Sup team! My name is Benjamin Solak, and I’ll be your Publications Student Leader for OCF 2017-2018!
Wait…didn’t you do this job last year?
And they gave it to you again?!
I’m as surprised as you are, dear reader.
Okay, so what’s the plan for the blog this year?
A lot of super cool stuff. After our Blog Contributor program went super well last year, we look to be reviving that this year, starting in October, with a couple familiar faces, and some new ones too. If you’re interested in being a Blog Contributor, or if you’re unfamiliar with the program, you should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll be looking to engage the community in an even bigger way this year. The loveliest part of the OCF Blog is that it is an ongoing, national effort of OCF. It allows OCFers from Nebraska and New York to connect with those in Nevada and North Carolina. Anytime there is a College Conference, Real Break trip, Regional Retreat, District Retreat, Day of Prayer activity, Day of Light activity, OAM challenge–anything–I want to hear about it! If your chapter has done something cool and you think the blog should know, you should email me at email@example.com.
Are you just thirsty for emails because they make you feel important?
Oh, most definitely.
Do you have anything else in the works for us to know about?
Okay, what else CAN you tell us?
I’m a third-year student at the University of Chicago (which is in Chicago. Sometimes people ask me that.) studying Comparative Human Development. I’m an unhealthy football fan, and I cover the Philadelphia Eagles for a site called Bleeding Green Nation, and college football and the NFL Draft with NDT Scouting. I run when my knee doesn’t hurt and complain when it does. Sometimes I pace myself, and eat the entire package of Chips Ahoy Chewy in two sittings.
I can also tell you that the mission of this blog is to magnify exposure. Whether it’s something done in the OCF that merits the eyes of the national body, or if it’s you, and how the OCF blog can assist your spiritual growth and enrich your college life. The four pillars of OCF are fellowship, education, worship, and service–and all four of those will be highlighted throughout the year, that the multiple and international efforts of OCF may always present to you a full body of the church.
I run the blog, but the blog isn’t about me, it’s about you–and, not unlike Horton the elephant, I mean what I say and say what I mean. As your OCF year enters full swing, I’m excited to be right there with you.
What a guy.
Oh stop, you.
Read on for a post about chapter meeting and activity ideas that incorporate the four pillars of OCF!
We have been asked about how chapters can engage in interfaith and inter-Christian events and dialogue, and in honor of Orthodox Awareness Month and #TakeTheChallenge, we’d like to offer some suggestions.
Disclaimer: These cannot and should not serve as the only point of reference in planning events with other religious organizations. First and foremost, you should consult with your chapter’s Spiritual Advisor for guidance and discernment. Additionally, you can reference the document published by the Assembly of Bishops, Guidelines for Orthodox Christians in Ecumenical Relations.
Fellowship events are a great way to get to know another religious group on campus. Hospitality is a great way to show love, and learning about other people is a great way to start a relationship! Here are a few tips!
If you are hosting:
- Choose a “neutral” location like a coffee shop, a bowling alley, or an on-campus hangout.
- If possible, show hospitality by providing food or a fun activity that your guests don’t have to pay for.
- Listen more than you talk! Try to get to know the people you are hosting without letting your assumptions or preconceptions get in the way.
- Remember you are trying to make friends not converts. Don’t tell another group you’d like to have dinner when you really intend to give them an exposition of why Orthodox Christianity is the one, true faith. While, of course, you’ll probably talk religion if you invite another religious group out to dinner, steer clear of debates, disparaging comments, and triumphalism.
If you are invited by another group:
- Accept the invitation! Why not spend some time getting to know other people?
- Rally a good showing. Do your best to have all or at least most of your group attend if you have all been invited.
- Remember you are trying to make friends, not converts….see above. Be nice.
Service projects are also a great way to work with other religious groups on campus, especially other Christian groups. We all share a common goal to serve others with love and to give without receiving in return. Here are a few pointers:
If you are hosting:
- Invite the input of other leaders to figure out the best way to join forces on projects.
- If possible, work through and with existing professional organizations (soup kitchens, nursing homes, shelters, etc.). These organizations and institutions know the best practices for their particular areas of service and can guide you in carrying out your work with compassion and love.
- Invite your Spiritual Advisor or someone from the organization to debrief with your group at the end. It’s good to integrate your experiences into your everyday life, especially if you are working in an unfamiliar context.
