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Parish Envisioning Exercise

“Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.” (Habakkuk 2:2)

Many consulting professionals place envisioning highest in the hierarchy of essential organizational development activities. However, Orthodox Christians must place mission first, for vision detached from mission can quickly devolve into a “private” vision or what philosophers call solipsism – the assurance that only one’s own mind is certain to exist. God voluntarily revealed Himself to the world and in power and glory established His church. The mission is clear. How it may appear in the future is the vision.

Therefore, the Kingdom is present. Yet it is not yet fully present – that is the vision that is to be fulfilled. Accepting our role through synergia, how do we as a community of the church envision our own active participation in hastening the Parousia or the full establishment of the Kingdom of God? We have an active role to play and each community must contextualize this according to their own unique situation just as each person must do this in their own lives.

At seminary a priest filled with the wisdom of decades of service once said, “We Orthodox are like the person who sits in the back of one of those old-type station wagons looking out the rear view window who exclaims, ‘I see all the wonderful places we have been, but I have absolutely no idea where we are going.’”

The draft of St. Vladimir’s Seminary’s first professional strategic planning process was sent to the managing partner of one of the largest management consultant agencies in the world. He was (and is) a faithful Orthodox Christian who agreed to give feedback on the plan. This was one of many valuable things he said to us:

“Father, I can’t say if hiring a new professor of Ethics is what is right for you or not. I don’t know if you need to renovate this building or that. You are the best ones to determine that, but what strikes me about this plan is that it is tactical not strategic. Strategic means asking yourself, ‘What do we want to become?’ If you know what you want to become, then you can validate every objective with the question: ‘Does it move us in that direction?’ It seems that what you have done is take all the things that you are presently doing and increase your ability to do them. This may be fine. It may be that you are doing exactly what you think you should be doing and so increasing your ability to do it or to do it better is exactly what you want but I encourage you to think strategically.”

The exercise below may be useful in a retreat setting, strategic planning session or dedicated parish council discussion. Every priest is encouraged to create their own version of this based upon their parish situation.

  1. Explain that an envisioning exercise has been prepared to facilitate a discussion on parish development.

  2. Pass out the “Participant Copy” and invite each person to fill in the blank regarding what the parish might become or whether the parish is just fine where it is.

  3. Allow sufficient time for most to complete the written part of the exercise.

  4. Facilitate an open discussion of the results. Utilize the “Leader’s Copy” for your own reference with suggested responses though these may not be the best responses for each parish’s unique situation.

  5. If time allows, try to prioritize which of the items should be top priority.

  6. Go to work fashioning a plan to fulfill the vision or delegate to a committee the responsibility to produce a draft plan of action in preparation for a follow up discussion.

“Vision without action is merely a daydream. Action without a vision is a nightmare.” – Japanese proverb


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