I’m fortunate to have the perspective on SLI that I do. Last year, in 2016, it was hosted for the first time at St. Iakavos Retreat Center in Kenosha, WI (10/10, currently recommending to friends)–but it was a closed retreat. Only the Student Leadership Board (SLB) attended, and the entirety of the retreat was geared on preparing those students for their distinct roles, as Northwest Regional Leader or Real Break Student Leader or Publications Student Leader (hi that’s me), and for their collective role, as young leaders in OCF and in the church.
This summer, in 2017, SLI changed. It became a two-pronged effort–the first prong remained the same, in that only the SLB attended the first portion of the retreat and participated in the same events as last year. The second half of the retreat, however, was open to the whole of OCF. The keynote speaker, the workshops, the skills training, the worship opportunities, the fellowship–all of the pieces that make an OCF retreat so special–were extended to everyone.
The numbers at SLI more than doubled, once opened to everyone. But the experience of SLI wasn’t enriched solely because of the numbers amassed–it was the fresh insight, the boots-on-the-ground perspective offered by so many of the new participants that added a different depth to SLI.
You see, we all have interesting OCF stories–how we arrived to the place at which we currently are with OCF. Sharing those stories–“My OCF Story”–is one of the first activities we did at the retreat. My OCF story has always been pretty lame: I go to a school with no chapter, and I lack the resources to start one with any consistency. I always wanted to be involved with OCF, however, and my sister worked on the SLB as the Publications Student Leader. Once she left the position, I applied for it and got it. And here I’ve stayed.
As such, I’m woefully divorced from chapter life. I don’t get that weekly dose of camaraderie that wooed so many others to regular involvement with OCF; nobody rides the train with me to church on Sundays. It’s not all lamentable, however–my lack of chapter life leads to greater involvement with regional and national programs, to get my OCF fix.
My example serves the point: college is all about new perspectives and experiences and responsibilities, right? I mean, that’s what everybody and their mother warned you about when you first left home, a bright-eyed freshman. And universities across the nation endeavor, night and day, to create safe spaces in which each individual has the freedom and security to be who they believe they are.
We often frame those differing perspectives in a light combative with the Church. That the new experiences and perspectives and opinions will seek to pull us away from the Church, make us question our faith, chew into our time that otherwise would be spent in worship and prayer. There’s a lot of truth there, I’m afraid. A lot of what’s common to universities–from party culture to liberal arts curriculum–finds itself at odds with the faith.
But there is no reason why differing experiences, perspectives, and opinions cannot be geared to strengthen our faith as well. OCF retreats regularly present us this opportunity: to hear from a Greek who grew up in Chicago and that’s all he knows of the Orthodox church; from a Russian who immigrated to Wisconsin when she was young; from a convert who has lived in twelve different states and attended thirty different churches.
The young men and women who attended SLI were living proof, not only of the vitality of the Church, but of its resiliency. College life allegedly pulls us away from the Church–and the threat is there, certainly–but OCF programs keep growing bigger and faster, incorporating new faces and stories. The laughs and prayers and shares of SLI, as a microcosm for OCF as whole, showed our vibrancy and our joy as collegiate Orthodox Christians.
Thank God SLI was opened to all of OCF. The strength of OCF isn’t the board, nor is OCF for the board. It was important that we had those days, to coordinate and plan for the year to come–but far more important was the time we had together. The mission of OCF is realized in the chapter members, who unabashedly bring the entirety of who they are to the table, and through their singularity, bring us all closer as one in Christ Jesus.
In an effort to help develop more young Orthodox leaders both for OCF and for the Church at large, OCF is pleased to announce that the annual OCF Summer Leadership Institute will now be open to all interested college students.
Summer Leadership Institute is a four-day training institute focused on developing in students the knowledge, skills, and practices of good Orthodox leaders. The program has in past years been open only to Student Leadership Board members, and OCF’s hope is that by opening it to more Orthodox college students, we can create a stronger network of chapter, district, and other young leaders to further strengthen Christ’s ministry on campus and the Orthodox Church of the next generation.
Students will participate in workshops led by OCF staff and student leaders as well as experts in Orthodox theology, spirituality, and pastoral ministry to help prepare them to be Christ-centered servant leaders. We encourage parishes and OCF advisors to consider sponsoring their students to attend the 2017 Summer Leadership Institute to help OCF form and train a new generation of leaders for our Church and for our world.
The 2017 Summer Leadership Institute will be held from August 16-19 at St. Iakovos Reteat Center in Kansasville, WI. Details and registration information can be found here. For further questions and inquiries, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marathoning from workshop to workshop sustained only by mediocre conference center coffee, equipped with legal pads and a really nice pen, surrounded by people nerding out over the same thing you love so much – there’s no bigger rush.
