Fr. Dustin Lyon and the parish leaders of St. George Greek Orthodox Church participated in "Cultivating Vision and Change," a module of Doulos - The Intensive Program in Servant Leadership. Hear their story and how the principles and disciplines of servant leadership are brought to life through the preaching, teaching, and ministries at St. George. In addition to serving St. George Greek Orthodox Church in DeKalb, IL, Fr. Dustin hosts The Way, a podcast on the Ephesus School Network.
Read the full episode transcript.
Hollie Benton 0:05
Hi I'm Hollie Benton from the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. I'm so happy to have with me a guest, Father Dustin Lyon, from St George Greek Orthodox Church in DeKalb, Illinois. St George was one of the first parishes to take part in our Doulos program, the Intensive Program in Servant Leadership and they selected Cultivating Vision and Change for their module. Fr. Dustin you started with us, the year 2020: The year of COVID and things were a mess but you decided to jump in and get your parish, working on cultivating vision and change despite the pandemic. Tell us a little bit about your parish and how you decided to embark on this journey with us.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 0:49
Thank you. Hollie, I'm fairly new here at this parish, I arrived here in June of 2019. It's a smaller parish, and like a lot of small parishes, one of the biggest challenges is income, our finances are based on stewardship, and then also the big Greek Festival. Like a lot of parishes, 2020 provided unique challenges, especially for Greek festivals, they just didn't exist this year. So what we had to do is we had to depend completely on other sorts of fundraisers which were hard to do anything this year because of the situation. But depending mostly on stewardship, like a lot of Orthodox parishes that the ethos around stewardship is very different than say in Protestant churches where people are brought up to give very generously, because a lot of our Orthodox folks come from countries where the church is subsidized by the state. And so people don't have to worry about continually giving to a church. And so we needed a different sort of ethos, especially in a small parish where every penny counts, so to speak, and not just giving financially but people volunteering for various things. Volunteering for choirs, volunteering when we do have Greek festivals, volunteering, you know, to clean the church. I mean all sorts of things. You know small churches can't hire janitors and and secretaries and all these sorts of things that bigger churches can. When I came the parish council had asked me to kind of help bring St George into the modern era, if you will, and kind of adapt to an ever changing climate. Because as we know, even in the business world, business models are constantly changing, what things look like in the 50s and 60s for businesses is not what they will look like today, you know, it's a very different world. Even the way we communicate is different right. We're doing a podcast right now whereas before it was there was letters and newsletters and bulletins. So they'd asked me to help bring St George into the modern era, especially for younger folks to make sure that our young folks who grew up in the church, stay in the church and are connected to the church and to reach out to other people in the community who may not be Orthodox, but may be interested in being a part of our church community. And so, you guys came along. And so I was kind of looking at ways and thinking about how do I bring St George into the 21st century, how do I do this? So, David Benson, whom I had known, he's in my in-laws parish up in Duluth, Minnesota. He reached out to me and said that you guys were looking for parishes, try some of these modules in, and to get things started, and he asked if we would be interested in it, and so the timing was just right. So 2020 was happening, you know, so we were without a Greek Festival and looking to do something different. They had kind of brought me in, as a young priest, bring St George into the 21st century and then Dave had reached out to me all at the same time. And so I thought, this is, this is a perfect opportunity to try this out. Despite everything that's happened in 2020 I thought this might be a great time to do this because we can do a lot of the planning stuff as we think about how we want to cultivate that vision and change. And as we think about how we want to put together a mission statement, and then put that into work. We can do all that planning stuff through Zoom, there's no need to meet in person. There's no need to be able to be physically close to each other to do these sorts of things, so we can do all the planning stuff, so that when things start to come back to normal. We can kind of start integrating what we've put together.
