Minutes of the Diocesan Assembly 16.04.16

·        The Assembly gathered at the Cathedral at 12:00 on Saturday 16.04.16.

·        Present: Archbishop Mark, Archpriest Andrew Phillips, Archpriest Peter Baulk, Archpriest Vladimir Vilgerts, Archpriest Paul Elliott, Priest Vitaly Serapinas, Priest Antony Bardsey, Priestmonk Patrick Ramsey, Deacon Ioan Iana, Monk Mark, Subdeacon Nicolas Mabin, Reader Pavel Lititsin, Reader Chad Newman. Reader Paul Ziolo, Reader Sergey Mironenko, Reader Mark Tattum-Smith, Adrian Cosby, Vera McClenghan, Gregory Wolcough, Philip and Lora Hicks, Joanna McBride, Nieonila Kukzycka and her husband.

·        Apologies: Archpriest Thomas Hardy, Hegumen Sergei, Priest Mladin, Deacon Andrew Bond.

·        Archbishop Mark’s Report: 

“I would like to welcome you all. We really have never had a meeting of our whole diocese in England. In past years, I was not sure whether this was a diocese, or whether we had a diocese or if this was a diocese at all or part of another diocese. I bought this question up to the Synod last year. They said, yes it is a diocese. Thus we decided to do something about it. First of all, Fr Paul helped me very much by setting up the Constitution of our diocese. We do not know whether we had one. We might have had one in 1929 when Bishop Nicholas was made Bishop of London. That is the only Bishop of London we ever had for afterwards our Synod was afraid to appoint a bishop with the same title as the Catholics or Anglicans. He unfortunately passed away very quickly. I have no records that we ever had a Constitution of this Diocese. I suppose it was just run according to the general lines that we run all our dioceses. During the time that I can look back, about 30 years, for which I have been responsible for Great Britain and Ireland, we had to close 3 or 4 of our parishes. The numbers dwindled down to nothing. We have not just closed parishes but have opened new ones. There are now about the same as we had in the late 1980’s. We are now in places where we were never there before. For instance, we now have a sort of experimental parish in Northern Ireland. God willing, we are putting down roots in the country. We would be able to open many more parishes if we had more priests to serve them. We see this in new parishes in Cheltenham and Cardiff where people gather together. They are mainly of Russian extraction and have limited experience of church life at all. It is therefore a new task for us to practically have to evangelise. This was not the case after WW2 as those people had been churched in Russia and brought up as Christians by their parents and grandparents. Now we are dealing with people who are coming here coming here with little or no church experience at all. This makes life more interesting for our priests and those who help them and for the people. It is a great task which God has sent us. At the same time we are trying to do some missionary work amongst the local population. This often occurs through mixed marriages and through a small number of those who have come to the Orthodox Faith through their own accord. I suppose most of you have had experience of this. Fr Paul has been good enough to present an agenda for this meeting which we will now follow.”

·        The Diocesan Constitution: Fr Paul presented the Constitution to the Assembly. He explained its origin in the Post 1918 Russian Church as the Soviet Regime had insisted on a Constitution to register dioceses in Russia from 1918 to 1925. In the original documents, the newly established Patriarch of Moscow was mentioned in almost every paragraph but this has been reduced to 3 references in our present Constitution which very much emphasises that we are part of an autonomous, self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Constitution is designed to meet the requirements of British law and the requirements of the Charity Commissioners. There are two amendments to the printed copies sent out. At item “E” the territory of the Diocese is defined as Great Britain and Ireland and in the final copy has “and all the British Isles” added in brackets. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia now has a capital ‘O’. The Constitution was received unanimously by the whole Diocesan Assembly.

·        The Appointment of Officers of the Diocese: Archbishop Mark appointed Archpriest Peter Baulk as Senior Cleric (Vice Chair of the Diocesan Assembly) who would call the Assembly in the absence of the bishop. He appointed Archpriest Paul Elliott as Chancellor of the Diocese whose responsibility it is to ensure the canonical continuity of the Diocese. He appointed Gregory Wolcough as lay secretary / treasurer of the Diocese. These are the three Trustees of the Diocese. Fr Paul explained what would happen if the Diocese was widowed, the Constitution requires the trustees to ask the Synod what Episcopal oversight they intend to provide for the Diocese.

