Independent pan-Orthodox organizations formed by Orthodox Christians, or initiated by the Assembly of Bishops, in the United States undertake work of the Orthodox Church either on a local or national level. In many cases, these initiatives are related to core ministries and interests of the Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States and of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America (“Assembly”). In other cases, these initiatives enrich and deepen the Orthodox experience, witness, and mission in the United States. Establishing and cultivating collaborative relationships between the organizations or ministries and the Assembly of Bishops serves both the purposes of the Assembly of Bishops and the missions of the various initiatives.
On the part of the organizations, which understand themselves as not-for-profit “faith-based organizations,” the substance and reality of that basis is important both institutionally and spiritually. Recognizing proper church order and the implications for the effectiveness of their work, the Orthodox Christians forming and engaged in the work of these organizations seek the appropriate formal blessing of the Church. For some organizations, the availability of public and/or private funding sources depends upon the organization’s having a formal relationship with the Orthodox Church; for others, corporate status independent of the Church is a prerequisite for certain funding partnerships.
As for the interests of the hierarchs, since the organizations speak and act already in the name of the Orthodox Church, the Assembly has an interest in assuring coherent relationships with Orthodox spiritual and institutional authority, as well as coherence among the various initiatives. Concomitant with this aspect is the benefit of the organizations to the bishops themselves. The organizations not only undertake specific ministries related to the Church but also reflect back to the hierarchs the wisdom, expertise and insight gained through the work, enhancing the bishop’s own ministry and ability to respond to issues, events and trends with the well-informed positions expected of their prominent roles and public profiles.
Moving forward, the following outline describes the understanding of the categories of formal and informal association with the Assembly of Bishops.
In August of 2012, the initial formative work on the Committee began, leading to the establishment of the Committee for Agencies and Endorsed Organizations in 2015. The Committee has been assigned the responsibility to be the oversight body of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States of America (“Assembly”) to its Agencies and Endorsed Organizations previously recognized by the Standing Conference of Canonical Bishop in the Americas (SCOBA), and adopted by resolution by the Assembly on May 28, 2010. As such, the existing Agencies and Organizations were assumed by the Assembly at that time.
From April-August 2020, the Committee for Agencies and Endorsed Organizations met every 1-2 weeks on Zoom conference calls. The Committee successfully reaffirmed its mandate and formulated a restructuring plan, predicated on two essential documents: (1) a “Memorandum” of April 27, 2020 (originally, August 25, 2012), consisting of a “Proposal” regarding Agencies and former SCOBA Endorsed Organizations; and (2) an “Executive Summary”, which has established basic criteria for all Organizations associated with the Assembly.
The Committee agreed upon the proposal including a proposed structure, objective criteria, an application process, and an annual review process.
The new structure includes two overarching categories, each with its own subcategories that are distinguished by their status, pan-Orthodox character, and endeavors: (I) ASSEMBLY AGENCIES AND COMMISSIONS, which are defined as being “of the Assembly”; and (II) AFFILIATE MINISTRIES AND ASSOCIATIONS, which is understood as affiliated “with the Assembly”.
In so doing, the Committee replaced the term “endorsed”, which has been misleading and a point of confusion, with “affiliated”; while “organizations” has been replaced by the more acceptable ecclesial term, “ministries”, and “associations”.
The subcategorizations for the “Assembly Agencies and Commissions” are self-evident; while those presented for the “Affiliate Ministries and Associations” offer umbrella categories for grouping such entities defined by their similar organization, missions and/or goals.
The purposes, scope of work, and the organization’s relationship to core ministries of the Orthodox Church and interests of the Assembly of Bishops guides placement within the categorization framework, indicating the appropriate oversight and level of relationship with the Assembly of Bishops.
Assembly agencies are understood as those engaged in core ministries of the Orthodox Church, such as diakonia and mission, work that the Orthodox Church must do, and can undertake better together through the agency than fragmented among the jurisdictions. Commissions are understood as coordinating specified common work of the jurisdictions, such as education and ministries to young people. Episcopal Liaisons are appointed to the governing boards of each agency and commission. It is expected that the assigned hierarch will become fully engaged in the work of the governing body of the organization, be able to bring to the Assembly the benefits of agency or commission expertise and insights, while also provide to the organization the oversight, spiritual direction, and wisdom of the Assembly.
Ministries affiliated with the Assembly are those with more focused missions and understood as providing a reciprocal benefit: to the Assembly by virtue of its specific work in the name of Orthodox Christians in the United States and expertise, as well as receiving a benefit itself from recognition of the quality and substance of that work through affiliation; this reciprocity in most cases would be intangible and would be accomplished through indirect oversight mediated through Episcopal Liaisons appointed for each of the four categories of similar ministries.
Not all organizations of an Orthodox character need or should have formal approval or affiliation with the Assembly of Bishops. Local ministries, defined either by those related to a single jurisdiction or geographic presence or capacity, should be placed directly under the aegis of a local Hierarch (optimally coordinated through the Assembly) or the Regional/Local Pan-Orthodox Clergy Brotherhoods, and affiliated with the Associated Pan-Orthodox Organizations as found in the existent Assembly of Bishops directory, and external to the Committee for Agencies and Commissions, Affiliate Ministries and Associations.
The new structure presented hereby was adopted at the October 2020 meeting of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America and went into effect immediately thereafter. Additionally, the name of the Committee for Agencies and Endorsed Organizations was formally changed to the Committee for Agencies and Commissions, Affiliate Ministries and Associations.
 All Assembly Agencies (and Commissions as defined below) were received into the Assembly by a unanimous vote at the First Meeting of the Assembly (May 26-28, 2010), then of all North America, before the subsequent sectioning into Canada, USA, and attaching Mexico and Central America to South America). These Agencies were established over a 40-year timeline in order to pursue pan-Orthodox ministerial concerns.
The Agencies are legally distinct entities from the Assembly, on the model of Catholic Charities USA (https://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org), and are not designed or established to be directly operated by the Assembly. Rather, the Agencies are each separately incorporated, 501(c)(3) not-for-profits with tax-exempt status from the Federal Government. Each Agency has a Board of Directors or Trustees, in which the governance of each Agency is vested, and who govern their respective Agency by their own by-laws, which are subject to Federal and State regulations that pertain to not-for-profit charitable organizations. This allows for an optimal funding model that includes significant board and other donor contributions not normally at the disposal of either the Assembly or its various member Churches.
The roots of the Agencies differ in time and origin. In the cases of EOCS, IOCC, and OCEC, they were directly created by a cooperative action of SCOBA. OCF was an independent pan-Orthodox ministry that was taken under SCOBA. OCMC was created by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese as a National Ministry of the Archdiocese in 1984 and turned over to SCOBA in 1994. Likewise, OCPM was created by the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese as a jurisdictional ministry and eventually gifted to SCOBA to take on a national scope. OCN, a local radio initiative, was the last ministry to be granted Agency status.
By definition, all Agencies are designed to legally function separate from the Assembly. The Agencies do make annual reports to the Assembly, but are in no way subject to directives from any Hierarch or Officer of the Assembly. Rather, they are subject to their own by-laws, which are received by the Assembly Hierarchs when Agency status is granted, and to their own Board of Directors, who represent the diversity of the Assembly.
Agency budgets are subject to their board’s approval. They are included in the Assembly annual review described below and are, as not-for-profit organizations, public documents. The donor base for each Agency is different, depending on the interest and priorities of such donors. One thing is clear, that the donors who fund the Agency ministries are not doing so by holding back donations from their local parishes or jurisdictional bodies.