Hollie Benton 4:15
And it's amazing I think with the pandemic, a lot of the reactions were kind of like "freeze" you know like, "what's happening." Things are chaotic, don't do anything, but you just took the bull by the horns and thought, you know, You saw the kairos the opportunity to something and move forward. So tell me a little bit about the workshop. I think Dn. Sean Reid was the one who led your workshop, and you had members of your parish council. Tell me a little bit about the the workshop and, and some of the coaching sessions that you've had in the follow up after that.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 4:49
Yeah so, Dn. Sean Reid. He lives up in Canada, was our coach, and he's awesome so if people are watching this and thinking about cultivating vision in change, and working with Dn Sean I highly recommend him, he's great to work with. So what we decided to do is we did a weekend session back in August, and that was kind of our kickoff. And what I did is I convinced the leaders that were already within the parish to start it, because I thought if I started with those with the leaders within the parish, and then we can grow from there. And so I started with the parish council. And we were able to do it by Zoom so Dn Sean was at home in Canada. We were around the Calvin Sycamore wherever our houses were. We did it in two sessions, it was actually four sessions but we did it in two Zoom meetings, it was a Friday evening, and then a Saturday morning, early afternoon. And what he did is he went through on Friday night, basically what it means to be a Christian leader, what that looks like. And as you guys call it the Doulos Leadership Program, and doulos obviously being the the Greek word for "servant" or "slave". So servant leadership, You know, it's kind of a buzzword in business right now. Now you hear about servant leadership all the time. But here what was great about it Dn. Sean was able to look at it through a Christian lens. Of course there are some overlaps with business, but there's also some unique perspectives for us as Christians, what it means to be a servant leader and Dn. Sean actually presented both models, he said, "Here's what servant leadership looks like in the world, and here's how I'm going to teach it to you," so we can see the contrast. And so we went through that so that by the end of Friday night session we had an understanding of who we're called to be. And what we're called to do in the Church. So then on Saturday, we got down into the dirt so to speak and got dirty and actually started talking about the different components of what a mission statement is, and what a church should be doing, and then applying that to our local situation. We learned, for example, servant leaders need to be caring for the least of these, and they need to be offering their first fruits. So okay, if that's what the church is called to do by Christ in Scripture, what does that look like at a local level? And so Dn. Sean was able to take us by the hand, so to speak and kind of lead us through that in a very systematic way on Saturday morning. We recruited other people in the parish who were excited about the project, and wanted to be a part of it, and brought them on board and then together we were able to craft a mission statement for St George, and now we're kind of right in that process of "okay we've got the mission statement, how do we now put that into effect?" These last few remaining months that we have, and then going into 2021 It'll be, "what's the plan for making this mission Steven happen so that we are being faithful to what Christ has called us to be?"
Hollie Benton 7:47
And what what is the mission statement for St George?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 7:50
It might be tweaked here and there, but the mission statement is essentially is "Called by Christ, to share God's saving love in all that we do, the parish of St George serves families, students and those in need across DeKalb County with our prayer, study, and hospitality, to the glory of God in His Church." So you can see there we've got "share God's saving love." So that's the the caring for the least of these, and we actually named them in our local community, you know, families and students, and those in need. We added students and then we thought that was important because we have Northern Illinois University NIU here in our community. We thought it was important to include students as a part of our community outreach. And then, you know, as a church we can pray for them. We thought study and education was important, of course, hospitality. Like a lot of Greek parishes, we have the Philoptochos, which is a women's group, that means "love of the poor," and their goal is to do things, to serve the community. And so they've done things like agape meals, "Freezing for Food" and "Let's Talk Turkey", you know, different fundraisers throughout the year. And so we thought this would be a great way to incorporate that and then promote it within the larger parish and not just the Philoptochos. So we've got a little bit of everything in there, yet it's general enough that we have flexibility to adapt, you know the community changes around us or if we'd like doing one function better than another, but yet it's specific enough that it keeps us directed and focused on what we should be as a church.
Hollie Benton 9:20
What has been one of the most significant changes that has been made since you've baked this mission, and this vision? Have you made any changes to schedule or to different ministries or what do the changes look like?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 9:37
One of the big things so far that I've done is I adapted an entire sermon series based on servant leadership, doulos leadership, so that people understand who we're called to be. And they understand kind of where this vision is taking us, and then the plan is maybe in 2021, having another series of sermons based specifically on our mission statement. You know, I can talk about what it means to serve families, what it means to serve students, or those in need, what it means to do prayer or study or hospitality. You know, so right there that could be six sermons, if I structured that way. So right now, it's kind of focused on the study and the education portion, but I'm also really glad that despite everything that's happened in 2020 and kind of the lockdown, limited services, none of the social events that we normally do, that the Philoptochos did decide to keep doing their fall hospitality outreaches. Like I said we did the, "Let's Talk Turkey" so we donated 150 pounds of turkey to the Salvation Army, a few weeks ago for Thanksgiving. And then this Thursday we'll be doing the Freezing for Food. And so we've been raising money and non-perishable food items to take to the local radio station which then distributes it to those in need in our community. So we'll continue to kind of do those sorts of things, and the next steps for us will be, okay, what does this look like in a fuller picture, especially as things go back to normal, we hope, God willing, in 2021.
Hollie Benton 11:00
Right, right, based on your sermon series, how is it kind of landing on the ears of your parishioners? What some of the feedback you're getting from them?
