Is It Time to Rethink Orthodox Campus Ministry?

OCF College

May is the month for college graduations. It is a time of new beginnings for Orthodox Christian college students across the country as they transition out of campus life and into adulthood.   Graduation season is also an opportunity to look at Orthodox campus ministry in America and its well-being.   The health of campus ministry is a key indicator of the future health of Orthodoxy in America.

College students are by far one of the most at-risk groups in the Orthodox Church today.  Young men and women on college campuses are confronted with an environment that is increasingly hostile to Orthodox Christianity.  Living Orthodox beliefs on a college campus often means presenting oneself as a subject of ridicule.  At many colleges, an Orthodox Christian worldview is considered at best a superstitious relic and at worst a form of bigotry.

The peer pressure that Orthodox Christian college students face to set aside their beliefs and remain silent about their faith has never been greater.

This is the reality facing Orthodox campus ministry today

On the surface, everything appears well with campus ministry.   There are conferences, mission trips, and retreats throughout the year.  Social media is alive with updates.   One would think that college students are doing just fine when it comes to staying connected to the Church.   However, appearances can often disguise more serious concerns.

The Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in the United States has produced a 114-page research study of Orthodox Campus Fellowship. A study of the facts presented in this report shows a number of challenges when it comes to Orthodox college students.  These issues demonstrate that the present model of Orthodox campus ministry is struggling to fulfill its mission. Compared to other Christian groups on campus, the Orthodox Church has been underperforming for years when it comes to ministering to college students.

Orthodox Campus ministry efforts have been downsized considerably over the years. Today there are only two dedicated staff for North American ministry which is a 75% reduction in program staffing from June of 2012.  A review of campus ministry’s strategic plan shows a series of goals that have gone unmet for years with the most significant failure being the neglect of the regional coordinator program as well as regional chaplaincies  Campus ministry also provides scarce stewardship information to alumni, donors and volunteers   Organizational by-laws, minutes from board meetings, annual reports, and regular financial information are all unavailable on the national website.  The Board of Directors has been reduced from 19 diverse members in 2010 to 9 members in 2016 with little effort made to recruit leaders who can bring new perspectives to campus ministry.

The reality of campus ministry is that despite the best of intentions, renewal is needed if Orthodox Christianity is to be a viable presence on college campuses in the years to come.

Here are some facts from the report of the Assembly of Bishops on the current state of Orthodox Christian College students that point to the need for change when it comes to campus ministry:

  • According to the Assembly of Bishops, there are approximately 800,000 adherents to Orthodox Christianity in the USA and 1,350 college students who participate in campus ministry (p13).  This means that among all Orthodox Christians in America who attend church regularly, less than 2 in every 1000 are college students who participate in campus ministry.
  • Campus ministry chapters face a precarious existence and are in perpetual flux (p5).  29% of chapters report less than 5 members.  73% of chapters report less than 10 members (p14).  Given the reality of little or no growth, the simple loss of a few students or an advisor in any of these chapters can literally mean the end of a given campus ministry.  Campus ministry also fluctuates significantly.  There is no guarantee that a ministry chapter will remain active let alone flourish during any given school year.
  • Membership in campus ministry shows a decline from 2012-2014 (p13).  This confirms that the statistic of 60% of college students leaving the Orthodox faith is very much a reality that is not going away anytime soon. The Orthodox Church consistently loses six college students for every four its keeps.
  • Only half of campus ministry student leaders take seriously the essential Orthodox Church practice of regular church attendance and agree with the statement: ʺI think the person has to go to the church regularly to be a good Orthodox Christian; ʺ (p52) Campus ministry programs are struggling to create lasting liturgical connections to the Church.  All the more troubling is the observation that if 50% of student leaders do not take regular church attendance seriously, one can imagine how much larger the percentage is among less involved Orthodox college students.
  • Among Orthodox student leaders, 44% believe that how one lives is more important than being Orthodox.(p52)  At a time when more and more young people report their religious affiliation as “none”, this presents a clear challenge as to whether or not the present outlook of campus ministry helps form active Orthodox Christian adults. Every college student seeks truth, beauty, and goodness, but more and more students fail to connect that search with the Orthodox Christian Faith.

