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 theĀ 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.

College Conference West | I Would Walk Away Changed

College Conference West | I Would Walk Away Changed

I drove up to College Conference with a few other people, excited about what we would see when we arrived. We were up there for two half-days and two full days. There, we spent time attending church services, communing with other Orthodox youth, and attending lectures. We stayed in small cabins, the girls at the top of the hill, and the boys at the bottom, and had wonderful food.

The goal of the conference was to bring us closer to Christ through the topic “Come and See”. The love that each person shared with me through fellowship and heart-to-heart meetings helped me to see how Christ shines in us. Importantly, I think, the struggle to interact and learn was what taught me the most.

During the conference I was really struggling to interact with others and to pray from the heart. I was often confused. Mother Victoria’s talk on silent prayer and stopping to meditate when we encounter God’s grace in prayer really helped me think about my prayer life. She also reminded me of the need to stick to a prayer rule. Father John’s comments on relationships–for example, that the family is together for dinner less often–helped remind me that I really need to focus on relationships, not distractions. It was encountering Christ in others and struggling to live these words to the fullest which was truly important to me. But it was a struggle, and I noticed my imperfections all the way.

I chose to go to College Conference because I remembered that I had seen Christ in others the last two times I went, and I wanted to see Him again. I also had a blast with friends. I did not get what I expected. I was tired (possibly sleep-deprived) during the conference, and often seeking but maybe not seeing. But God was teaching me to be more grateful. Each time I would walk away changed, and thirsty for Christ, and maybe a little more open to Him. I will take the stories Fr. John expounded on of St. Photini when she met Christ at the well, and of the Apostle Nathaniel when he was told to come and see then proclaimed Christ as king. I will take them to my heart, so that seeing God in everything becomes the goal of my journey.

It was also a joy to interact with friends there. Even now, weeks after the conference, I am seeking little ways to make my friendships and family relationships more meaningful. I challenge each and every one of you also to “come and see” where Christ is working in you. The College Conference is a place where you can continue this journey, as well as ask Him to renew you in it.