College Conference 2017 | Missing Out

College Conference 2017 | Missing Out

It was supposed to be my third College Conference in a row.

And, I mean, it was. I was technically at the Antiochian Village, with other college students, during the conference. However, I spent most of it holed up in my dark room, feeling like garbage.

Pro tip: if you want to enjoy an OCF event, do not get sick.

Let’s take something solid out of a situation that involved some major headaches, at least five boxes of tissues, and a metric ton of green tea: I can now write a reflection for you about what it’s like to not go to College Conference.

1) Food

I’m sure you know what it’s like to have all of your friends hanging out without you, because you’re super cool. But I had buddies back at the conference I hadn’t seen in upwards of two years, and all of the shenanigans into which we would usually get, they enjoyed without me. That, obviously, was not very fun.

One of the greatest aspects of College Conference is meal time, in my opinion, because you sit in little eight-seat nuclei scattered across the room and just chill. Some meals you’re sitting with all the people you know and the people they know, reminiscing and inside-joking and the like; other meals you’re with seven folks you’ve never met before, and you’re bonding and laughing and it’s all goodness.

It’s very common, in my opinion, for someone to hear about College Conference for the first time–small groups, keynote speaker, workshops speakers, church and more church–and miss that. They miss not only the big chunks of social time built into the schedule, but also that marginal social time that’s just as enjoyable. I also missed the time, mostly because I was gross and food tasted gross, but the point still stands: I missed that wonderful, carefree, responsibility-less time with friends. If you didn’t make it to college conference, you missed it as well.

2) Words

Missing the speakers wasn’t something I anticipated hitting me as hard as it did, but here we are. I’ve always loved the speakers, but it felt like my takeaways were only a few quick quotes and maybe some general themes. I wish I’d take away more, but often that’s all I get.

At least, I felt as if that was all I got.

Having missed a solid amount of the talks, I’ve discovered that the talks do a lot more for the listener than providing information. In fact, I’d argue that the content of the talks isn’t so much meant to be remembered–rather, it’s the engagement with the material that’s truly valuable. It’s not about knowing what was said, but rather hearing what’s said and interacting with it; listening attentively; bringing the focus of our mind to a higher plane that it would otherwise be.

I think about what we hear before the Gospel during liturgy: “Let us attend!” But after the Gospel, we don’t hear “Make sure you remember what just happened!” Then we get the sermon, which doesn’t reiterate the Gospel to ensure we remember it, but helps us engage with the readings through interpretations, stories of the church fathers, and the like.

I missed the mental work of being in the talks; of being forced to think of bigger and better things.

3) Not Words

Admittedly, I could have done a far better job with this in my little room at the conference center–sitting in silence and being still. However, I was sick and grumpy, so I watched a lot of Netflix and found other ways to busy myself instead.

College Conference is smarter than to try and force silence and stillness on you–that’s not how silence and stillness works. It’s extremely voluntary–you cannot quiet all of the worries, stresses, and thoughts bouncing between your ears if you want to be embroiled in those thoughts. Trust me–I fall victim to that issue all of the time.

But College Conference does create that contemplative space for those who want it–in the chapels, the museum area, wherever. Often, the greatest obstacle standing between us and stillness is creating a space for that stillness in our busy lives–but College Conference offers that space, which encourages us to capitalize on it, as it is rare and valuable.

With my cold, I was far too self-pitying to find meditative silence; at home, not attending the conference, I’m sure the madness of life would have stifled me just as effectively.

If you went to College Conference, awesome. I hope you didn’t take for granted all the stuff I was sorely missing this year. It’s a holy time, that blesses us with many gifts–some we recognize; some we don’t.

If you didn’t go to College Conference this year–like me–you missed out. But I won’t be making the same mistake next winter break; and I hope you don’t, either.

My SLB Story | Service To The Body of Christ

My SLB Story | Service To The Body of Christ

Man, my SLB story.

I was a sophomore having just attended my second College Conference East. OCF had been a major part of my college experience up to that point–through my chapter, College Conference, and Real Break. I left CC East fulfilled and spiritually rejuvenated for the new year, having also made so many new friends from around the US and Canada, across jurisdictions.

I knew that College Conference was a program I loved, and as the Student Leadership Board applications came out, I began to see myself standing up on the stage making announcements about what was going to happen next, planning out different speakers to attend, creating a schedule.

So I applied.

I went through the interview process and finally in April I got a phone call telling me I had been selected to be the College Conference East 2016 Student Leader! Excitement and anxiety immediately came to my mind. I was excited for the opportunity to make important decisions and be the leader of an event which I believe is OCF at its best, but I was also anxious about the immense responsibility before me.

We began work right away in April and we worked throughout the summer, spending hours in conference calls trying to come to a consensus on workshop speakers and topics, recruiting for the CC East Leadership Team. Finally, in August came the Summer Leadership Institute where the Student Leadership Board spent time together in sessions with various speakers on important topics, and in fellowship developing friendships. SLI was a pivotal turning point for my experience on the SLB because I discovered a support system which assuaged the anxiety I had been experiencing over my position.

The SLB has provided me with a friend group that I couldn’t have imagined my junior year of college without. These are my fellow students who care deeply for this ministry and the spiritual lives of all college students. Growing up primarily involved with the Antiochian Church and her ministries, OCF has provided the opportunity to encounter and develop friendships with Orthodox Christians of other jurisdictions, both on the chapter level and on the national level. These are friendships which have been a source of great joy and comfort when trying to balance academic requirements with the work required to plan a conference, and I am so grateful to this group of people.

To every college student reading this, I task you to take a moment and consider applying to the SLB. Try, as I did, to envision yourself doing this work for the glory of God. If you can see yourself being a part of this great ministry on a leadership level, please apply for the SLB, and if you are accepted, I can guarantee you will experience a year of service to the Body of Christ which will transform your heart and give you lifelong friendships.

Apply for the SLB Today!

Mark Sultani is a junior at the University of Michigan — Ann Arbor studying Computer Science. He’s the President of his OCF chapter and served on the SLB as the College Conference East 2016 Student Leader. Some of Mark’s favorite activities include Arabic dancing, procrastinating, and laughing unnecessarily hard at marginally funny things.