What can be done to renew Orthodox campus ministry and help college students grow into discerning disciples?  First and foremost, Orthodox campus ministry must be willing to take substantial risks and work outside its comfort zone. Christ tells the Apostle Peter to “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4) Orthodoxy is not simply an obligation or an ethnic inheritance –it is both a gift and a calling.  Keeping connected to the Church means far more than keeping students in Church buildings or getting them to attend a college conference –it means helping them fall in love with the truth of Jesus Christ.

Let me explain more clearly.

The Orthodox Faith has not changed at all, but the world in which Orthodox Christian college students live has changed drastically.   For many years, the response of Orthodox campus ministry has been to encourage polite conformity to the faith rather than help students acquire the Orthodox tools they need to navigate in the world.

What is polite conformity? It is a term coined by theologian Luigi Giussani. Polite conformity is the shallow water of our lives that Christ commands us to leave behind.  It is adhering to all of the external rituals of Orthodox Christianity without taking the time to verify the Tradition on our own.  It is a counterfeit form of witness.   Polite conformity means accepting Orthodox Christianity without criticism.   It gives lip service to the faith to please authority figures, family members, or a peer group.  Polite conformity means nodding yes in Church while actually believing and behaving in a way that is contrary to the Orthodox Faith.   When 6 out of 10 college students leave the faith and over 50% of Orthodox student leaders see no value in attending church regularly, then it is safe to say that a culture of polite conformity has prevailed among college students.   Once the peer pressure to conform to Orthodoxy is removed from young people, there is no question that many are no longer motivated to be Orthodox and find the Church no longer meaningful.   As a result, they choose to leave when they outgrow certain programs.

Orthodox Christians can reverse this trend by creating a campus ministry environment that is willing to sail into deep waters and get messy with our culture. College students need to encounter an Orthodox Christianity that is willing to honestly wrestle with the great questions of our culture and not politely avoid them for fear of offending people. This goes beyond simple question-and-answer sessions at chapter meetings or national conferences.  It means pro-actively educating young people to seek answers from the Church on life’s most important questions.  It means dealing with doubt.

 

College campuses are not neutral environments when it comes to the questions about life, and campus ministry should not be a neutral environment either.  Campus ministry leaders need to confront the great questions of our culture by presenting Orthodoxy in its fullness.   This means more than simply posing questions, it means giving honest answers that come from the heart of the Church’s Tradition.  The Orthodox answer to questions about human life, forgiveness, marriage, sexuality, gender, work, family, vocation, love, and worship need to be compassionately and clearly presented.  Why hide the Church’s most beautiful and healthy teachings when they have the power to change so many lives?  Christ reminds us to “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

The second way to reverse this downward slide is to stress the difference between information and wisdom when it comes to our Faith.  Our culture is saturated with information from a variety of outlets such as social media and 24-hour news services.  It is the information age.  Likewise, when it comes to Orthodox Christianity, campus programs often settle for presenting information about Orthodoxy rather than the wisdom of Orthodoxy.  Information about Orthodoxy limits our knowledge to facts and ritual knowledge while the wisdom of Orthodox Christianity provides us with the ability to use our faith to live our vocation as human beings.  Deep down, college students yearn for an experience of faith that is more than Facebook posts and YouTube videos.  They yearn for the meaning that only Christ can give and an authentic sense of community that can only be found in the hospital of sinners that is Church.

A final way to reverse this trend is to stress Liturgical leadership. Orthodox leaders are not to be found solely in meetings, conferences, or Summer camps. They are -first and foremost- to be found at liturgy. If you want to be an Orthodox Christian Leader, you have to be a liturgical leader that is someone who sacrifices his time to consistently live and learn from the liturgical life of the Church. Liturgy is the first and best school of leadership in the Orthodox Church.

The challenges that confront campus ministry are no doubt serious.  The good news is that the solutions to these problems are to be found on the ancient path that has been traveled by Orthodox Christians time and again.  It is the path of seeking God with the questions that arise from the very depth of our being.  It is the path of taking seriously those questions, being faithful to them, and seeking their answers in the Tradition of Church.  St. Gregory of Sinai was correct when he wrote:  “…if a man seeks God with obedience, questioning and wise humility, he will always be protected from harm by the grace of Christ, Who desires all men to be saved.”

