Starting An Orthodox Campus Fellowship
By Mark Stokoe
The recommendations in this article are equally applicable to the (a) priest who wishes to begin a campus ministry, (b) student(s) who wish to begin a campus OCF, and c) parishioners) wishing to initiate and/or support a campus ministry. Therefore: Do not assume that you need great numbers. In fact, you only need two or three to start a group.
Motivation is the key: the goal is building a campus oriented community for spiritual growth. Motivation comes from commitment. Commitment comes from an experience of the Church as the gathering of persons who are together in the name of Jesus Christ.
HOW TO START AN ORTHODOX CAMPUS FELLOWSHIP (OCF)
1. Discover your campuses.
Make a list of all the college campuses in your area, including junior colleges and church related schools. Include even the small schools.
2. Discover your priests.
a) Make a list of all Orthodox priests in the area or
b) Write to your National/Archdiocesan Campus Ministry Department for information regarding names of Orthodox priests in your area.
The Department of Campus Ministry (Antiochian Archdiocese)
P.O. Box 1325
Goleta, CA 93166 Tel: (805) 968-3331
The National Orthodox Campus Ministry in Higher Education
(Greek Orthodox Archdiocese)
P.O. Box 8243
Metairie, LA 70011
The Department of Youth and Campus Ministry
The Orthodox Church in America
P.O. Box 675
Syosset, NY 11791 Tel: (516) 922-0550
3. Discover your lay people.
a) Search for lay people in your parish, and neighboring parishes, who are willing to work with college students or
b) Contact your National/Archdiocese Campus Ministry Department for names of lay people interested in helping with OCF’s in your area.
4. Discover your students.
a) Secure the names of Orthodox students on campus. Names are sometimes available from religious preference cards. These may be obtained through the college chaplain (if there is one), the local ecumenical campus ministry, or the office of the Dean of Student Affairs.
b) Contact the priests of local Orthodox parishes to inquire if they know of any Orthodox students attending schools in the area.
c) Contact your National/Archdiocesan Campus Ministry Department for the possibility of a computer printout of Orthodox students in your area.
d) Place an ad in the campus newspaper and/or a memo on your community’s bulletin board, asking for the names of Orthodox students.
5. Discover your Orthodox Faculty and Administrative Staff members.
a) Check with local priests, known Orthodox faculty, and alumni about other Orthodox faculty and/or staff members.
b) Page through the faculty and staff directories for names from typically Orthodox backgrounds.
6. Discover the characteristics of your campuses.
a) Gather the “vital statistics” on the campuses in your area. Include: 1) the number of students enrolled, 2) how many are full-time, how many part-time, 3) how many live on campuses, how many live off campus, 4) how many are undergraduates, or graduate students, 5) how many are involved in the fraternity and sorority life of the school.
b) Check into campus resources: what service does the university or the student government offer free? Do they have mailing lists available? Do they have religious preference cards? Is “Orthodox Christian” listed? Do they have office space available? Do they offer copying services for student groups?
c) Procure whatever documents describe rules and regulations for religious groups on campus. These are usually available from the office of the Dean of Student Affairs. It is extremely important that you follow all regulations carefully - e.g. regulations about visiting in dorms and putting up posters. Word travels from campus to campus. We need to keep an impeccable reputation.
7. Contact your National/Archdiocesan Campus Ministry Department.
There are resources and materials available that will be of great help in getting started, such as information regarding other OCF’s in the area, training seminars, local and national retreats for college students, and other data.
HOW TO SECURE A FACULTY ADVISOR
1. According to the dictionary, an advisor is one who “counsels.” That is the goal for OCF Faculty advisers - to counsel wisely, i.e., to give direction to the activities of the OCF in accordance with its established aims and purposes. The advisor should be accessible to the leaders and members of the OCF, having time to make regular visits with the Fellowship. Look for someone who fits this job description.
2. Make certain that the advisor you choose has the qualifications required by campus regulations. If you cannot find an Orthodox faculty member willing to be an OCF advisor, seek a faculty member who is sympathetic to the Orthodox faith. Many faculty members, both Catholic and Episcopalian, may be willing to help with an Orthodox student group.
3. Assure the prospective faculty advisor that he or she will not have to be involved any more than he chooses and that you will keep him informed as to all the activities of the group.
HOW TO GET OFFICIAL RECOGNITION ON CAMPUS
1. As a rule, you must have some form of official recognition or status to operate as a student religious group on campus. You may not chose to operate as an on-campus group, but if you do, apply to the proper campus office for recognition. Information on how to qualify is usually obtainable through the Office of Student Affairs.
2. Check campus regulations for the minimum size of student groups. There are often requirements for a specified number of students that must be involved in beginning a new group on campus. This requirement may be as high as twenty-five students. Seldom are there twenty-five students willing to start an OCF, but this need not stop the development of an OCF.
a) Ask students who may not actively participate in the organization to sign up anyway. There is nothing unethical about this. The university administration, or the student government, simply wants to know if there is genuine student interest. They do not require all students who indicate interest to be active.
b) Have students you know ask their friends to sign. Registration times are especially effective for this. Assume most students you ask will be willing to sign. Students are usually very willing to help in most any worthy cause.
3. Prepare a constitution and by-laws, if required on your campus, as well as a slate of officers. (Sample Constitution and by-laws are available from your National/Archdiocesan Campus Ministry Office.)
4. Prepare a list of requirements for membership. This information must be supplied even when a constitution and by-laws are not required. The basic requirements for OCF memberships are simple and are outlined in the sample constitution.
5. Bring a student leader, and samples of OCF literature to interviews with administrative personnel. Schools are obviously more cooperative when students are involved than when off-campus people want to start a group.