·        The Appointment of the Spiritual Court:  Archbishop Mark appointed Archpriest Andrew Philipps, Archpriest Peter Baulk and Priest Vitaly Serapinas as members of the Spiritual Court.

·        The Finances of the Diocese: There will be a Deputy Trustee in each parish to assist Gregory Wolcough. They will collect lists of members and collect a minimum donation of £1 per adult per year collected on the Sunday of All Saints which is the liturgical anniversary of the founding of the diocese. Gregory Wolcough will bank the money and Reader Chad Newman will negotiate Gift Aid with HMRC. The Deputy Trustees are London: Vera McClenghan, Merseyside: Reader Chad Newman: Mettingham: Reader Mark Tattum –Smith, Cheltenham: Philip Hicks, Belfast: Joanna McBride, Stradbally: Adrian Cosby, Colchester: Reader Sergei Dorofeev,  Cardiff: Nieonila Kukzycka.

·        Reports from the Parishes:

1.     London: Vera McClenghan and Subdeacon Nicolas reported that there is a liturgy at the Cathedral almost every day. There are many people at the services especially on Saturdays and Sundays. There is a very large choir especially on a Sunday. 95% of the singing is in Slavonic 5% in English. There is a very active sisterhood who provide meals and cleaning and charitable fundraising. There are some honorary brothers who regularly help out. There are about 200 people on most Sundays with many children. Probably throughout the year there are about 5000 people who come through the doors of the church, About 500 people think of this as their parish and about 50 people do all the work. There is a lively Saturday School. Fr Vitaly is the Director and there are 7 teachers.  There are also Sunday School activities. The most regular occasional service used to be funerals but now it is baptisms, about 100 per year.

2.     Colchester: Fr Andrew reported that the parish had been open for 11 years. The Church had been built for 800. There is a smaller chapel which can hold about 25 used on weekdays, There are 572 parishioners and many more who come now and again. About 2000 people come through the door during the year. The average Sunday congregation is between 100-200. There are 24 nationalities with an average age of 35. There are very few old people. There is adult catechism, Sunday School, Saturday Russian and Ukranian Schools and there will soon be a Bulgarian School. There is a boys club and a girls sewing club. Fr Andrew is chaplain to 3 prisons in East Anglia. The people travel a great deal, some come from North London some from all over East Anglia. There is Fr Sergei who is 72 and is rather poorly at present. In Norwhich there are about 200 Russians which is why premises have been purchased to open a church there. In Bury St Edmunds there are 30 children in the Russian School and about 130 children in Cambridge. Fr Andrew calculates that we need about 10-11 priests to properly serve East Anglia.

3.     Mettingham: Reader Mark Tattum-Smith reported that the church had been open now for about 7-8 years. It is a purpose built Russian Orthodox Church in the grounds gf the White House which is owned by Deacon Andrew Bond. His wife, Mary is buried in the church yard. The Church serves a wide rural area. Families come from Norwhich, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. It will shortly be handed over to the Trust which will greatly improve the situation. St Georges’ Orthodox Information Service is located in the White House and supplies Candles etc for parishes all over the country. The house is now the College. It has 10 rooms which can be used for retreats. The parish organises local pilgrimages to holy sites nearby such as St Botolph’s and St Peter’s Bradwell. More recently the Romanian community, with the blessing of Archbishop Mark, are now sharing the church building. This has taken the Sunday congregation to about 70. The parish wishes to make contact with the many Russian families in East Anglia and invites anyone from the Diocese to come to stay.

