The Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton serves some 25,000 faithful in 81 parishes and missions throughout Alberta. In addition to the urban parishes, the Eparchy is organized into eight mainly rural districts centred on an urban/town hub. All of these are combined into three protopresbyterates: Calgary, Edmonton and Mundare.
The Most Rev. David Motiuk, Eparchial Bishop, convoked the Eparchial Sobor on January 15, 2020. Since the Jubilee Year 2000, several such Eparchial Sobors had been convoked:
- 2001 – “Jesus Christ: Fountain of Rebirth”
- 2003 – “The Ukrainian Catholic Church in Alberta: 100 Years Later”
- 2008 – “Evangelization and the Ukrainian Catholic Church – Following in the Footsteps of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Apostles to the Slavs”
- 2011 – “Consecrated Life”
- 2012 – “Evangelization: A New Springtime”
- 2014 – “The Vibrant Parish, Places to Encounter the Living Christ”
- 2016 – “The New Ukrainian Catholic Catechism, Christ Our Pascha”
The Eparchial Sobor took place in three venues: in Calgary at St. Stephen Protomartyr Parish on March 7; in Vegreville at Holy Trinity Parish on March 14; and in Edmonton pastors met with their parish councils since, by the scheduled date of March 16, it was no longer permitted to have larger gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his letter of convocation, Bishop David cited Patriarch Sviatoslav’s 2019 Post-Synodal Pastoral Letter on “Communion and Unity in the Ukrainian Catholic Church” where the Patriarch reminded us that: “Our Church is no longer a local reality, limited to a particular territory or pastoral context. Today, our Church is at the same time global and particular, Ukrainian and multi-national.”
It is in this context that Patriarch Sviatoslav invited us in our local Eparchial Sobors to reflect upon the following three questions:
- Whom do we serve today as Church?
- Whom do we not serve well?
- How must we move forward?
At each of the gatherings in Calgary and Vegreville, Bishop David was present along with the local pastors and representatives of the parishes and districts. The participants consisted of women and men, retired or working adults of middle age or older, although a few young adults were present. The groups were composed of Canadian Ukrainians, Ukrainians born in Ukraine, non-Ukrainians from Roman Catholic backgrounds, and converts from non-Catholic backgrounds.
The participants gathered in small groups and then shared the outcomes of their discussions with the assembly as a whole. While there were many similar comments, there were also comments which reflected the particular circumstances of the given parishes and districts. These responses include input from the Edmonton and area parishes.
Question 1 Whom do we serve today as church?
a) Who attends?
- Parishes reported that they provided both Ukrainian and English services.
- The English Divine Liturgies had higher attendance numbers.
- Parishes included and welcomed immigrants from Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian backgrounds
- There is a majority of older people and women attending regularly.
- There is a definite decline in the number of children, youth, and young adults.
- Attendance in general is decreasing.
– Comments included: – the number of millennials (the 20- to 40-year-olds) is decreasing in attendance.
– Retention of children and young adults is decreasing.
– The youth and the young want to be entertained. The challenge would be to do that and still be respectful and spiritual.
– Some parishes provide Sunday School, and most parishes have First Confession and Solemn Communion classes while others have no children to whom to offer these classes.
– Parishioners are attending Roman Catholic churches because it is convenient, young people find that that their school friends attend there, the length of their Mass is shorter, and it is always in English.
b) How many people in our families, parishes, and communities are reached by our pastoral efforts? How many are not?
- There is a lot of reaching out, but, overall, it does not seem to be effective, nor does it meet the needs of the people.
- Programs are offered, but parents and grandchildren are not responding to the invitation.
- Summer programs exist.
- Fun and fellowship are available
- Eucharist for children is inviting.
- Most younger people appear not to be interested in traditional Eastern-rite rituals which creates challenges.
- People attend in large numbers at Christmas and Easter. These family gatherings bring everyone to church.
- Young families attend for Baptism and First Confession and Solemn Communion and then often stop attending.
- Other activities compete with church attendance for the young: sports, work, Ukrainian dance practices, etc.
- Some, but not all, parishes offer pastoral care through phoning and visiting the elderly, communion visits when requested, hospital visits, helping elderly seniors with shopping, driving elderly seniors to church or meetings. Some seniors come by taxi, handicap bus, or with other elderly seniors or family.
- Increase of elderly seniors in parishes.
Question 2 Whom do we serve well?
a) Pastoral ministers available in some churches.
- Take communion to people who they know want it or ask for it.
- Visit the sick, but a few people keep their illnesses very private, so their privacy is respected.
- One parish gives out blessed prayer shawls and squares to parishioners and others who are sick or have lost a loved one.
- Encouraging people to phone the parish when they are ill so people can reach out.
- Seniors phoning seniors.
- Prayer chain members, confidential.
b) The pastors of the Church.
- Generally visit when contacted.
- Work with areas of the community that have support people in that area who can reach out to people in need.
