Saturday, July 20, 2019

How do I find an Orthodox church to go to?

I have, almost since the day this blog started, received a steady stream of emails asking if I know of any "good" Orthodox parishes near where the emailers live. If I do happen to know any of the clergy nearby, I will point them there, but as often as not I direct them to some online resources for finding Orthodox parishes near their homes or wherever they are traveling to.

You don't need high-tech solutions to go to church, but it helps.
This is not the first time I have touched on this topic. One of the most popular posts from the blog has been "Priests don't answer emails," which catalogues my complaints about the prima facie simplicity of just getting in touch with a parish to get basic questions about things like address or service times answered. I find myself joining those emailers and will have to travel in August to drop a child off for her first day at college. One would think that getting in contact with the local parish would be a simple thing this far into the 21st century. It is not. I have called the parish, sent emails, sent messages on Twitter, and tried the Facebook page. Zero response. If it is hard for an Orthodox priest to reach a parish, how hard is it for the inquirer or layperson who is traveling or has just moved into town?

The easy answer is (and I can already see the blog comments): "That parish obviously doesn't want new people. Move on and find somewhere else that will actually answer you." Normally I would agree with you, but I have actually been to this parish and know it to be quite welcoming... once you actually walk in the door. Conversely, it was just a year ago that I was going to Vancouver and emailed every parish within 20 miles of where I would be staying. Of the dozen contacted, only one responded so I went there. The service was entirely in Ukrainian (save the homily in which the Ukrainian version had nothing to do with the English version which followed it - it was one of Fr. Hopko's sermons if memory serves) and I left with the clear understanding that I was the only person in attendance who was not entirely at home in that foreign tongue. So answering emails is not a definitive indicator of being welcoming or approachable, though it is a metric you ignore at your own peril.

This, then, is what I tell people to do when they ask about finding a parish.

1. Get the address of where you are staying/living. Go to the Assembly of Bishops website.

2. Navigate to the "Parishes" section from under the "DIRECTORIES" pull-down menu.

3. Put in the address or zip code you want to look through. Specify how many miles you are willing to drive. I usually add a few miles to be charitable.

4. Now use "Show more info" to see website information and the like as you find parishes you are interested in. Let me give you a word of warning and say that the episcopal assembly website might reference a bad URL or give no website information at all. The data is only as good as they were given from chanceries around the country. It is well worth your time to Google the parish to confirm there is no website if it is missing from this directory. You can also look at the jurisdictional websites which do list parish information for churches that lack their own Internet presence. Also, there are more than a few closed parishes still listed so double check before you head out the door.

5. Phone calls can work. Everyone has questions before they go to a church for the first time. Things like "summer hours," language(s) in use, church school, etc. are all important. Generally, larger Greek and Antiochian parishes actually answer the phone because they have secretaries. Slavic churches either check the church voicemail occasionally or the number listed is a cell phone. I'd say about 75% of the time I've called an Orthodox parish with a question, I've gotten no one on the line. Of the times I have left a message I've heard back 50% of the time. In March I got a call back from a message I left TWO YEARS EARLIER on a parish answering machine.

6. Emails are like messages in bottles. Once the tide takes them, there is no way to know who or when they will be read. Don't send sensitive questions to the parish email address assuming it is going to the priest. It is just as likely to be the parish treasurer or the webmaster. Also, I find it helpful to pull all the email addresses from the website and email en masse. This shotgun approach works often. The only drawback is that sometimes people assume that because you carbon copied someone else, they will respond and so no one gets back to you at all.

7. Twitter/Instagram/Facebook. You can try messaging people this way, too. I've recently found this method to have the highest response likelihood. Maybe it's the novelty of it all, but a message to the parish's Facebook page can get an answer in minutes when an email might take days.

8. Snail mail will work if you can wait a week. Most parishes pick up the mail on Saturday or Sunday and it gets read and responded to days later. While this is sure to be the slowest initial part of a conversation, it has the highest likelihood of an eventual response.

9. Calling the chancery / sticking post-it notes on the door / putting your hands against the glass to look in: I have seen all these methods employed. You may well get a response, but you will also always be remembered as the person who did it.

The Lord knows if I will ever hear back from my currently targeted parish, but I hope the above methodologies work for you in your search.


  1. Just go to the nearest parish. Simple. Go early to talk to the priest or if they have Vespers go the night before. Simple. Don't like it? Check out another. Simple

  2. I have generally found this site quite helpful when traveling. Obviously it's a bit hit and miss with parishes. But you do your best and if everything is in Greek or Church Slavonic... God understands that you did your best.

  3. Just moved from CT to n c. What do you do if you go and no one cares that you are there ,, even clergy,,,,what if website is one year behind,,,what if website is in a foreign language,,,,,,been there, done that,,,,,our ethnocentric and insular ways get in the way,,,,I have met other unchurched in my town who have had the same experience

    1. Quite right. Previewing a website and discovering it lacks even the possibility of English translation is a subtle hint it will be exactly the same in person on Sunday. It saves a lot of fruitless travel and uncomfortable interactions.