The only way conferences are better are when they’re grounded in Christ. When you take the conference atmosphere of education on topics that are cool and interesting to you and fellowship with people who also think those topics are cool and interesting and add in that extra level of faith and service, that is my ideal world.
The Orthodox Christian Fellowship Summer Leadership Institute is the Christmas of conferences. During SLI, you grow as an Orthodox Christian not only by learning about your faith in the theological or doctrinal sense, but by harnessing essential life skills like public speaking, servant leadership, organization and planning, and conflict resolution – and giving them back to the Church. This comes with the added bonus surrounding yourself in prayer and fellowship with quality OCFers from across the US and Canada who are guaranteed to inspire and encourage you in ways that you won’t be able to repay.
Even if you’re not a conference junkie like I am, SLI is the only place which provides you with the tools and training you need to develop as an Orthodox Christian leader. One day (if not right now), we will be the priests, deacons, clergy wives, parish council presidents, church school teachers, youth department ministers, and parish members of the Church and together we all play our part to make up the body of Christ. As it says in the book of Romans:
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. —Romans 12:4 – 8
Come to SLI to gird yourself with your God-given strengths and weaknesses and become a warrior of Christ. Come to SLI to find your unique calling of God’s will. Come to SLI to pray, to learn, to grow, and to lead.
Even if you’re not a conference junkie like myself, you’re sure to come away from SLI a changed person. I leave you with another verse from Pauls’ letter to the Romans:
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. –Romans 1:11-12
REGISTRATION FOR 2017 SUMMER LEADERSHIP OPENS FEB 20th!
WHERE: ST. IAKOVOS RETREAT CENTER, Kansasville, WI
It seems like just yesterday–last week, max–that my sister was the chairman-elect of OCF, Skyping me from Pittsburgh and encouraging me to apply for the Student Leadership Board (SLB). For an organization about which I knew virtually nothing, whose chapters were not present at the University of Chicago. Okay.
The more she spoke to me about the position, the more I warmed to the prospect of applying for it. The passion with which she spoke of the mission of OCF, of the four pillars of OCF, of the distinct change and goodness I could enact…it galvanized me to join the ranks. To step forward and ask what I could do to serve. To take my God-given talents and gear them, directly, to His glory.
This post will not be about that.
Most of you don’t, I think, have a sister to help pave your way to the SLB. If you do, love her and buy her cool Christmas presents (hi Emma). Most of you didn’t spend your freshman year longing to get involved with the OCF in some capacity. Most of you found occupation with other, incredibly worthy extracurriculars and organizations, while I just kinda…dawdled.
I mean, if any of those things apply to you, awesome–trust me, you’re well on your way to joining the district, regional, or national level of OCF. But it is far likely that most of those things don’t apply to you, and as such, this post will not be about those things.
Don’t worry, the rousing motivation to apply is gonna come. Trust me on that one. Applications don’t open until the 20th. We’re gonna get you. We’re very persistent. Very.
But I don’t want to talk to you about this great and unique mission that the OCF certainly has; these unimaginable and special people it undoubtedly works with; these fantastic and electrifying heights it has indubitably reached over these past years. Nope.
I want to talk to you about how regular it is.
Never convince yourself the power of the OCF is at the national level–it’s not. It’s at the chapter level. OCF is about infusing college campus with Orthodox love and wisdom and forgiveness and joy. All of our energies push to the chapter, to the individual, to the Orthodox Christian college student–you. You, your growth, your security, and your realization in Christ–these are the goals toward which the OCF was geared and formed.
And, to be honest with you, you’re pretty regular.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’re special. But I don’t want you to think that the SLB doesn’t belong to you, that it’s somehow outside of your capacities. My sister is the chairwoman of the OCF, and I could rattle off thirty of her skills right now that I wish I could emulate in my life, but at no point during our entire childhood together did my parents look at each other and say “Honey, I really think little Emmy’s going to be the chairwoman of a 300-chapter Orthodox organization someday.”
I’ve known Rachel Howanetz, our Mid-Atlantic Regional Student Leader, for almost seven (don’t yell at me if I got that wrong Rach, I’m sorry) years, and never did I think to myself “Man, everyone is exceptional in their own way, but Rachel is just so much more exceptional than all of the others. They couldn’t cut it as a Regional Student Leader, but she could.”
Again, if there was a “List Reasons Why Rachel Howanetz Is Exceptional” game show, I’d win a million dollars–I love each and every member of this Board and couldn’t have a greater appreciation for the individual, incredible work they do. But the OCF–and I can’t have you miss this–isn’t an organization comprised of the people at the chapter level, and then the people at the district level, and then the regional, and then the national. We’re all just people. You are just as powerful as I am–and personally, I would argue more so. We’re doing the same thing–serving God–just manifested differently. Your work, your service to the Lord, came from reading this blog. Mine was writing it. Every SLB member is doing just that: a job they were given.