If you are invited by another group:
- Make sure that the service project doesn’t have any strings attached. Avoid situations where the services offered come with proselytizing.
- Look into any organizations or institutions with which you are unfamiliar, and involve your Spiritual Advisor in the decision-making process.
- Remember service is not about gaining recognition for your group. Again, avoid using service opportunities as a platform for debate.
Taking time to learn about other faith groups and share the beauty of Orthodoxy can be a really exciting and fulfilling experience if done properly. The means for learning and sharing traditions can run the gamut, so here are a few ways to engage in dialogue productively and lovingly.
If you are hosting:
- Remember that “come and see” is much more effective than “sit and listen to my lecture.” Think of ways to allow people to experience first-hand the spiritual beauty of Orthodoxy. For example, lead a tour of the local parish pointing out the various stories told in the icons, host Breaking Bread so that you can teach people about the Eucharist, or put on a chanting concert open to the public.
- Find common ground as a starting place for discussion. Talk about the lives of the saints with Catholics, the centrality of the Scriptures with Protestants, the sacredness of God’s commandments with Jews, the need for self-denial with Buddhists…you get the idea. This means you’ll actually have to learn about your guests and their traditions if you want to have a meaningful discussion.
- If you are setting up a discussion or a formal debate, make sure that there are ground rules set beforehand–first within your own chapter and then with the other group(s) participating–about speaking respectfully, what subjects/language is off-limits, how to make sure everyone gets a chance to be heard, etc. And then, follow the rules and guidelines you set up with the utmost care.
- Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” If a question is raised to which you don’t know the answer, say so, and do your best to follow up. It’s much better to go and find out than to make something up or give a half-baked answer to save face.
- Strive to love and understand, not to win or prove someone wrong. How you say or do something is just as important as what you say. Speak the truth in love, not with judgement, condemnation, or haughtiness. Remaining calm and speaking with love will provide a stronger witness of Christ’s grace working in you than reciting the canons of the Ecumenical Councils vociferously (I think St. Paul agrees).
If you are invited:
- Accept invitations that allow simply for a better understanding of another faith group such as tours, concerts, and cultural fairs.
- If you are invited to participate in a discussion, debate, or panel, make sure you know all the details: What is the end goal? Who else is invited? Who is funding or backing the forum? Will it be open to the public? Who is the moderator? What are the topics? Any of these things could be deciding factors as to whether or not you should participate. You’re going to need your Spiritual Advisor’s involvement on this one for sure.
- Remember that if you choose to participate in a debate where you are the only Orthodox Christian, both your words and actions will, whether you like it or not, reflect on the Church and Christ. Tread carefully in these situations, and try to avoid putting yourself in a position where you do not feel prepared to speak on a particular topic.
Worship is the trickiest category when working with other religious groups. You should always involve your Spiritual Advisor when it comes to making decisions about inter-Christian or interfaith prayer and worship. This is when that guide from the Assembly of Bishops really comes in handy, too.
If you are hosting:
- You can always invite people to visit Orthodox worship services. I suggest Vespers or Paraklesis as a good starting place if people are interested. If you host a Day of Light, you get a built in opportunity to pray for others and invite them to visit an Orthodox service.
- Be prepared with books or printouts for people to follow the service, and make sure that you are available to guide people along if they look lost.
- Make time to discuss the services before or after so that people have an opportunity to ask questions.
- If you bring groups to Liturgy, respectfully let them know beforehand that only baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians may receive Holy Communion.
If you are invited:
- Generally speaking, Orthodox Christians can participate in non-liturgical prayer with other Christians and can observe the worship of others without participating, but get the blessing of your Spiritual Advisor to go.
- Be kind and curious. Ask questions respectfully and do not use another’s hospitality as an opportunity to insult them.
- If you feel uncomfortable, leave. And along the same lines, if someone in your group doesn’t feel comfortable attending at all, don’t pressure or force them to go.
- Avoid participating in any sacramental or spiritual rituals including, but not limited to, receiving communion in a non-Orthodox church, altar calls, offerings to idols, or meditation.
Above all, seek the guidance of your Spiritual Advisor, be faithful to the Jesus Christ and His Church, and do your best to love others by giving them your respect and attention.
Throughout the month of October, join OCF in learning more about our Orthodox faith, sharing it with others, and growing together as a community. This year, we ask that you join us in again in the #ShareAThon by sharing quotes, photos, articles, podcasts, and videos on social media with the hashtags #ShareAThon and #OAM15 to share the beauty of our Orthodox faith with others.