4.     Cheltenham: Philip Hicks reported that the community started about 4,5 years ago through Archbishop Mark’s blessing and the help of Fr Vladimir and Fr Peter. Some used to come to the Cathedral and meet others from Cheltenham. Now between 10-30 people gather for worship on one Saturday per month. The parish has quite a high social media profile and Lora and Oksana have worked hard to build up the community and the choir. The parish has good friends in Oxford, Cardiff and Bristol. With Fr Vitaly’s help, we now have a catechism class in Cheltenham. The lack of priests remains the major problem. Fr Vitaly comes up very early but has to get back to London for the Vigil. Perhaps arrangements could be made with Sorouzgh Diocese. Recently, some Bulgarians have started to attend. There are many Eastern Europeans in Cheltenham and Gloucester and the church is between both cities. The main problem is that the Saturday is a moveable feast and it is not yet secure enough. There has been fantastic support from the London Parish, There are good contacts with a Russian School nearby even though they have adopted a secular model. This is a small community but is both determined and full of perseverance.

5.     Cardiff: Nieonila Kukzycka reported that the parish was about 5 years old. It had a miraculous foundation. She had stood by the icon in the Cathedral and prayed that a priest could come to them in Cardiff, Fr Vladimir came out of the Iconastas and told her that very day that he would be coming to Cardiff to serve the Liturgy if she could gather some people. When he first came there were about 25 people but now there are normally at least 50 and about 200 people come sometimes. Some live a long way away. Everyone is really pleased and the parish grows with every liturgy, The church council meets every three months.

6.     Merseyside: In 2009, after many years in a chapel in Fr Paul’s house, the parish was given a derelict cemetery chapel which it renovated for Orthodox worship. When Fr Paul is not teaching, there are weekday services. There are 18 different nationalities. Services are mainly in English with some Church Slavonic. There are increasing numbers of baptisms which now have to be done on a Saturday. There are parish pilgrimages to the Shrines of St Melangell and St Winefride in Wales. The St Barbara the New Martyr Trust supports monastics in ROCOR mainly in the UK,

7.     Belfast: The Parish of St John of Shanghai came out of the break up of the Antiochian Parish in early 2015. Some parishioners had been involved in Fr Geoffrey’s ROCOR mission before 2003 so it seemed natural to ask Vladika Mark for his help. Fr Mladin arrived and services started. It cost over £5000 to secure a work visa for him. However, he has decided to return to Serbia. The Priest Monk Patrick has arrived, which is fortunate and has been blessed to assist in the parish. The church will shortly take over the lease of the building from the charity which currently leases it. There are a few new members coming now and a catechumen who will be baptised at Pascha. It is the only Orthodox Church with weekly services in Belfast.

8.     Stradbally: Adrian Cosby informed the Assembly of his plans for the expansion of the facilities of the parish and the hope of building a small hall and priest’s house. The church was now well attended and served by Fr Peter and Fr Vitaly.

·        The Fund For Assistance: Reader Pavel read out a letter from Metropolitan Hilarion asking all the parishes to carry the logo of the Fund For assistance on their websites and to organise a collection in late November between the 22-29th of the month.

·        The Diocesan website: This is funded and organised by St Elisabeth’s Parish in Merseyside. It now has between 50 – 60 visits per day and climbing. Please use www.rocor.org.uk for passing on news etc.

·        Thanks: Fr Paul gave a present to the Cathedral Sisterhood to thank them on behalf of the members of the Diocesan Assembly for their hospitality.

·        Summing up and closing remarks: Archbishop Mark reminded the clergy that they should keep registers of baptisms and weddings to present when their bishop visits. He has given a format to Fr Andrew to render into English for that purpose. Students in Germany would like to have contact with families in the UK to practice English. Any offers would be most welcome as this will build friendships between our young people, We are all struggling spiritually with a lack of priests and deacons. We need to live sacrificially and encourage clergy to come forth from our parishes. Home grown ones are always better. We should pray hard to encourage people in this country to come forward for ordination.

·        Dates: Next Year’s Diocesan Assembly will be on April 1st 2017 at 12:00 noon at the Cathedral before the Great Unction Service and the Diocesan Pilgrimage to the shrine of St Alban will be on Saturday 13th May 2017 led by Archbishop Mark.

·        Final Thanks: Fr Paul thanked everyone for attending the Diocesan Assembly and for their contributions. He drew the attention of the members of the Assembly to the recent death of Fr Elias and his Matushka Barbara who will be sadly missed. Fr Elias served in Mettingham and in Walsingham.

·        The meeting closed with prayers at 13:30