There are common issues which all priests encounter. The first priests’ meeting in North America was held in 1971, in the state of New York and attended by all four priests on the Continent at that time, two from Canada and two from the U.S. Their goal was to organize regional services and financial aspects, among others for the continent. Many regional meetings were held over the years in different parts of the U.S., mainly to organize retreats for the youth or to discuss major issues of concern in adjoining cities or states.
By 1989, there were over thirty churches across the U.S.A. In the general priests’ meeting with H.H. Pope Shenouda III held in Los Angeles, he encouraged them to hold regular regional meetings. This was carried out for a period of time in Southern California, but decreased over time as several priests found major disagreements on a number of issues, thus minimizing the usefulness of the meetings.
Upon arrival, H.G. Bishop Serapion started holding monthly meetings. The first portion of the meeting is educational, either theological or related to pastoral care. The second portion is pastoral regarding the following:
- To discuss issues of general interest and future conferences for all ages
- To inform and discuss with the priests future ordination of a new priest or establishment of a new Church
- To discuss controversial issues and come up with reasonable solutions
- To inform priests of happenings in Egypt, especially in the month following the Holy Synod’s meeting in Egypt and the resolutions reached
The monthly meeting is usually held on the 3rd Thursday of each month except during the summer. It is flexible, however, as that day may not be suitable for various reasons. The Bishop and the priests have a yearly calendar for the planned meetings. The meeting day always starts with praying the Liturgy. The Bishop considers praying together in harmony as an essential aspect of service. This is followed by an Agape meal offered and prepared by the host Church. Churches take turns hosting the meetings. This gives priests the chance to visit new Churches and those that are far from their own.
An agenda is prepared beforehand, so that priests have a chance to study the subjects and come ready to discuss the issues at hand. There are items of information and items for discussion. Each priest is given a chance to present his views. Usually after the discussion a consensus is reached. Rarely a vote is taken. This only happens if there are serious reservations by some. However, once a decision is made, it is binding for all priests unless an exception is made by the Bishop. Part of the meeting is a group discussion of specific topics by the Priests ￼of each of the four Geographical regions of the Diocese (North, South, East and West). This usually is concerned with activities and planning for that region. Each group presents a summary of their discussion to the whole group afterwards. Often, after the end of the general meeting, the Bishop holds either individual or small group sessions with some of the priests to discuss specific issues or concerns, either at their or his request. Annually, all the priests spend two or three days in a retreat out of town for spiritual and educational purposes.
In June 2007 and June 2008, three day conventions were devoted to educational counseling seminars in which mental health issues through lectures, discussion groups and vignettes were presented by a psychiatrist and a priest who is also a psychologist.