- Show gratitude to people who attend and people who work behind the scenes.
- Encourage congregational singing.
- Make prison visits. Only one deacon has done it in the past as part of his job description for a diocese. No one reaches out to prisoners in our areas
c) Poor, marginalized, new immigrants, unemployed
- Helping families with the Department of Immigration, getting into Canada, and helping them belong to the church, helping them find accommodations and setting up their housing, donating clothing and food, helping with finding schools for children and adult English as a Second Language (ESL) classes if needed, helping them become familiar with Canadian laws and rules, taxation, shopping, job contacts and employment and many other things that are needed.
- Рідна Школа (Ridna Shkola – Ukrainian school for supports and credits).
- Email contacts, Family Support fund, Food Bank availability or collections, Open Doors.
- One parish has a “Pass it on Program” annually for winter coats and boots and clothing and a few household items. Many immigrants helped as team leads and workers in the set up and giveaway, as well as food preparation for the volunteers. Other parishes do something similar.
- Support Network within the community to share furniture, appliances household items, bedding, medical supports, for those in need, new immigrants setting up and for those having operations and the elderly, all at no cost. Volunteers help deliver these items.
- Do volunteer work at agencies which help the poor and homeless, e.g., Marian Centre, Hope Mission, Food Bank, etc.
- Adopt a school in a needy neighbourhood.
- Parish contacts for jobs could be better.
- Coffee and fellowship time after Liturgies. Greet and welcome new parishioners and visitors.
- Projects that help the poor and marginalized in Ukraine and other countries, especially through the “Bridge of Hope” and “Home of Hope” projects.
d) Baptized and not attending; children and students are away from home.
- Personal relationship with Jesus is missing.
- We need to reach out and keep inviting them to come to church.
- Sharing everyday life.
- Not many youth programs exist overall
- People are overwhelmed with work life and/ or prioritize work and other activities over church
- Parents give options to the young not to go to church.
- People rationalize that they can be spiritual, not religious, without going to church. They believe that doing good and living a good life are sufficient.
- Overall, the people attending are well served.
e) The Divorced and Remarried
- There are no formal programs or support groups.
- Often shunned and judged and so they leave the church.
- Educate parishioners that divorced people are members of the church.
- Educate all regarding the teaching of the church on divorce.
- No support for marriage programs.
- Need support group for divorced or singles.
- Cultivating relationships is important.
Question 3 How must we move forward?
a) What can we do to reach out and minister to those who already attend? What draws our faithful?
- Living a life of prayer and holiness (example is the best teacher)
- Offer to pray with others in all circumstances (trouble, confusion, grief, thanksgiving)
- Community in the church.
- The beauty and meaning of the Divine Liturgy (this needs to be explained over and over)
- Adult faith formation is critical, especially for parents of young children and youth
- Need education on the traditions and sacraments (people often have a mistaken notion of the Anointing of the Sick).
- Priest can have a big effect on the parish.
- Help grandparents to be evangelizers
- Parishes working together in programs and pooling resources.
- Participation and collaboration between Roman Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, and other Christian Churches. To build greater understanding between people of other faiths.
- Relationship building. Educating parishioners on that.
- Call outs to increase numbers in coming.
- Invite teens and young adults to come to church instead of telling them.
- Direct homilies to children and teens on a regular basis
- Virtual summer and day camps for children and teens
- Personal invitations.
- Catechize people in the pews.
- Show gratitude for those who attend. Thank them for attending.
- Those that work behind the scenes are all treasures.
- Better congregational singing.
- Social media. A new great resource.
- Changing the approach; have discussions and make connections with parishioners.
- Education programs for the parishioners.
- Cultural aspects.
- Do not judge. Be kind and friendly
- Coffee after liturgies, the social aspect.
- Weddings and funerals are also opportunities to welcome people who rarely attend. Music is important and shows the guests what is available weekly at liturgies.
- Fundraisers help people work together and get to know each other. Working towards goals together.
- Encourage, invite people to join church groups.
- Continue summer camps for children and their friends.
- Bible study helps people to understand and appreciate their faith. Encourages open discussion and develops relationships through open communication, questioning and understanding at a deeper level and helps build community.
- Icon workshops draw people together; provide religious and creative outlets and develop relationship with people and God.
- When schools have professional development days offer day programs for the parish children to participate in activities and get to know one another in their common religious background and develop friendships which will be a common thread over the years to come.
- It is very important for people to be known, to be involved and to feel as though they belong, appreciated and made aware that their presence makes a difference. This social aspect can not be overstated.
- Parish needs to have a project or major programs to have goals and purpose for enhancing and building a strong community.
- The annual eparchial pilgrimage at Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Mundare needs to be supported and more widely attended in order to for us to see ourselves as a “connected” Church.
- Greet people and follow up with them.
b) What can we do better to reach those who do not attend today? Who can we most readily reach with limited time and resources?
