A Different Kind Of Collar

Here is the article that was in the T&G a few days ago:


WORCESTER —  With a bulletproof vest hidden under a dark polo shirt, the Rev. Aaron Payson responds to a recent police call in the wee hours of the morning.

Shielding his face is a baseball cap with one word in bold: Clergy.

When most of the city is asleep, Rev. Payson surveys Worcester from a police cruiser.

“That is the time when the most critically violent things often happen,” said Rev. Payson, who rides along with Worcester police officers on patrol from 11 p.m. to about 4 a.m., every four to six weeks, as a member of the Worcester Clergy/Police Community Partnership.

On one of these ride-alongs, Rev. Payson, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester, knew he was needed at a suicide call.

“I was on a ride-along and it was 7 a.m. when the person was discovered,” he said. “I essentially went with the family, and the (police officer) I was riding with did what he needed to do. I intersected in between.”

In times of crisis, when police must follow protocol at a crime scene, clergy are able to step in with their working knowledge of police procedure.

“Families don’t define a suicide as a crime scene; (to them) it’s a tragedy,” Rev. Payson said. “Being able to gently explain to them before these things start to happen why they’re doing what they’re doing helps to ease those tensions, and allows them to concentrate on grieving.”

In the summer of 2007, Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme saw the need to address increased violence in the city by promoting relationships between police and the community. In partnership with the Black Clergy Alliance, Chief Gemme used a Fort Worth, Texas, program called Uniting Clergy and Police as a model to form the Worcester Clergy/Police Community Partnership. It is the only alliance of its kind in New England.To prepare for the partnership, 21 clergy members completed an eight-week academy in February 2008. With a new group of 13 clergy members, the second Worcester Clergy/Police Academy began Sept. 22. They will train through November. Topics include constitutional and criminal law, use of force, domestic violence, sexual assault, gangs, vice squad and community impact.

In the opening session, program coordinator Sgt. John Lewis said the training would give clergy “a better understanding of how we save lives, because sometimes saving lives is just interaction.”

Along with the academy sessions, clergy attend monthly meetings and participate in ride-alongs and critical incident response.“Your talents, your gifts are not just welcomed, they’re necessary,” said Rev. Payson, welcoming the new members.

Rev. Payson said he was inspired to participate in the program “because I think it has a direct impact on the way in which the community can bring together resources that would otherwise be non-communicative.”

With a community as diverse as Worcester, lines of communication sometimes blur between cultures. Clergy in the partnership represent Baptist, Lutheran, Unitarian, Methodist, Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Reform Jewish congregations. About 28 percent of city residents speak another language besides English, and 15 percent of residents are foreign born, the Census Bureau says.

“We have a big immigrant population,” said the Rev. Gregory Christakos of St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Cathedral, talking about his congregation. Immigrants often have a different view of police than Americans, he said.

“For example, if you’re from a former communist country and the police are corrupt there … you may not trust the police,” he said.

Rev. Christakos aims to be a liaison to the police for immigrants who feel that way about police.

Another academy participant, the Rev. Steven Barrett of Christ the Rock Fellowship, also understands that cultures have different views of law enforcement.

“We naturally think of them in a certain way — ‘The policeman is your friend,’ — and someone from another culture may not have that,” he said.

“What we have, I think, is the mindset or the natural inclination to come alongside people in crisis,” Rev. Barrett said. “The police are often, by the nature of their job, the authority (in a situation); they’re there to keep a lid on things or to stop things. They may want to help, but in their role they may not be able to as easily.”

Clergy may be able bridge the communication gap and the partnership may establish a greater confidence in what police do, he said.

Rev. Barrett knows the differences between the roles of police and clergy, but said the combined approach is most effective.

“We have the same mission here. Their job, their goal, is to make the community a safer and better place to live, and that is right in line with what we (clergy) would desire for the community as well,” Rev. Barrett said.

Even as a new member of the partnership, Rev. Christakos noted the important role clergy can play in a critical incident.

“I’m interested in a healthy society just like the police are,” he said, though he acknowledged his approach differs from that of police. “I try to approach everything with love. As an Orthodox priest, I’m trying to bring Christian love to a situation.”

Though he missed the first academy in 2008, Rev. Barrett began attending partnership meetings shortly after he arrived in Worcester in July 2009. He has found the academy programs informative. “I appreciated the thoroughness of the presentation. They’re giving us one department at a time and really getting in depth in what that particular part of the police force does,” he said.

“It’s like being in school again,” said Rev. Christakos, fanning out the scribbled pages of his leather notebook. “I’ve got blisters from writing so much.”

Originally published in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette 10/26/10.

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October 29th, 2010 by Fr. Greg

Toula’s Fish Soup

This is recipe comes from fellow Little Angels parent Toula.  Prez made it last night – absolutely delicious soup.  We didn’t have any celery but it still tasted great.

– 2 lbs. fish (any white fish works well), cut into cube-chunks
– handful fresh fennel (use top of fennel only (maybe you can save the bulb for the green apple & fennel salad)), leaves roughly chopped
– handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
– 2 tomatoes, diced
– 2 celery sticks, chopped
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– olive oil
– 1+ cups boiling water
– salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil on medium heat, then add garlic (careful not to burn the garlic). Add tomatoes and celery, cook for 15 minutes. Add fish, fennel, parsley, seasonings, hot water (add more or less hot water, depending how soupy or stewy you’d like it). Simmer another 20 minutes.

