How to Be a Church Member and Not Just a Church-Goer

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OCF at Texas A&M in 2006

When I was an OCFer at Texas A&M University, my friends and I all attended a local mission parish, and I mean, this was a small parish—small as in we met in the back room of the priest’s house and a typical Sunday liturgy consisted of less than 15 people, most of whom were college students. In a parish that small, everyone lives by an unspoken rule: everyone does everything.

When you only have 30 hands to bake prosphora, host coffee hour, keep the church clean, organize Bible studies, serve the surrounding community, sing in the choir, teach the children, support the parish financially, and welcome newcomers, no one has the opportunity to only come to liturgy, have a cup of coffee, and go home. It’s just not possible. If we didn’t all pitch in, things just didn’t happen. All 30 hands (and the hearts that led them) had to be willing to take on a little bit of the ministry God had set upon our tiny mission parish. No one could “opt out”—no one could come only to be fed without also feeding their brothers and sisters in some small way.

I know the parish in your area is likely not a mission parish, but I think the principle should be still the everyone does everything. Or maybe we should say: together, we do everything. If each of us commits our hearts and hands to the ministry of a parish, God will gather together all of our little efforts, bless them, and multiply them just as he does with the bread and wine that become His Body and Blood in every liturgy.

Our OCF chapter used to clean and decorate the church for Pascha.

Our OCF chapter used to clean and decorate the church for Pascha.

That’s right, you heard me. Discomfort. Remember Abraham? God called Him out of his home, away from the comfort of everything familiar in order to sanctify him and bless him. Abraham couldn’t see the blessings right away and even doubted that they might come at all, but when he put his trust in God, and allowed himself to serve God in his discomfort, God made him the father of us all! You, too, are being called into discomfort to serve the Lord in a foreign place and trust that blessings will flow from your faithfulness to God’s plan.You might be thinking, “I get what you’re saying, but the parish I attend with my OCF when I’m at school is not my ‘home parish’—it’s not the place where I grew up, where everybody knows me, and where I feel comfortable to do these sorts of things. And besides, what could I possibly offer a parish as a college student?” Well, to you I say, it’s great that you have a parish at home that you love dearly and feel at ease attending; this is a blessing the Lord has given you for many years. And now, I believe, He has given you a new challenge, a new blessing (though it may seem hidden at first). It’s the blessing of discomfort.

What you can offer a parish as a college student?

  1. Start by offering prayer, and Christ will show you the way.
  2. Be bold! Many parishes have well-established ways of doing things, but that doesn’t mean new ideas shouldn’t be brought forward. I love when Paul tells a young Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (I Tm 4:12). You are called to be an example to those around you, even those who are older—this means living out the commandments in real ways every day and serving your parish with joy and love.
  3. Be creative and be persistent! You know your talents. If you’re good with computers, offer to help with the parish website. If you’re good with kids, host a mother’s day out event. If you’re a good cook, start a community meal for the parish or for the poor in the area.

There are a million and one things that every parish could be doing to better live out the call to love God with all our hearts, souls, and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves. But, like my little mission parish, if we don’t all pitch in, things just don’t happen. Finally, never discredit even the smallest offering. Maybe you can’t offer tons of hours to any one project right now, but you can put in a little when the tray is passed or chat with an older parishioner who comes to church alone on Sundays. Every little bit counts and is seen by God. As long as your offering comes from the heart, that is enough. The goal is to express our love for God through our actions, not to overwork ourselves or build up some kind of resume of church activities.

All this is just to say, go do something! No, really. Call your parish priest and ask him how you can get involved. Gather up your OCF chapter and do something together—you’ll have more hands to serve if you serve together. Make some commitment—great or small—to give back to the parish that has been caring for you while you are at school. Go to church not only to be fed, but to feed your brothers and sisters, as well.

What is one thing you could do for your parish community to get more involved?
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