Experts discuss diaspora churches in America
Among the events at a conference entitled “Celebrating the 125th Anniversary of the Organized Ukrainian American Community” was a panel of speakers on “The Ukrainian American Community and Religious Life.” Prominently placed near the beginning of the day-long program held at the Princeton Club in New York City last Saturday, September 21, the morning panel was chaired by Andrew Sorokowski representing RISU.
Fr. Ivan Kaszczak spoke on “The Ukrainian Catholic Church: A Community of Pilgrims.” Relating some colorful episodes from the early history of Ruthenian and Ukrainian Greek-Catholics in the USA, he pointed out that history tends to remember instances of conflict rather than the everyday reality of cooperation. But he also noted that in general, ethnic and religious majorities do not understand minorities. The experience of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States provides many illustrations. Fr. Kaszczak stressed that for the early Ruthenian immigrants in Pennsylvania’s coal country, the Church built and reinforced not only identity, but dignity. Priests founded Ukrainian organizations and even participated in the labor movement. The clergy was “with the people.”
Rev. Ivan Kaszczak has served as a priest in the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford for 35 years. At present, he is pastor in Kerhonkson and Hunter, New York. He completed his doctoral Studies at Fordham University in 2005. Fr. Kaszczak served as a chaplain in the US Air Force Reserve for 21 years and retired in 2010. He continues to lecture and write on Ukrainian Catholic Church history.
“Origins, Identity, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA” were discussed by Fr. Anthony Perkins. Describing himself as an “outsider” and a “vanilla American,” the speaker contributed a unique perspective on Ukrainian Orthodoxy. In his view, Orthodoxy celebrates cultural and national distinctions, thus resisting homogenization. By founding organizations, the Church helps to sustain culture and overcome apathy and assimilation into the mainstream. Ukrainian Orthodox organizations build community and sustain fellowship. When Ukrainian identity becomes only a private matter of the individual, it soon fades away. Turning to his own experience, Fr. Perkins described St. Sophia seminary, which in addition to its students from Ukraine, reaches US-born, non-Ukrainian converts through a distance learning program. His parish in North Carolina, which consists of non-Ukrainians, nevertheless serves to enrich American life with Ukrainian culture. Today, Fr. Perkins argued, people tend to worship God in isolation. Civil society is weak, which leads to social atomization and even dehumanization. The Ukrainian Orthodox parish community meets this challenge by promoting solidarity.
Fr. Anthony Perkins is the priest at Holy Resurrection parish (UOC-USA) in Waynesville, NC. A member of the UOC-USA Metropolitan Council and Consistory, he is a professor at St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary in South Bound Brook, New Jersey. A retired Military Intelligence Warrant Officer, Fr. Perkins has an MA in Political Science from The Ohio State University and is a full-time doctoral student in Political Science at the University of Georgia. He maintains two active podcasts, OrthoAnalytika and Good Guys Wear Black.
Dr. Mykhailo Cherenkov’s topic was "The Ukrainian Evangelical Community of the USA: Fulfilling a Holistic Mission, Building International Partnerships, Striving for Christian Unity." A Baptist minister who once taught at Donetsk Christian University before it was overrun by the invaders in the Donbas war, Dr. Cherenkov offered valuable observations on contemporary American as well as Ukrainian life. In his opinion, the Ukrainian Evangelical community has adapted well to US life. For evangelicals, however, the key concept is not culture or politics, but their spiritual heritage and identity. As their name suggests, they are committed to the mission of evangelization. Traditionally, their approach has been to focus on personal salvation. But in Ukraine, the 2014 Revolution of Dignity changed that. It provided Evangelicals with a new public and ethnic impulse. Stressing the primacy of Christian awareness and a Christian world view, they have undertaken such social projects in Ukraine as the integration of temporarily displaced persons into society through Christian fellowship, and the development of children’s clubs. Here in the US, they participate in the annual prayer breakfasts in Washington and have even created a successful Ukrainian version. Pointing out that Ukrainian Evangelicals regard all Christians as their brothers and sisters, Dr. Cherenkov stressed that they gladly cooperate with Ukrainian Catholics and Orthodox in proclaiming the Gospel. For they believe that only a Christian nation can be truly free.
Dr. Mykhailo Cherenkov is a professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv and visiting scholar at Tabor College, Kansas. He serves as the executive field director of Mission Eurasia, a US-based evangelical missionary association. His controversial May 2015 article on the Russian Orthodox Church in the prominent American Catholic journal First Things brought the plight of Ukraine’s churches in a time of war and invasion to the attention of many Americans.
A part of the Ukrainian Historical Encounters Series, Saturday’s New York conference was sponsored by the Center on US-Ukrainian Relations, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, and the Ukrainian National Association.