OCA holds conference dedicated to evangelizing the Dakotas

Fargo, North Dakota, February 13, 2023

Photo: ontheworldmap.com Photo: ontheworldmap.com     

Last week, the Diocese of Chicago and the Midwest of the Orthodox Church in America held a conference dedicated to evangelizing the Dakotas.

More than 30 faithful and clergy from the OCA and the Serbian and Antiochian Churches attended the conference, entitled, “Are the Dakotas a Field Ripe for Harvest? Crafting a Strategic Vision for Evangelizing the Dakotas,” at Holy Resurrection Church in Fargo on February 7 and 8, reports the Diocese of the Midwest.

“The Summit took place in the nave of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church to emphasize that the business set before the participants was sacred, and that they were accountable to Our LORD Jesus Christ, His Holy Mother, and His saints,” the report reads. “In the nave, the Summit proceeded under the icons, their lampadas lit, to remind everyone that the saints were mystically present in the Cloud of the Lord’s Holy Spirit surrounding them.”

The diocese was originally focused on North Dakota for the time being, “but unexpected events and encounters—mere circumstance or signs from on high?” persuaded the conference organizers to expand their vision to include South Dakota and the “North Star” fields of Minnesota as well.

There are people in this area who are “thirsty for meaning, for beauty, for truth, for joy, for blessed immortality that only the Church can give and make incarnate here and now,” said Minneapolis District Dean Archpriest Paul Wesche.

The first day of the conference was dedicated to more closely defining what is meant by “evangelizing.” The need for permanent, dedicated clergy in the region was a consistent emphasis throughout the day, as was the need to include the Native Americans, the peoples of the “First Nations” in the area.

While the local tribes are familiar with various denominations of Christianity and other religions, “Orthodoxy is different for them. Because it resembles most of the Native Americans’ worship and, like theirs, is visual, sensory, and reverent, and hierarchical, Orthodoxy is exciting to them and relates strongly to them. Their faith in ‘Creator God’ is easily baptized into Holy Orthodoxy if the proper steps and measures are taken,” proposed Fr. Athanasius Oweis of St. Basil the Great Antiochian Orthodox Mission in Bismarck.

A video presentation was also offered by Mr. Bobby Grey Eagle, a catechumen from the Lakota tribe.

His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, who has studied Native American spirituality, also expressed his great desire to meet with the Elders of the Seven Tribes of the Sioux Tribes council.

The principle of Orthodox evangelism by suffering and martyrdom was also emphasized, highlighting the examples of St. Herman of Alaska, St. Juvenaly, and St. Peter the Aleut.

The second day was dedicated to, “Organic ways (i.e., ways most natural to the soul made in the image and likeness of God) to sow the seed of Orthodoxy in the Dakotas.”

“What people want is not programs; they want to know how to pray, and true prayer is found in the living worship of the Orthodox Church,” states the diocesan report.

Fr. William Retig, rector of the hosting church, identified a territory between Winnipeg and the Twin Cities—centers of a higher Orthodox presence—that has its own distinctive character and which has gone practically unnoticed by the Church. “This area is different than most areas in the US. In this region, people are religious, and pious, and are looking to serve God with all their God-given means,” he said.

Thus, it was proposed to form a mission clergy brotherhood to serve this area, as well as a Mission Council, with both clergy and lay representatives from each parish, “to identify strategies for bringing all the Orthodox in this in-between Mission Territory together for fellowship and worship, to build relationships with Orthodox faithful from other parts of the mission territory, and that would nurture them in the living communion of the Orthodox Faith, and strengthen them to be faithful in this day and age.”

It was also proposed to establish a mission fund to support this endeavor.

The conference concluded with a potluck in the evening.

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