Ministry Profile: The Parish Bookstore
"You are the light of the world (Mt 5:14)."
How does the Orthodox Church let its light shine before the people of America? One way is to open a visible and accessible Orthodox Bookstore in every city.
In 1974 there were three full-time Orthodox Churches in Portland Oregon. At Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church we had a church library where we began selling The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos) and other books. Over the next twelve years the library moved to larger quarters off the church hall and more people began to buy books instead of checking them out. We acquired a mobile bookcase which could be wheeled out into the social hall for more visibility. In addition to books on Orthodoxy we had small icons, incense, charcoal, Feast day cards, and children¹s books for sale.
In 1986 a storefront in a building across the street owned by the church became vacant, and Fr. Elias Stephanopoulos, of blessed memory, thought it was time to reach out to the community by relocating the bookstore to this very visible corner location. The first task was to pick a name. Fr. Elias always said the Orthodox faith must always be seen in a cultural context. The culture may be Greek, Russian, Arabic, or American, but faith is not something that exists outside of the life and values of the people. With the Incarnation, God sanctified all of human existence, and in Orthodoxy there is no division between the religious and the non-religious. The Orthodox faith is a total way of life. This is our distinguishing guiding belief. This is our ethos. So the bookstore became "Ethos" and along with bibles and icons we sold Greek cookbooks, fisherman hats and bouzouki music. Over the years we stocked fewer Greek cultural items and expanded the icons and books which reflected the interest of our customers and the evolving mission of the bookstore.
Less than half of the customers were our parishioners, some were people from other Orthodox backgrounds, and the rest were seekers drawn by the icons displayed in the window. Ethos provided a place to ask questions and to get information before taking the step of making an appointment to talk with a priest. Many people do not want to "bother" a priest with what they feel might be a silly question, but in the friendly atmosphere of the Bookstore they felt free to ask "Do you have to be Greek to join the Greek Orthodox Church?" Or it may take a few visits of browsing the shelves before being comfortable enough to say "I¹m a dropped out Christian and I¹ve lived a tough life, do you think the Orthodox Church has any place for a sinner like me?" A university student said, "I read the books, now I want to know, do the Orthodox really believe and practice what it says in these books?" All three questioners joined the Orthodox Church. At least two other questioning customers attended seminary and are currently serving as Orthodox priests.
An elderly man came in looking for a book on Orthodox baptism. He went to Greece to be baptized and before he died donated the land on which St. John the Baptist Orthodox monastery in Goldendale Washington now stands.
Because the church owned the building, Ethos did not pay rent but did pay all the utilities including the alarm system from our income. Through careful ordering and good customer service we operated in the black. We were open Sunday after church and Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The staff was all volunteers, and many of them were converts. By 2001 we were having problems recruiting enough volunteers and began opening at eleven and had one paid employee for two hours in the late afternoon.
Now, in 2004 there are ten full-time Orthodox churches in greater Portland, most with their own bookstores located on their premises. In addition, one parish operates a full-time Orthodox bookstore in a trendy downtown location close to their chapel. With the completion of a hall and classroom remodel at Holy Trinity, Ethos bookstore has moved from the storefront into its own space off the social hall and separate from the church library. While it is no longer visible from the street it is more visible to parishioners and to the children and parents of the newly opened Agia Sophia Academy parochial school. It is now accessible seven days a week.
To start a bookstore you need:
- The full support of your priest;
One or two people with zeal for the Orthodox faith, who love to learn
more and to talk about it. These are people who get excited when they
see a book or icon catalog arrive in the mail and can't wait to see
what is new. Retail experience is helpful but anyone who can balance a
check book can start a church book store;
- A space. This could be a cupboard, a room, a table, a rolling
bookshelf, or a customized, mobile, secure, mini bookstore kiosk. There are several different plans for kiosks that can be locked and put in a corner and then rolled out and opened to display books, icons, crosses, incense, small liturgical items, prayer ropes, magnets, candles, CDs, videos, name day cards;
- Stock. Obtain all of the items noted above plus wedding and baptism
supplies - candles, crowns, stephenothiki, bottles of oil, and martyrika; and
- Storage Space for the items that you do not have room to display.
Suggestions for Ordering Books & Supplies:
Initially order the books that your priest recommends to people and books that people order. Then you can order books that you would like to read. This way, if you order one copy and it doesn¹t sell, then you can buy it. If the parish is offering a class that requires a book, it is suggested that the bookstore order a supply so that the purchase is made at the bookstore rate. Almost all book wholesalers will give a bookstore discount. Even a 5 to 10 % discount will pay for the postage plus a little extra to support the bookstore ministry.
For Additional Suggestions on Ordering and an Extensive List of Vendors, Contact the Department of Outreach & Evangelism
For Further Information, Contact:
Ethos Bookstore, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
3131 N.E. Glisan Street, Portland, Oregon Telephone 503/234-0468 Fax 503/236-8379