Isabella Calpakis, your Public Relations Student Leader, and Niko Wilk, your Southeast Student Leader, helped start a chapter in North Carolina, loved the impact it had, and decided they wanted to do more–heck, Isabella’s position was hardly even real last year. All she did was show up and ask how best to serve, and OCF is better off for it. That’s what I’m talking about right there: she saw a need and she filled it. She added value to the organization.
Nora Haddad served in her second year as College Conference West Student Leader this year, because she found something she loves doing and is sticking to it–value, added. Peter Savas was asked to be the first ever College Conference Midwest Student Leader and simply took an opportunity to help bring people together–value, added. Mark Sultani really loved College Conference East and wanted to help improve it even further, so he just did–value, added.
Perhaps what we do is purified, sanctified, and made exceptional through Jesus Christ, but I really want to impress upon you the fact that all of us (save for me, because of nepotism) just wanted to add value. We had talents, and we wanted to serve the Lord, so we did a job that maximized our talents and glorified God. That’s it, and that’s all we continue to do. Literally every single person reading this post falls into that same category we fell in, one inexplicably short year ago. Not a single one of you is without talent; not a single one of you doesn’t want to serve the Lord.
Will the Student Leadership Board be your avenue for that service? I don’t know. I hope so. But whether or not it is, leave here with no doubt: you belong on the Student Leadership Board. Seek, and you shall find. Ask, and you shall receive. Knock, and the door shall be opened to you.
Student Leadership Board applications will be released on Monday, February 20th. Be sure to follow OCF Ministry on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram–or check the website–to be notified when the applications become available.
It’s been almost a month since the Summer Leadership Institute. That’s pretty nuts.
SLI was an opportunity for the entire Student Leadership Board to come together for a few days in fellowship, education, worship, and service. Our Media Student Leader, Dan Bein, actually just posted this video of your SLB members sharing what they’ve learned, and for what they’re excited. Check it out:
Now, a month removed from the retreat, embroiled in my new position in OCF, I wanted to ask myself the very same questions: what have I learned so far? And for what am I excited?
SLI was really one of my first ever OCF experiences. I don’t have an active chapter at my university (if you’re in Chicago, hit me up!), and I wasn’t able to attend my regional retreat last year. I attended College Conference East solely off of the insistence of my sister, and it was awesome, but that was really it for me and big OCF events. Coming in, I didn’t know what to expect.
I learned that taking that leap of faith, going and spending time with a bunch of collegiate Orthodox Christians, is worth the risk. And don’t get it twisted, it is a risk. Attending that first OCF meeting is a risk, going to that district/regional retreat is a risk, because there are a lot of unknowns. There are a lot of variables out of your control, and I’m not going to lie to you, it could get uncomfortable, and it could be kinda…meh.
But it’s worth the risk.
The potential value you can receive–in support from your peers, in education from their vast bases of experience and knowledge, in bonds of fellowship and worship–is invaluable. Every time you meet an Orthodox Christian college student, it gives you permission to be one as well. Every time you meet someone struggling in the same struggles you experience at college, it assures you that you’re not alone, and validates your struggle as one being undertaken by many. Every time you meet someone who has overcome the struggle with which you currently struggle, it proves to you that it’s possible.
One Christian is no Christian; there is no such thing as a Christian alone. The OCF is a fellowship, it is an Orthodox Christian fellowship, and strengthening that fellowship, adding another bond to the unbelievably expansive and interwoven web of Orthodox Christians across the globe, will always be worth the effort, the energy, and the risk.
One Christian is no Christian; there is no such thing as a Christian alone.
And I’m really excited to take that risk. I am totally stoked to spend the rest of the year putting myself out on a line for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Great things never came from comfort zones; nothing happens to the man who stays in place. I am so excited to get uncomfortable for every member of the OCF, friend or stranger, knowingly or unknowingly.
How much does a polar bear weigh? Enough to break the ice, and I’m gonna break as much ice as I possibly can, that everyone can experience the power of the Orthodox Christian relationships I grew over the span of two, three days.
SLI 2016 was electrifying. I can feel the energy buzzing in my veins every time I write a post, and I can still feel it after while I’m typing another stinkin’ e-mail. I can hear that same lightning crackling in my comrades from SLI, when I interact with them, when I ask them about their programs/regions–their zeal, their fervor, their love dances across their countenance and illumines the work they painstakingly do. SLI 2016 was electrifying, but don’t miss it: it wasn’t so galvanizing for our sakes. It was galvanizing for yours.
So take the risk, take the plunge. Take yourself out of your comfort zone for the young man on your left, the young woman on your right, and the Christ in all three of you. Go that extra mile, take that extra step–the value is there, I promise you, it’s there waiting for you. You just have to go out and get it.