Fr. Alexander Goussetis
With its seeds sown at the 2002 Clergy-Laity Congress in Los Angeles, the Center for Family Care (CFC) of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was founded in 2005. The ministry arose from a calling, in the words of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, “to affirm the importance of family as a blessed gift from God and to address the specific needs of families as they try to live in a very challenging culture and world.” In the ensuing 13 years the CFC has diligently worked to deliver a variety of multimedia resources and participate in numerous events throughout the Archdiocese, with most of those efforts funded by generous support from Leadership 100, for the spiritual formation of the Archdiocese’s faithful.
Fr. Constantine Sitaras, well known for his many years as the Director of Saint Basil Academy, was selected to lead the CFC in 2005. In 2016, Fr. Alexander Goussetis was appointed as the new Director, with Fr. Sitaras still retaining a role with the CFC as an adviser. Currently, the CFC staff is composed of six employees, two of whom are full time.
It should be noted that the CFC operates from a dual understanding of family. Of course, there is the family of the household, the basic social structure of any culture, traditionally comprised of parents and children. Conversely, all Orthodox Christians are, indeed, family, not by shared genetics, but through baptism into Christ’s Body, His Holy Church. Therefore, the ministry efforts of the CFC extend also to the greater family of faith. From the apostolic age there was no ministry for different populations but, rather, a holistic family ministry. Ministry is ultimately about connection, not merely running programs to fill calendars. And while it is challenging to address issues confronting people, parenting, eldercare, special needs, and addictions for example, they are concerns that require acknowledgment and corresponding Orthodox Christian pastoral care. This may occur through face-to-face engagement or by utilizing every possible medium, electronic and otherwise.
The CFC produces several printed resources and includes regular contributions to the Orthodox Observer as well as scheduled submissions for the Department of Religious Education’s PRAXIS magazine. The CFC has also penned parent companion material for that same department’s Zine series for young people. The CFC writes Family Gospel Lessons to connect families to the Sunday gospel readings. The Journey of Marriage in the Orthodox Church, authored by Dr. Philip Mamalakis and Fr. Charles Joanides, is a premarital preparation program that embodies Orthodox Christian principles as well as sound research. The program is used in many parishes throughout the Archdiocese, and certain Metropolises use it exclusively for couples preparing for marriage.
Numerous presentations are conducted throughout the Archdiocese including marriage and family retreats as well as seminars and workshops covering any number of topics. There have also been four national conferences located in different Metropolises since 2013. The themes at each conference have alternated between subjects in family ministry and pastoral challenges in marriage. Again, the generosity of Leadership 100 has benefitted these events through scholarship awards that allowed funding for two representatives from each Metropolis and the Direct Archdiocesan District to attend as well as funding for the general administration of the conferences.
The CFC website is a wide channel of information including many articles and resources to support families in living out their faith as well as parish communities ministering to families and individuals. There is also a Family Link e-mail for current family ministry features that reaches over 1800 subscribers on a semi-monthly basis. Through social media, the CFC Facebook page communicates to 2000-plus followers. The Facebook page’s frequent features “Becoming One” and “Marriage Minute” are devoted to increasing communication and compatibility between husbands and wives for marriage enrichment.
There are also several exciting recent projects. The CFC has entered a new relationship with Ancient Faith Radio and hosts a podcast titled “Family Matters.” Also, “Soak Up the Son”, the CFC video summer program, recently began its second run. It exhorts families to not “take the summer off from the Church” through continued participation in prayer, worship, and other spiritual activities. In collaboration with the Department of Religious Education and the Department of Youth & Young Adults we are working on a comprehensive program titled Personhood & Sexuality to confront the many issues families face from living in a culture saturated with sex. This program will look at the age-appropriateness of when certain topics should be addressed with our youth and how best to address those questions within the context of the Church’s teaching.