- We need to reach out to those in mixed marriages after they attend pre-marriage courses to determine how they are managing
- Most Catholic schools have 4 to 5 Masses a year. Effort should be made to celebrate a Divine Liturgy with some of the choirs in several Elementary, Junior High and Senior High Schools every year. Grade 3 study Ukraine in their Social Studies curriculum. This is a great opportunity to get involved and is being done in some cases.
- We need youth and young adult leaders to build a youth community. Perhaps the Catholic Universities or the seminary students could take leadership as part of their training or classes to do field work or as a work study in this area.
- Many Eastern Catholics are attending Roman Catholic Churches. We need to invite them back through advertising and through family members who do attend.
- Invite surrounding neighbours (for example, the Indigenous and Immigrants) to our church and make them and their families feel welcome.
- We must make greater use of flyers in mailboxes, posters, newspaper ads, and especially social media.
- Begin an ESL Class.
- Begin an ALPHA program.
- Parishes need a project to bring the parish together.
- Begin a kindergarten –preschool program.
- Rent out church space for other programs that would draw in attendance which includes a parishioner in the group or event, e.g., dance groups.
- Develop banners, e.g., “Need a ride to church?”
- Professional development day for young children.
- Social Media is the new communication tool (not only used by the young generation: Facebook, WhatsApp, Zoom, Instagram, weekly e-mailed bulletins, parish and eparchial websites, etc. Have a communication plan.
- Invite people who we know at work or socially, at sports or dance to come to our liturgies and church activities. Welcome them.
- Be aware of our behaviour and the way we speak to our church family as people are listening and forming judgements.
- Call and invite people to attend.
- Measure the engagement of parishioners.
- Surveys for parishioners to guide church leaders.
- Hold events to draw people back: Anniversary event: 5, 10 15,20, 25, 30, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65 years married. Recognize with a blessing and social event.
- Reach out to schools, universities, colleges. Become more visible and present, especially through celebration of the divine Liturgy in their institutions.
- Invite young people to help in projects at church and to be on Parish Council.
- Have Talent Nights.
- Free English adult classes in the churches.
- Do not be critical of people who attend at Christmas and Easter and special occasions. Have a warm welcome, a social activity after Christmas eve Divine Liturgy.
- Provide live-feed liturgies and special events for those who are sick, elderly, away at school or families on vacation.
- “Make a friend, Be a friend, Bring a friend to Christ”
NOTE: Much was said about the vital role of the parish priest.
- Priests need to show enthusiasm for God and love for God’s people
- Preaching should focus more on God’s bountiful mercy
- Repentance must be taught as a positive disposition of heart
- Priests must make every effort to promote the Holy Mystery of Repentance and provide for it on a regular and more frequent basis
- Homilies need to be clearly delivered so that all can hear and understand. They must be current and make the Word of God relevant to the parishioners’ lives and particular situations
- Priests need to recognize and foster the dignity of the laity and lift them to their true stature as a royal priesthood and empower them to be leaders in ministry
- Priestly formation (and ongoing formation) should include practical and procedural training in administering a parish (e.g., marketing, social media, activities that are suitable for smaller parishes).
- Priests need to find opportunities to share their successes and failures and to support one another. We are all working for the same CHURCH.
There were numerous themes that surfaced from the reflections and discussions, however, not all the comments applied to each parish. Still, the following emerged as predominant in most of the local communities and need to be emphasised:
The context here is drawn from the concern that parish attendance is declining with a marked decrease in the number of young people and young families. At the other end of the age spectrum, there is the problem of reaching out to those who are ill or elderly, especially those who are shut into their houses or care centres. In the middle we find those who have either lost interest or been turned away from the Church because of the behaviour or attitude of the clergy or parishioners.
That a concerted effort be made to reach out regularly with invitations to participate by every means available, from a simple telephone call to utilizing all the instruments of social media. In the case of shut-ins, this would include clergy and teams of parishioners (trained and commissioned for that purpose) visiting and bringing the Eucharist on a regular basis.
- Spirit of hospitality
This is more a matter of attitude. Many spoke of the need to refrain from judgemental approaches to those who are different: non-Ukrainians, immigrants, infrequent attendees, visible minorities, those in “irregular” marriages, the poor, etc.
That a spirit of hospitality and generosity be fostered in all activities of the parish. This would require educating the parish community on the Gospel imperative for an open and welcoming attitude to all.
- Pastoral formation
The participants recognized the pivotal role of their parish priests and were grateful for their dedication and hard work. Nonetheless, they saw the need for continued pastoral formation in the areas of communication: practically (e.g., social media), in the empowerment of the laity, and in their enthusiasm for God and love for God’s people.
That workshops be developed in the area of communication and empowerment, and opportunities for spiritual growth be offered on a continuing basis (more than the minimal yearly retreat) with encouragement for clergy to take initiatives for further study through recognized institutions, particularly the Sheptytsky Institute, as well as through a mentorship and fellowship program with their colleagues in ministry.