On the weekend of January 13, 2019, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, made his annual visit to the Diocese of Mexico together with His Eminence, The Most Reverend Benjamin, Archbishop of San Francisco and the Diocese of the West. See the story on the OCA website here. The hierarchs joined His Eminence, the Most Reverend Alejo, Archbishop of Mexico City and the Diocese of Mexico and area clergy and faithful in celebrating the Divine Liturgy at the Holy Ascension Cathedral on January 13th, and the Great blessing of water.
At the end of the Divine Liturgy Archbishop Alejo performed the Chaplain Commissioning Service for Reader Abraham Labrada-Santiago, his great nephew! This is certainly a significant event because Reader Abraham is the first chaplain commissioned by the Diocese of Mexico. He in fact translated the OCA Commissioning Service into Spanish for the service on Jan. 13th!
Reader Abraham is currently a staff chaplain at Providence Alaska Medical Center and hopes to provide education about health care ministry, especially with spiritual support and counseling at the End of Life for the clergy of the Diocese. He has been an active presence in the Diocese of Mexico as well as serving as a chaplain.
Abraham Labrada-Santiago, a 2011 graduate of St. Tikhon's is the chaplain. He traveled with then Bishop Tikhon in visitations to the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania from 2008-2011. Back in Mexico he was blessed by Archbishop Alejo to write icons. Reader Abraham painted several of the murals in the altar at the Holy Ascension Cathedral, where he returned to serve following seminary graduation. He was diocesan communications for two years there, 2011-2013.
Subsequently he began his Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in Providence Alaska. There he met his now wife Anna. They have two daughters Elizabeth and Alexandra. He has been serving as a chaplain in Alaska, and is preparing for a certification review with the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC). Laypersons are commissioned as a step in the endorsement process.
May God bless the newly commissioned Chaplain Abraham, his wife Anna, and their family!
Archpriest Steven Voytovich, Director
Office of Institutional Chaplains
(Photos forwarded by Chaplain Abraham)
The COMISS Network (Commission on Ministry in Specialized Settings), met in Alexandria, VA, Sunday and Monday, January 13 & 14. Over 50 organizations (endorsers, credentialing bodies, organizations that employ chaplains, and academic institutions) have representatives attending this annual gathering. The OCA has been a member since 2005. Archpriest Steven Voytovich currently serves as a Member-at-large on the COMISS leadership team.
A focal point of COMISS gatherings each year are the presentations about developments in the greater pastoral care and counseling community. This year's COMISS theme was: "Return on Investment (ROI) and Research: Tools for Advancing the Practice of Chaplaincy".
Patti Phillips, PhD, is the wife of Jack Phillips, who worked on developing "Return on Investment" (ROI) over decades. Now a husband and wife partnership working wiht ROI, Dr. Patti Phillips presented on ROI during Sunday morning's session.
Later, in the afternoon a panel of presenters spoke of their initiatives related to ROI. Chaplains Doug Stewart (featured standing in the second photo) and Lynn Burgess, and Brigadier General Charles Ray Bailey (24th Deputy Chief of Chaplains of the United States Army from 2011 to 2015), shared their interactions with ROI.
Put simply, ROI is a way of communicating the value of chaplaincy, in language better understood by administrative roles in caregiving institutions. This theory is applicable in many contexts. General Bailey spoke about researching what our country may look like 20 years in the future, asking the question of how the church needs to be prepared for that cultural future.
(Story and photos by Archpriest Steven Voytovich)
Endorsers from numerous faith groups gathered as the Association of Religious Bodies (AREB). This gathering is the opportunity for endorsers to be in dialogue with one another before gatherings begin with institutional and military chaplain groups in the coming week.
This year endorsers worked on revising a document that spells out what endorsement is that credentialing bodies and others utilize. Many other topics were addressed as well.
Recently, several requests were forwarded to the Office of Institutional Chaplains related to what is called a housing allowance. Clergy can designate a portion of their income to be designated as housing allowance, to cover housing expenses. This portion of income is not subject to income tax, but is included in social security tax computations.
Some lay chaplains have been offered housing allowances by their institutions, either as residents or in employment. The question they have raised is whether this offer can be accepted?
In seeking to respond to these inquiries, our most recent OCA Treasurer, Melanie Ringa was contacted. She has served in this capacity for many years and is knowledgeable about OCA offices and departments. She shared the response, following below, that is being publicized to prevent chaplains from finding themselves out of compliance with the Internal Revenue Service. Before turning to her detailed response, the summary is that even though laypersons in the OCA are commissioned for ministry, since they cannot perform sacraments, or lead our liturgical worship, they do not fit the IRS definition of ministers that can designate a portion of their salary. The details of her response follow:
In IRS Pub 517, ministers are defined as:
"Ministers are individuals who are duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed by a religious body constituting a church or church denomination. Ministers have the authority to conduct religious worship, perform sacerdotal functions, and administer ordinances or sacraments according to the prescribed tenets and practices of that church or denomination. If a church or denomination ordains some ministers and licenses or commissions others, anyone licensed or commissioned must be able to perform substantially all the religious functions of an ordained minister to be treated as a minister for social security purposes.”
According to Melanie Ringa: “It is these individuals [defined above as ministers] who are eligible to designate part of their compensation as Housing Allowance. In the Orthodox Church, all commissioned chaplains are NOT allowed to perform sacraments, and therefore are CLEARLY not eligible for housing allowance. The OCA would not recognize housing allowances for laypeople. Their compensation is considered regular and taxable for both IRS and Social Security/Medicare tax purposes.”
For our lay chaplains, if you are offered a housing allowance by your institutional setting as part of your salary package, either as a resident or employed in a chaplain role, you need to decline this offer and have your compensation fully identified as regular income. If helpful, you can forward this brief statement to your employer.