Palm Desert, California
July 23, 2009
This was a surreal day. It reminded me of the works of Salvador Dali, especially his paintings with melting pocket watches.
The Church teaches us that during the Divine Liturgy we are somehow temporarily removed from time. Our spiritual service of worship allows for the world outside to wash around us as we celebrate. We are reminded to lay aside all earthly cares, while experiencing with the rest of His Body the one eucharistic Offering of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in all places at all times, reaching back to our founding yet forward to the end of the world. In a similar sense, our meeting in the hall at the Desert Springs Marriott was apart from time. Certainly not in a holy, godly eucharistic sense, but it did touch that part of our nous that understands when something is out of kilter; when the world as we know it seems off somehow.
While our SOYO teens were gallivanting about, enjoying the comfort of iced drinks from the Starbucks outlet in the lobby and relaxing in the intense desert heat, in the cavernous meeting hall something different ensued.
As delegates entered the meeting hall, they were greeted by a unique sight. Television cameras were mounted on a small platform in the midst of a sea of round tables set up for the delegates. Each parish had an assigned table, like desks in elementary school. It helped organize things, but left a lot of seats empty. At one end of the room, there was a huge platform set up as a dais. It must have been sixty feet long, in two layers. Atop this were two ranks of tables for the various dignitaries and officers: our beloved Metropolitans Philip, Paul and Nikitas, our diocesan fathers and husbands Alexander, Antoun , Basil, Joseph, Mark and Thomas and the members of the Board of Trustees. At each end of the dais platform were placed lecterns for presenters. Further to the left and right of the dais were huge projection screens that displayed to the delegates what the cameras saw.
Towards the front of the huge school of tables, about fifty feet from the dais, were spread out three microphones for questions from the delegates. Later in the proceedings, Sergeants-at-Arms were specified only to monitor the goings-on at these microphones, and after each departmental report was presented they read aloud the names of those who made motions or seconded them. In almost every case, the name of the one who made a motion to accept a departmental report was the senior priest of a prominent parish, and that of the one who seconded, the priest of a lesser parish.
What greeted the eyes of those who entered was a well-planned, well-executed event. This should not surprise, since it had the hallmarks of the Los Angeles event planning group, who has such things down to a science. These events are meant to run smoothly, so that people can enjoy their stay and the convention.
However, there were manifold flies in the ointment.
As the meeting was getting under way, there were several items placed on the tables to gain the attention of the delegates: business cards, placards and other marketing pieces. Many tables had a comb-bound report sitting them. It was titled: “Report on the Necessity for an Ongoing Independent External Financial Audit of the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America”. This didn’t seem to fit. The delegates entering the hall thought this was going to be a typical Archdiocesan meeting: a series of boring reports mixed with lots of praise for our Metropolitan, blessed be his name, and punctuated with off-key glee clubs, the song “You are my Sunshine”, “Happy Birthday To You” in Tone 8, and fragments of the poetry of Khalil Gibran.
Instead they were faced with a bit of chaos at the front door. A well-dressed tall man handing out copies of the reports was being pushed out of the hall by a priest. Another man grabbed him from behind and tried to move him further away from the door, across the hall, but now the delegates wanted the report because of the fuss, so he and a few others continued to hand them out. Meanwhile, there were men inside the hall going around to the seated delegates reading the report telling them that it was not official. Back outside in the hallway, the Convention security guys, each in a baby blue shirt with “SECURITY” printed in large yellow letters on the back, continued to harass the people handing out the report. Because they acted like thugs, they failed in their objective of quashing dissent. This made people want to read the report even more.
Later, a priest was discovered reading the audit report and another priest forcibly took it away from him, proclaiming, “This is not authorized. You are not allowed to have this in the room – by order of the Metropolitan!” How can this happen? Unless the report-reading priest was in Metr. Philip’s diocese, he had no authority to order anything. From Metr. Philip’s own lips we hear that we have diocesan bishops. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
People wondered if the blue shirts were poseurs: why are they acting like hotel security people? They have no authority to do such things! This caused even more chaos. One thing must be noted: while there might have been several of these men who were sympathetic to Metropolitan Philip, having Convention staff acting as security is de rigueur for the Los Angeles planning group. In order to save costs and maximize the profit to the hosting parish from such conventions and Parish Life Conferences, local parish members are recruited to act as a small, informal and casual security force. Makes a lot of sense, until your wannabe security people start acting like members of a gang in East LA. Besides, everyone knows that in Palm Desert and environs, in proper society one wears white – at least until Labor Day.
At the same time there was a man wandering around looking for someone named “Stookey”. While some older folks thought he was looking for the Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary, he obviously meant “Stokoe”, as in Mark Stokoe, but in this context it was hilarious. Actually, it was more like Alice and the Looking Glass: Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the knights of the Red Queen in blue shirts, and the Cheshire cat up on the dais. I felt like any moment I was going to hear the beginning of Jabberwocky from the overhead speakers:
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe …”
It was sad, distasteful, awkward, silly and spiritually disheartening all at the same time. If we are supposed to be open and transparent as an Archdiocese, why are such tactics allowed? How does thuggery become us? What comes next, a horse’s head in the bed of one who disagrees? Whether they were acting on their own – in what they thought was an honorable fashion – or were instructed to quash any dissent, it was a bad, stupid, not well-thought out decision.