6. Meet the directors of other religious groups on campus; i.e. the Newman Club, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Baptist Student Union, etc. and ask them about the requirements for recognition if you are having difficulty in obtaining information regarding this.
7. Be on time providing materials requested, pay all fees promptly and according to campus regulations. Avoid offending the campus bureaucracy, should such exist. Be courteous and gracious in all contacts with administrative personnel. Problems and hindrances occasionally arise. There are ways to work around most problems. Make a good impression!
HOW TO ESTABLISH INITIAL CONTACT WITH STUDENTS
1. The most effective way to bring new members into the Fellowship is personal contact Talk to students about the Fellowship. Make a concerted effort to contact Freshmen and new students.
2. Set up a “rush program” at the beginning of the year aimed at bringing in new members so that the Fellowship can perpetuate itself on campus.
3. Ask students at random on campus if they know any students or faculty who are Orthodox. You make some excellent contacts and have some good conversation about the Orthodox faith doing this - aside from finding Orthodox students and faculty. You have made progress every time you make a student aware of Orthodoxy. Don’t be discouraged if you ask fifty students and no one knows someone who is Orthodox. You have made fifty people aware of both the Faith and yourself. This is a significant accomplishment and well worth the time and effort.
4. Ask each active member of the local OCF to pay a personal visit to as many new Orthodox students as possible immediately upon or very shortly after their arrival on campus. Most new students are probably lonely, bewildered, full of anxiety and curiosity as to what lies ahead. They want to make friends and their need for friends during the first few days of their college careers is greater than at any other time. Members of the OCF, in the spirit of Christian love, should go to their Orthodox brothers and sisters and:
a) Talk with them.
b) Make friends. Friendships contracted during the first weeks of college are friendships which endure.
c) Help dispel the loneliness and bewilderment new students so often feel.
d) Answer their questions about the school.
e) Show them around campus.
f) Visit the college snack shop with them.
g) Attend a social function with them.
In other words, upon making initial contact with new students, remember to be interested in them as persons, and only secondly as potential participants in the OCF. If they are interested in Orthodoxy, discuss the religious activities at your school. Mention the existence of the OCF. Invite them to the Fellowship’s first reception. Ask them to participate in your programs. If they are totally disinterested in Orthodoxy and the OCF, do not lose heart, nor reject them as friends. There is bound to be some way you can help them during their years at college. Also, keep in mind that if you can truly befriend new students, your friendship alone may prove strong enough basis to involve them in the OCF - never give up! 5. Contact all known Orthodox students in the area. A letter to those students who were not (perhaps could not be) visited, or better yet, a phone call inviting them to attend your initial reception, will help in establishing contact.
6. As you meet students, explain what you have in mind. It is best to know if they are interested in your vision of an Orthodox campus ministry. If they are not, ask whom they know who might be interested. This procedure can be one of your most valuable tools . . .
7. If you persist, you will find students with whom to begin.
CONSIDERATIONS IN SPONSORING CAMPUS MEETINGS
Hold regular meetings on or near the campus. These meetings must have substance.
a) They must be more than spontaneous discussions and business meetings.
b) Materials, such as pamphlets, small books, etc., should be given out to help Orthodox students understand the Church’s teachings.
c) Include time for worship as well as time for social interaction.
d) Speakers are fine if they really communicate with students. Be careful - it takes more than knowledge of a subject to communicate with college kids.
e) Encourage students to participate by letting them plan and organize meetings, as well as all activities the group is involved in. It is of no value to start a group if the students are not willing to commit themselves to the program; students are more likely to participate if they feel they “own” the program.
f) As students prefer to do things as a group, encourage them to participate in parish or other outside activities as a group rather than individually.
g) From the beginning explain your vision for a campus ministry. Let them know exactly what to expect.
HOW TO KEEP THE MOTIVATION GOING . . .
1. Relate your group as quickly as possible to other Orthodox campus groups. Students have a need to be part of something bigger than their local group. Relate inter-jurisdictionally as soon as possible.
2. Take advantage of every Orthodox retreat and conference you can attend where there will be students. Conferences and retreats give students the opportunity to meet others who have the same goals with respect to Christ and the Church as they do.
TWO FINAL NOTES FOR PARISHES CONCERNING CAMPUS MINISTRY
1. Students will sense whether a parish really desires to have them and is willing to do the things necessary to support a campus fellowship. Therefore, before beginning:
a) Evaluate the lay people in the parish as regards campus ministry. Who could be trained to help? If there is no personnel available, or a total lack of interest, don’t start.
b) Once you are sure there are people available, one or more persons must make a commitment to do the job.
2. The launching of an academic career is a momentous occasion. Even before a student begins college, a parish should take notice and express concern for those of its members beginning such careers. Things to do include:
a) A senior high banquet can be hosted by the parish each June for all those members graduating from high school.
b) During the summer a “college briefing” series of three to four sessions can be conducted to prepare prospective college students spiritually and intellectually for the new ideologies, concepts, etc. they will soon face. Otherwise, these new experiences may present the students with what seem to be insurmountable problems and create in them a state of confusion and doubt.
c) The church office can compile a directory of the addresses of all parish members who are attending college.
d) A letter can be sent to the Orthodox priest located nearest to the college the student will be attending. This should include some brief information about the student.
(The paper upon which this article is based originally appeared in The Campus Guide to College Work, by Paul Costopolous and Boris Nicoloff, published by the Orthodox Campus Commission in 1972. A new Campus Guide, fully revised by Fr. Jon Braun and Mark Stokoe, in which the following article will appear in a slightly expanded form, is scheduled to appear in Autumn 1990. Copies of the new Campus Guide may be ordered from the Department of Campus Ministry of both the Orthodox Church in America and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, listed above.)