This recipe is really flexible so feel free to adjust the amounts of the ingredients to suit your taste (like less garlic, more or less tomato, etc).

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October 28th, 2010 by Fr. Greg

New Facing East Podcasts Up

Two new Facing East podcasts are up over at the site as well as on iTunes.  In these two episodes Fr. Peter and I journey to a feed store as well as Whole Foods (which is, I suppose, a feed store for humans).  We will be meeting this Friday as well to record another…

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October 27th, 2010 by Fr. Greg

After-Kneeling Tray Is Toast

One of the more disquieting elements of Sunday liturgy in the past few years has been the tray passed as we get up from kneeling.  This “second tray” (even though it is the first) was added when the Cathedral hit the dire financial straits that everyone seems to be going through these days.  Happily, that tray, passed at a very prayerful time in the service, is no more.  (As the Archdiocese envisions full stewardship, there are of course no trays at all, no candle offerings, etc.  but that is a story for another day).  We decided last night to just have the one tray when the liturgy is done, and once or twice a month have a true second tray, passed after the first, with an announced earmark, as in “this second tray will be for the Poor & Needy Account” or whatever.  I expect this practice to have two effects.  We will all have a more prayerful experience when we arise from kneeling. Also, I imagine we will collect more money.  I myself am a much more cheerful giver with just one tray, and if I hear that there is a special tray for a good cause then I will happily give to that.  The people I have talked to about this issue are all largely on the same page.  We shall see!

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October 22nd, 2010 by Fr. Greg

Pilgrimage Stuff

Metropolitan Methodios, Bishop McManus, Monsignor Peter and of course Father Dean recently returned from a pilgrimage to Turkey (Istanbul, Smyrna, Ephesus and other places ) and Rome.  The Metropolitan and Fr. Dean actually celebrated as paraclesis service in the house which according to lore was the last home of the Virgin Mary.  Bishop McManus and the Monsignor participated as well, making this a truly memorable ecumenical event.  The Metropolis site has a nice article about the trip as well as some pictures here and here.

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October 21st, 2010 by Fr. Greg

Piano Duet

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October 11th, 2010 by Fr. Greg

Motorcycle Manifesto

This is my article from the most recent Cathedral News:

One of the many joys of being an Orthodox Christian is the ability to participate in our active liturgical life.  We have, beyond the usual Sunday morning services, plenty of other church services in which we can take part.  These range from weekday morning liturgies for a particular saint to the more specialized evening services of Holy Week or the fifteen days of August, to the sacraments of baptism, marriage and ordination.  There are also a number of services or “sacramentals” that take place outside the church.  These can range from an invocation at a meal to things like house blessings and graveside burial services.  The number of people attending these services can vary from the 1100 or so we have in church for Good Friday to the 2 or 3 household members who may be present for a house blessing.

It can be tough to bring people who are not Orthodox into church.  Many of use don’t think in terms of evangelizing non-churchgoers and bringing friends to church.  Outside of the Grecian Festival and occasional events like blood drives, most of the people present at our services or social events are Orthodox.  We are called, however, as Christians, to bring the gospel to the whole world.  This past summer, we had an event that, although it is now several months in the rearview mirror, has stayed with me as an inspirational church/public encounter and as a template for one of the ways we can evangelize the unchurched.

There exists a short prayer in our priestly service book for the blessing of a vehicle or vehicles.  Occasionally someone will get a new car and ask us to bless it, which we of course do willingly.  This summer my friend Fr. Peter and I decided to hold a blessing of the motorcycles event as a way to bring Orthodoxy to people who otherwise might not be exposed to it.  So we planned the event: a blessing of the water and then the bikes followed by a ride to a farm in Monson, Mass. to have some ice cream.  We had Orthodox people from the community who have motorcycles recruit friends and spread the word.

The day of the event came – we did it in Southbridge on a Sunday afternoon, and may hold part of it next year in Worcester – and we weren’t sure what our turnout would be.  We ended up having around 30 bikes and close to 50 people – many doubled up – as well as some spectators who didn’t ride.  We did the blessing and then departed for the farm, where we enjoyed a spectacular view as well some good home-made ice cream.  In and of itself it was a very enjoyable event – we all had a blast – but more importantly it was a great evangelical tool.  Here we had over 50 people, some of whom were Orthodox Christians from the Cathedral and several other churches, but most of whom were not Orthodox.  And they got to see a fully-Orthodox agiasmo service and the aforementioned blessing of the vehicles prayer conducted by two appropriately-vested priests.  The fellowship part at the farm brought many questions about our rituals and our faith.

The blessing of the motorcycles brought many non-Orthodox and Orthodox together in a fully Orthodox context.  It is truly a model for one method of evangelizing the unchurched.  While we must always do our best to bring new people to church (and to inform and educate them appropriately, since encountering our liturgy for the first time can be an intimidating experience), we should also seek out other fully-Orthodox ways of bringing Orthodoxy to those outside of the church.

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October 7th, 2010 by Fr. Greg