Keeping In Touch With Our College Students
By Andrew Cvercko
What becomes of our young people after college? Many local parishioners throughout the country ask this question. In fact, what happens to them during their college years? What is or will be their church affiliation, if any?
Too often than not, local parishioners forget about the young people after they leave for college, not realizing the traumatic experience the new student faces by breaking away from home and parish ties. We need to do all possible to keep these ties by staying in touch with these students away from home and letting them know they are still a part of us. The competition for their attention out there is fierce and too often very attractive with peer pressure. The various cults on campuses, non-Orthodox church recruiters, and anti-religious groups are hard to avoid.
At St. Andrew’s in Maple Heights, Ohio, we have tried, with some success, to close the gap between the church membership and being away from home. Through our local chapter of the FOCA, the church choir, and various parish members, we have taken some positive steps.
At the end of each school year, our priest asks for parents to let him know who will be going away to college and to give him their college addresses. These names are then passed on to the secretary of the “O”- Club who, with a few volunteers, has undertaken the task of sending the students monthly minutes of the club meetings, Sunday church bulletins, and even brochures of upcoming dinners, banquets and social events that the students would enjoy receiving even though they are not able to come. They know we are thinking of them. We also post their names and addresses on the church bulletin board and encourage parishioners to send them birthday and holiday cards.
The students who are regular choir members are invited and urged to sing in the college church choir, as I call it, when they are home for holiday breaks and summers. The regular church readers are excused from reading during college vacations so that the young college students can take over. This encourages their attendance and makes them feel not only wanted, but needed.
Since so many students of our faith who are away from home have difficulty finding an Orthodox Church, they really miss Sunday Divine Liturgy services. To fill this gap, we tape record the services, and a member of the choir has the tape duplicated. The small amount of funds needed to purchase tapes and cards is provided as a project of the “O”- Club. We like to send the tapes about every other month, and especially at Easter and Christmas.
The tapes need not be professional. Just simple home recorders do the job. At the early stages of this project, there was too much time spent trying to get perfect recordings. This was a mistake and caused delays in getting the tapes to the students. The tapes are really appreciated and much in demand. The students have remarked that they even enjoy hearing the sermons. Some of our shut-ins are asking for the tapes, too.
Much more must be done in this area. More people should be urged to take the students’ addresses and write them notes or letters of encouragement, or just tell them what is going on at the home parish. The important thing is to keep communication lines open and continuous so that the students know that their parish has not forgotten them and so that they do not feel like strangers when they come home.
1. Who are the students in your parish who are away at school?
2. Does your parish keep in touch with them on a regular basis? If so, how? Who is responsible?
3. If not, could any of the suggestions in this article be used in your parish to keep in touch? What are some other ideas? Who would be responsible?
4. Once young people finish their education (high school or college), many disappear from the life of the parish. What do you think are the reasons for this?
Is there anything the parish can do to keep them involved in the church at this period in their lives?