Once the proceedings began, things settled back down into a standard pattern of thanks, congratulations, motions to accept and ayes counted. For an organization that isn’t supposed to run these meetings by Robert’s Rules of Order, there are a surprising number of those Rules in place.
The first highlight was a presentation by Myriam Shwayri on the Al-Kkafaat Foundation of Lebanon and the wonderful work they do with disabled people. We often forget in America that in other cultures, disability of any sort is a cause for disdain, mixed with contempt and fear. Seeing images of those helped by this Foundation was quite moving, and caused me to pray for each one.
Then the interminable departmental reports began. The first was that of the Nominating Committee, and wonder of wonders, a motion was made at the left microphone. A woman walked confidently up to the mic, got permission to speak, and presented a resolution to this effect:
“Resolved, that no person who has been an officer or director of a company which has been convicted of or a settled criminal charge or who has personally been convicted of or settled criminal charges may be a member of the Board of Trustees or the Local Synod.”
Wow! Why would someone bring that up? Metr. Philip muttered something about not being aware that any felons were on the Board of Trustees. This resolution was passed with a resounding number of “Ayes” and sparse and weak “Nays”. Amazing. Something actually happened. It not only added spice to the meeting, but it was extremely important. Beyond our spiritual obligations to the Church and the world, restoring integrity to our Archdiocese should be a primary goal. This woman became a heroine with a few simple words and a lot of moxie.
We quickly settled back into hearing the departmental reports.
– Delegate with Portfolio
Spoken from the Dais By Metropolitan Philip:
“We work in the sunlight. We don’t work in the darkness.“
Text messages from delegates on the floor to OCANews.org:
“+Philip has certain of his own supporters dressed up like hotel security, wearing blue shirts… “
“We don’t stab in the back.”
“One woman attempted to grab my cell phone out of my hand. Other people, including one man who is now on the dais (I believe he is a trustee ) took our names. “
“We have nothing at all to hide.”
“One or more people, including at least one clergyman, physically attacked delegate (xxxx) (Name removed at this person’s request) as he handed out the audit reports, grabbing him from behind and shoving him out of the assembly hall. Later, they were allowed to hand them out outside the main room, but the gentleman in the orange shirt in the attached picture took them from delegates as they entered. Another asked (xxxx) and the other people handing out reports to go to the other side of the hallway, where they would be unable to have contact with the entering delegates. When they refused, he stood in front of (xxx) in an attempt to block him from handing the reports out…”
“We want people to report the correct facts.”
“A resolution on “No Criminal Behavior for Trustees” passed. ‘Resolved, that no person who has been an officer or director of a company which has been convicted of or settled criminal charges or who has personally been convicted of or settled criminal charges may be a member of the Board of Trustees or the Local Synod.’ Strong “aye” and weak nays. +Philip appeared helpless – and then he stated: “I know of no one on the Board of Trustees who this would apply to…”
“We want people to know this Archdiocese as it is.”
“Careful….MP’s’guys are watching
Palm Desert, California
The meeting was sparsely attended. As the panel went through the proposed budget, they mentioned that Bp Demitri was being paid through the Archdiocese of Mexico, and that contrary to Metr. Philip’s comments in a clergy meeting earlier, the panelists were told by Metr. Philip that Bp. Demitri would be reinstated.
They also mentioned that the budget would not come up for approval at this meeting, but would be delayed until October.
There was a short discussion about how some of the largest parishes seem to be giving much less proportionally than the smaller parishes and tithing parishes. This was followed by another short discussion about how to encourage parishioners to tithe. It was noted that many parishioners are concerned that if they increase their donations from what they gave under the dues-paying system, what would happen to the excess money? It was also brought up that this is actually a spiritual issue, and that we should be educating our brothers and sisters that we are returning to God a small portion of what is already His anyway.
Metr. Philip made a comment in an earlier meeting with the clergy that we have $15 to 20 million dollars in bonds. A question was asked about this, and where the income from these bonds is reflected in the budget. Peter Dacales answered that he does not know of that much being in bonds, and then laid out two major areas where we hold bonds:
- about $3.7 million in the name of the Order of St. Ignatius
- about $2 million in the name of the clergy “retirement” fund
The group allowed that His Eminence was likely doing quick math in his head during the earlier clergy meeting, and that this accounted for the much high numbers he mentioned.
It was stated that these bonds are all long-term, held via Merrill Lynch. The department did their due diligence in looking at several wirehouses that could manage our money, and settled on Merrill Lynch. However, further discussion about this revealed that our money is actually held in managed accounts, run by third-parties with whom the Archdiocese has agreements through Merrill Lynch. We are charged under 3% per year for the services of the third-party manager (the actual number was not stated, but it was “well under” 3%). We have approximately 70% of our funds in bonds and the remainder in equities and cash. There was no detail given about how these accounts were run, the income from them or the investment policies in place that define our objectives, asset allocation, and the processes and methods used by the third-party managers to meet those objectives.
The final item of note was the discussion of a new actuarial study for the clergy “retirement” fund, since the last one was performed six or so years ago. The reason I place the word “retirement” in quotes is because we should not be using that term, since this is not a IRS-sanctioned qualified plan. It is simply money held in trust for the clergy to be dispersed to them at retirement.
– Delegate with Portfolio
Welcome to OCANews.org’s first-ever live blog from the 2009 Archdiocesan Convention. Look for periodic updates throughout the day on Thursday, July 23rd and Friday July 24th as our reporter gathers information, interviews, and reactions directly from the floor of the Assembly.
– Mark Stokoe