Unknown Speaker 11:09
So I know it has definitely challenged some people, and challenged them in a good way to think about what it means to really be Christian, a lot of people have an idea of a Christian obligation is just to go to church, maybe on Sundays, and maybe not the full service, you know, as a Greek parish, the customers to do orthros or Divine Matins, followed by Divine Liturgy. Some people are in the custom of coming late, even for Divine Liturgy so they catch just the kind of tailend. You know, people think of churches, kind of like an obligation, I call my light, my candle, you know, I say some prayers, maybe I take communion, and then maybe before Christmas or Easter week or two before they fast, you know, they take the fast seriously in their mind the fast is always just centered on food, you know, not eating meat or dairy or those sorts of things. A challenge of what it means to be a Christian is a much bigger, fuller picture one that, if you will, interrupts our entire lives. This fasting not only includes what we eat, but it also includes giving alms, right and this is what Jesus said in the sermon in the mount is that you know if you are to be righteous, you need to pray, you need to fast and you need to give alms. And so this has challenged us to how is it completely, as also challenged us, or challenged our egos, or I find in churches is people think the Church is there to serve them, in meetings or, you know parish assemblies these sorts of things, they speak up when they want to change something so that they're happier, you know they have the language that they want, or the type of music that they want, or the services that they want or the programs that they want to serve them, and I've challenged them say, instead of the Church serving you, maybe us as the Church should turn that around so that we're serving the community, so it's forcing people to think in a different way. You know, If we are to be serving others. "What do I have to do then? What do I have to give?" So it shows some people in that way. Some people naturally have big hearts and do that already. And so they've been kind of affirmed in that sense, kind of like gung ho and excited about this to get on board and, you know, to continue to give. So I've gotten a whole variety of different responses, you know from the challenge to, "This is really exciting, let's, let's keep doing this."
Hollie Benton 13:21
Right. Well, it sounds like you're getting so connected into your community, putting it on the map in your town in DeKalb, you know, with your interactions with Salvation Army and the radio station that distributes the turkeys in the ministry and hospitality to the college students with the university there, it just sounds like it's really coming a long way and getting connected to the community. So you talked about the sermon series that you put together based on the work of the Doulos program and the disciplines of servant leadership, they were so great I wanted to put them on our website as a Doulos resource here, biblical literacy and accountability, cultivating watchfulness leading as one under authority caring for the least of these, and giving of the first fruits and this all relates to the core disciplines of servant leadership. Do you want to say a little bit about those podcasts and these disciplines of servant leadership?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 14:19
Sure. So there's five podcasts, each about, I don't know 20-25 minutes long, if I remember correctly, somewhere in that neighborhood. What I did is I gave them originally as sermons to the congregation, and of course some of the people had heard this before from Dn. Sean, those who had taken the leadership course, they tried to build on what Dn. Sean did. It was me exploring the concept, and then looking through scripture for examples, and seeing how that plays out. One thing I noticed, it's really two aspects to this to the servant leadership. So the first three steps, you know, growing in biblical literacy, cultivating watchfulness, and then leading as one under authority is really the argument for "why servant leadership?" And then the last two is the, let's put into effect what you learned in the first three steps.
Hollie Benton 15:05
Fr. Dustin thank you so much for sharing with us. And then what an extra blessing to have you work those disciplines of servant leadership out into sermons benefiting and going deeper, not only with your own community, and your own podcast listeners, but we can offer that by extension to anybody that you know engages the Doulos programs. It's the same disciplines that are baked into every single module because Christ is the One Who demonstrates for us, what being a servant as a doulos in the household of God looks like that needs to be a part of anything that we do in the Church as a parish leader, whether it be clergy or parish council president or treasurer, directing the choir, you know, we're all one in the household of God, under His instruction leading as one under His authority.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 15:53
When we accept baptism, put on Christ, we all become servants or slaves of Christ. Every time you come up to Communion. However, the priest translates it or if he says it in Greek or maybe in Slavonic, the servant of God or the handmaiden of God is that doulos, in other words the slave of God, and you know he says your name and gives you communion, so this is who we're called to be as Christians, and we're reminded of it every time we come to the chalice, clergy especially reminded of it every time they put on their cuffs, like the bondage of slavery, we're bonded to Christ, and when we put those cuffs on, we're not allowed to do our whims or our will, but we are committed to doing what God asks us to do, which is the beauty of a liturgy. We have a set liturgy where we have to follow what's been handed down to us we can't make it up or do as we wish. We're reminded over and over and over again, Christ lays the path out in front of us, which is why I called my podcast "The Way", right, you're on the way the road, on how to walk in Christ lays this out before us, and we're just called to be loyal, in Greek, loyal, would be pistis, which is faith, called to be faithful, or trust God or loyal, and follow that path. When we commune, you're reminded that when you're called the slave of Christ.
Hollie Benton 17:09
Amen. Thank you so much Fr. Dustin so pleased to have you on this interview, and I look forward to other episodes of The Way and I'm so thankful for the resources we now have on our website, leading to those disciplines of servant leadership that you explored. Thanks so much, Fr. Dustin.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 17:27
Thank you. God Bless.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai