Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. - Romans 12:2
Planning and executing a retreat for Orthodox college students is a blessed endeavor for everyone involved, but it takes prayer, time, and practical strategies to do it. The above admonition of Saint Paul to the Romans could be the goal of your OCF retreat and will keep the planning process focused and smooth.
In our current times, the university culture makes it easy for students to conform more often to the negative currents of the world than the positive ones. A consistent annual retreat is a great way to help students re-charge their lives and be with their friends in Christ. The retreat should assist college students in taking on the mind of Christ and living the “good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
First, discuss with your OCF group, your priest, and lay leaders and pray to determine a necessary theme that is of great relevance and need for students during their college years. Examples include:
- Balancing prayer life with daily tasks,
- Witnessing Christ to others on campus,
- Examining the Scriptures,
- Understanding the Orthodox Faith,
- and doing a study of the life of an exemplary Saint.
Next, pick a date and secure a location. Ideally the retreat should be on campus, but it can be away from campus if rides are available.
Once these are in place, spread the word via email and a Facebook event that includes date, time, place, and registration information. Try to keep the expense under $30 if possible. Seek out the local parish for help in funding and/or limiting expenses through monetary, housing, and food donations.
Make sure you find a main speaker who is an inspiring Orthodox role model with experience in the Faith. A local speaker helps minimize travel expenses and maximize the time spent with the group. For a major speaker requiring travel, seek financial assistance from the local Orthodox parish.
Get help from the Church!
Consult OCF alumni, parents, clergy, the OCF North American Office, and OCF friends from other schools. Recruit people from your local parish to help you with the food, location, and accommodations.
Create a schedule of events and allow extra time for fellowship breaks and discussion or counseling with clergy.
Include time for interactive small group discussions, preferably led by lay leaders and older students. Remember to ask the speaker in advance for suggested questions to guide discussions.
It is vital to schedule as much time for group prayer as possible. Common prayer is another way in which we grow closer to God together. Christ says in Matthew 18:20,
For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.
Include prayers in the morning, at meals, compline, vespers, a Special Akathist, and Matins & Divine Liturgy. Have copies of service books available, to encourage group participation!
Schedule time for confession opportunities. This sacrament is vital for spiritual renewal and transformation. Depending on the number of attendees, it is wise to have at least two or more priests throughout the retreat to hear confessions and offer guidance & counsel at any time that it is needed.
Many students often come to a retreat during drastic times of spiritual and psychological need. Make sure to include a fun activity or service project, ideally something hands-on. For example, you could prepare meals or other goods to distribute to the homeless or to relief efforts such as IOCC. Fellowship activities could include a hike, a visit to an orchard or park, or just a walk around campus or church grounds (be sure to provide directions to whatever site you choose).
Do not allow worldly influences such as alcohol, drugs, promiscuous behavior, and extreme late-night activities to enter into your retreat. Always strive to keep in mind that the purpose of the retreat is to bring students together in Christ, to rise above the influences of the world, and to build healthy, lasting relationships with one another.
Make your retreat an annual tradition that students will look forward to. A post-retreat online survey and debrief with your OCF group will help for future events.
Remember to take a group picture and send it and a small event summary to firstname.lastname@example.org! This will help spark excitement for future events. May God bless your endeavors for planning your OCF retreat!
About The Authors
This is a guest post from Christina Thames and Demetra Perlegas.
Christina has been active in the College of William & Mary OCF chapter for the past ten years. Although her involvement began when she was an undergraduate student, she served as the Chapter Coordinator during her work as the Director of Youth Ministries at Sts. Constantine & Helen in Newport News, VA. She is now involved as a graduate student at William & Mary. Through OCF she was blessed to gain many wonderful friends—including Demetra!
Demetra has been active in the University of Virginia OCF for the past 12 years. She was first involved as a PhD student for several years, and currently serves as the Chapter Coordinator at the University of Virginia. She also serves as the Virginia District Coordinator while being the Youth and Christian Education Coordinator at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Charlottesville, VA. She has been very blessed to become Godmother to little Irene, whose parents met at the very first College of William & Mary OCF retreat. OCF has also blessed her with many beautiful and inspirational friends—like Christina!