Chapters are also encouraged to “Take the Challenge” by submitting media throughout the month of their chapter participating in fellowship, education, worship, and service. Chapters will be awarded points based on their submissions, and the chapters with the most points at the end of the month will win OCF prize packages.
To learn more about how you can participate in Orthodox Awareness Month, click here.
The school year is off to a fresh start and so is the OCF year! While planning your year, it’s important not to forget about the four pillars of OCF. Here are some suggestions for ways to incorporate all elements of OCF so you can have a blessed, fruitful year.
- Hold an off-campus potluck dinner.
- Go to your school’s sporting events together.
- During midterms or finals week, have a study party…and don’t forget the snacks!
- Organize a friendly game of Capture the Flag or Ultimate Frisbee.
- Go out for Sunday brunch together after Liturgy.
- Invite a guest speaker. See if there are any priests in your surrounding area who don’t regularly come to OCF, a professor from your school, or a member of the parish you attend.
- Watch a Christian movie, listen to an Ancient Faith Radio podcast, or read an article and have a discussion afterward.
- Play a game of “Stump the Priest” with your spiritual advisor – everyone comes up with their toughest theological questions for the priest until he can’t answer one!
- Pick a book to read together. Each week one person reads a chapter, summarizes it for the group, and leads a discussion.
- During your normal meeting time, bake cookies or write cards to send to nursing homes, hospitals, or soldiers.
- Take a Saturday afternoon to volunteer together at a soup kitchen or nursing home.
- Volunteer as a group with one of the service clubs on campus.
- Host a bake sale on campus and donate the proceeds to charity.
- Learn a new hymn together – maybe in a chanting style different from your own.
- Make prayer ropes.
- Have Forgiveness Sunday vespers together before Lent starts.
- Hold a Paraklesis service as part of Day of Light.
- Participate in Day of Prayer.
OCF chapters are always looking for new ways to engage more students. Here’s an easy fellowship event you can add to your calendar to attract more students.
As we’ve said before, you’ll have better attendance over time if you meet consistently and offer a variety of activities. Once a week is really best, but that doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing every week or even on the same day of the week. Let’s say your chapter meets bimonthly on Thursdays right now. Consider adding a weekly dinner or lunch on the Tuesdays in between meetings. Or maybe your chapter does meet every week, but your meetings are fairly similar in structure every week–try adding a monthly dinner for a change of pace. Here are a few ideas for planning OCF meals:
- Meet on campus or at a favorite spot that’s walk-able from campus. This is a great way to engage more freshmen who are living on campus. It’s as easy as having the president and another student commit to having lunch every week together and then opening it up to anyone who wants to come when they have time.
- Go out before or after your regular meetings. This is an easy one, too, though it may not draw a new crowd if they aren’t quite sure about the meetings yet or have a scheduling conflict.
- Take turns hosting. Have all the upperclassmen who have off campus housing take turns cooking for the whole group. Don’t forget to offer rides if you can!
- Involve the parish. Talk to your spiritual advisor or lay coordinator to see if parishioners at the local parish(es) might be interested in hosting occasional meals for the group. You’ll have the blessing of getting to know the amazing people at your parish and learning from them as well as sharing your OCF experience with them.
- Budget in the meals. If you are cooking yourself or going out to eat, try to see if you can get a small budget from the local parish or a generous parishioner for your meals or collect a few dollars at the beginning of the semester from everyone to offset the costs that way people don’t feel like they have to say no to coming because they’re short on cash.
- Try a fasting day. Dinner any night of the week is great, but sometimes it can be hard as a student, especially if you’re on a meal plan, to keep the fasts of the Church. Joining together as a chapter on a Wednesday or Friday can be a great way to offer everyone a chance to offer up a little fast to Christ (plus, you could save the extra money to do a service project or support a charity or organization you love).
- Do a dinner with another chapter. Get to know another chapter in your district by planning a special off campus meal once a semester or once a month with the members of another chapter.
I have personally seen all of these suggestions played out in chapters successfully. Talk about it, try it out, and see what works best for your group. You’ll be amazed that often some students just needed a little food to motivate them to get involved! Be prepared that some students may only show up for meals and not other events at first–that’s ok–embrace them while they are with you and be patient. Meals are also a great way to invite visitors to an OCF meeting whether it’s someone from the local Orthodox community, friends of chapter members, or another organization on campus.