I’m going to boast on someone else’s behalf, for a second.
Last spring, the then-Chairman of the Student Leadership Board, Emma Solak (some relation, maybe), spoke at the Orthodox Youth and Camp Workers Conference. She was brought in to discuss what it meant to “Keep the Faith” in college, and why there was less to fear than we sometimes fool ourselves into believing.
That’s not really the boast part, yet.
Fast-forward to September: A Serbian church in Merrillville, Indiana–St. Sava–was looking to better engage the youth of their parish. The core group, that had helped establish the church and brought it through its growing years, was beginning to pass away or grow too old to continue carrying the torch. In order for St. Sava to remain a healthy, proud parish, the next generation would have to step up into the shoes of the one before it.
In effort to engage their youth, the parish sought speakers for their 103rd anniversary banquet–speakers geared towards addressing the younger members of the church. And, on the magical website called YouTube, they found one: Emma.
I was able to accompany Emma on her trip to Indiana, where we were blessed with the hospitality and passion of the Historical Society and hosts at St. Sava. Driving back to Chicago, two things struck me:
Firstly: youth in the Church is not all doom and gloom. You could see that at St. Sava. Some of the young members of the church received awards for their service to their parish, their dedication in fulfilling their responsibilities. In the massive banquet hall, children ran around at every turn. There were three age levels of Serbian dance, and a choir of adorable little munchkins that sang traditional Serbian songs.
We talk about the difficulties of retaining youth in the church because, frankly, it is important to retain youth in the church, and it can be difficult. That being said, it is important that we enjoy and recognize those youth that still staunchly remain in our parishes across the nation.
Retaining youth isn’t a numbers game, nor is it some sort of forced captivity–keep them in parishes long enough until they grow old enough to know they need the Church. We should spend intentional time appreciating the presence of youth in our church, no matter how small, and seek to understand why they enjoy and thrive in the Church as they do.
Secondly, I was struck by that service that OCF could render: providing a speaker, fresh out of college, to a church seeking such an individual. We talk at lengths regarding the manner by which OCF serves us–what programs OCF offers, how it can help us. We also sometimes consider, “What we can do, through OCF, that serves others.” Real Break, YES College Days, these programs in which we tell OCF we want to give back, and OCF points us at people in need.
But we, as members of the Body of the Church not just OCFers in a program, regardless of age and occupation and schooling level–we have talents to give to the Church. Emma spoke to St. Sava’s church, in part because of her experience with OCF, but not as representative of OCF–she spoke as a young woman who was strong and active in the Church. We can all be that! We all should be that.
The further away OCF floats from that pure idea–forming persons who are strong and active in the Church–the more it becomes just another student organization. It loses its true purpose: equipping us, not for being OCF members, but for being real, live, actual Christians.