocese presentation on evangelism, we did not use the term ‘mission’ church because every church should be mission oriented. Secondly we highlighted to His Holiness the need for English speaking ‘mission’ churches because of an exit of our second and third generation youth from our overcrowded churches. These churches were created for people to feel welcomed and not feel judged—not because of a lack of education.

    I do agree that we need to better educate ourselves regarding our faith and this was heavily stressed in presentations and private conversations with lay people, clergy and bishops.

    To further chime in, I felt the seminar tried to sandwich every single issue under the sun and when we saw this was the case, we didn’t think any hardcore results would happen but rather start with a dialogue that was sorely needed. I wish that things like role of women in the church was part of the discussion but I also recognize that the schedule was already packed giving little time to what was already on the agenda. The fact that there was an open dialogue between all parts of the church in itself felt empowering.

  3. Interesting article Dave! 🙂
    Thanks for writing that! I agree with all that you said and I think it’s great to hold something like that to get some dialogue going… maybe next time there will be action points to do after the conference.
    The only thing that I would probably have a different view on is Christmas as the 7th of January. The reason that it is on the 7th of January is because the Coptic calendar has 365.25 days where as the Gregorian calendar which is the normal calendar has 365.242 days. This slight difference has caused the date to shift from 25th Dec to 7th of Jan over 2,000 years. And it will continue to shift to 8th Jan and 9th of Jan etc. I think this could be fixed up if we correct our Coptic Calendar to contain 365.242 days.
    Feel free to email me to discuss 🙂
    Other than that.. love your article Dave 🙂

  4. To clarify my comment on “mission” churches, because it was not clear – I am referring to the idea of changing things that are either fundamentally traditional or a part of our Orthodoxy. By no means was I referring to St. Paul’s Coptic American Orthodox Church or the other few that have been established in LA and parts of the South US. In fact, I am a big advocate of those churches and believe that they are extremely steadfast in the faith. Their difference is three fold – the daily (but not official) name, language, and their composition. There is nothing lazy about it. I’m referring to those that say ‘we shouldn’t draw out this hymn because, we don’t to learn Coptic because…’ and those that misquote scripture to endorse a point that is contradictory to the point being made. As for those that join the church, the language is a hurdle. BUT, they take the time to learn Coptic, to learn about our traditions, some may eventually, and may God bless them, become clergy. There is a group of youth, a movement, that would like to take and manipulate what has been created through God’s guidance and the wisdom of Bishops to advocate for something that is not within our church’s spectrum. That is what I disagree with. The NYNE delegation did a fantastic job distinguishing what is needed and has been established from what others are advocating for. I feel that these others are not educated in the faith enough to make this type of advocacy. It is not their fault, there are a number of factors contributing to such – primarily, our lack of publications and teachings.

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