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.