Clergy Couple Care
As a sub-ministry of the CFC, Clergy Couple Care (CCC) was formally launched in 2011. Its primary objective is to minister to the unique and challenging needs of clergy and seminarian marriages. Presvytera Kerry Pappas, of Stamford, CT has served as Coordinator of CCC from its inception. Leadership 100 has faithfully supported CCC with yearly grants that fund its ongoing work and initiatives. Its formation came about as a pastoral response to the increasing numbers of divorce and distressed marriages within this demographic.
The inception and subsequent development of CCC has been largely informed by the collective experience of clergy couples within the Archdiocese. In addition, consistent research findings have driven our endeavors, particularly the Danielsen Institute’s telling study “Trauma, Relational Spirituality, and Resilience: A Study of Greek Orthodox Priests and Presvyteres.” Its results revealed clergy couples regularly face challenges such as isolation, boundary issues, vicarious trauma, and taxing time demands, all of which can inordinately stress a clergy marriage and family.
The resources and projects of CCC are entirely designed to promote spiritual, physical, and emotional wellbeing for clergy couples and their families. There are online resources such as the CCC website, which is only accessible to clergy couples, webinars which also have a restricted audience, and other CCC-led internet interactions that foster communion between Presvyteres.
The Pastoral Institute in Columbus, Georgia is the only residential program in the United States specializing in clergy and clergy couple therapy that has an Orthodox therapist, Rev. Dr. Stephen Muse. The Kairos program at this center has become a place of transformation for clergy couples in distressing and/or transitional periods. A 2017 grant from Leadership 100 has provided funds for 4-5 couples to attend this program, which has been life transforming for all who have attended.
The CCC has increasingly become a contact point for clergy couples experiencing duress and is able to provide support and referral according to the specific difficulty. Face-to-face engagement is also a prominent part of CCC’s work. Clergy peer learning groups have come about as a result of the Danielsen Institute study’s findings and three priests and Presvytera Pappas have been trained as facilitators. Presvytera Pappas also leads the Seminarian Wives’ and Couples’ Ministry at Holy Cross to help prepare these groups for a life in ministry.
Family Ministry Webinars
The CFC is especially thankful to Leadership 100 for the grant awarded earlier this year allocated for family ministry webinars. CFC webinars have rapidly become one of the most popular resources offered, and the one with the greatest reach. Altogether, the webinars have been viewed over 12,000 times in addition to the range of 50-200 registrants that participate during each live broadcast. After the initial airing, webinars are archived and supplemented with study materials for further utilization. Parishes, families, and individuals are encouraged to view archived webinars as a cost-effective way to ‘bring’ noted Orthodox Christian speakers into their communities and homes. This funding will ensure suitable honoraria for webinar speakers as well as the means for sufficient administration and promotional efforts.
National Clergy Couple Retreat
The CCC is greatly appreciative for the financial support of Leadership 100 for the grant awarded earlier this year that will enable the sponsorship of its first national clergy couple retreat in 2020. The idea for such a gathering originated from the emerging popularity of CCC programs as more clergy and clergy couples have become familiar with its work.
In a relatively short time, the Center for Family Care has made tremendous strides in its mission to make family ministry a part of the collective consciousness of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The staff is extremely grateful for the steadfast support of Leadership 100. This generosity helps to deliver needed resources to homes, parishes, and clergy while funding a wide array of functions. With God’s grace, the ministry looks forward to serving the needs of the Archdiocese family for many years to come.
Rev. Fr. Alexander Goussetis
Rev. Alexander Goussetis serves as Director of the Center for Family Care of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. He is a graduate of Drexel University (B.S. in Accounting), Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (M.Div.), and Andover-Newton Theological School (D.Min. in Psychology and Pastoral Counseling). Prior to his appointment to the Center for Family Care, Fr. Alexander served more than twenty years as a parish priest, taught World Religion classes at the university level, and authored four books on Orthodox life and faith. His pastoral emphasis is making the Orthodox faith relevant for families in their everyday lives and encouraging participation in all facets of our Holy Tradition. He is the host of Family Matters, a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. He is married to Presvytera Lisa, and they have three children – Julia, Nicholas, and Sophia.