Obedience, questioning, and humility.  These are three tools every college student should receive from the Church to keep in their spiritual tool box.   Our job as Orthodox Christians is to make sure we give them these tools so that they can explore the deep waters of the Orthodox Christian Faith not only on campus, but more importantly for the rest of their lives as adults.

Andrew Estocin

Andrew Estocin is a lifelong Orthodox Christian. He received his B.A. with a double major in Philosophy and Theology from Fordham University. His writings have appeared in numerous publications including The Albuquerque Journal, Touchstone, Beliefnet.com and The Orthodox Observer. Andrew’s work is featured on the The Orthodox Christian Network where he writes on a variety of contemporary issues.

Comments 18

  1. Thanks Patrick. That great sucking sound (in the words of Ross Perot – since we’re in the election season), is the sound of the handful of active and committed students heading for the exits this time of year. Some will graduate, never to return, and it will take 6 months to ‘replace’ their leadership. Pulling together next year’s team of leaders is hard, because they are elsewhere, focused on other things. Then August will come, and everybody will get excited to ‘do something’, but with limited infrastructure, that critical first two weeks will pass quickly, and interest and participation will wane. And it will take another 6 months to find the new Orthodox student who are on campus and know nothing of OCF….. sigh

  2. Thank you to everyone for your comments. Diverse viewpoints are most welcome here. It is nice to have a spirited discussion on such issues which I am sure we can continue to have. George Orwell was correct when he wrote. “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

    I posted on the front page of the blog an invitation for contributions which will help move this discussion forward. I encourage anyone who is passionate about this issue to consider a well written and well considered submission.

    Patrick, there is no question that you are a devoted and intelligent Orthodox Christian. While I cannot share your conclusions, I would like to acknowledge that you are a thoughtful and committed leader. The Church is lucky to have you. I hope you will take up my offer to explore this topic in my detail.

  3. “OCF is a ministry not a campus social club. This is the central problem today and this more than anything is why the ministry is on the verge of slipping away while people blame others for its problems.

    We belong to a Church where 12 Apostles changed the civilized world armed only with the Gospel. Certainly, campus ministry can be renewed by sharing in this witness. Yes, things can change. They need to change.

    But the question before those who claim leadership is whether or not they have the humility to change for the sake of those they serve and those who have lost their way.”

    Before you make any more assumptions as to how OCF is run at an administrative level, and before you make any more character assassinations of those who run it, perhaps you should have the common decency to actually contact them and see what they have to say.

    When given next-to-nothing for funding, resources, and staff, and the best that one can do is reach out to the students of a college and their nearby parishes and help them come together and give them the meager resources one has–yeah, one runs the risk of not getting the desired results.

    OCF cannot force its students to submit and act according to its vision. It cannot force the respective clergy into owning the chapters they are in charge of. If the clergy are detached or apathetic and the students not interested in anything more than casual gathering, what is the national OCF office supposed to do about it, Andrew? If it cannot assert total and complete control over the content and direction of each chapter, should it not bother at all?

    You seem to assume that because your experience of OCF was more social club than ministry that clearly this is because OCF intends it to be that way. You’re wrong. Plain and simple. But rather than going to the source and learning what the vision of what OCF desires to be (based on being properly supported and funded), you’d rather assume the worst about its leaders and staff.

    We could switch them all out and put you in charge, but guess what: nothing would change. You would run into the same walls and roadblocks they have. Stop judging the intentions and work of those whom you do not even have the decency to reach out to and listen their story.

    This is naivety and arrogance at work, not desire to “rethink” things.

  4. Andrew, in response to your latest reply (the com-box is compacting the text too much to continue there) :

    Yes, we do think alike in both believing there is much work to be done in terms of campus ministry. Where we seem to radically depart, based on what I observe in your article and replies, is in your refusal to acknowledge and own up to the full extent of the statistics you have sighted.

    You have three times now accused me of not stomaching the truth or refusing to see the facts as they are. Yet you will not give me a full and honest answer when I point that accusation right back at you. We both recognize the extent of how poor the state of things is for Orthodox college students. Speaking for myself and those I have served and worked closely with in OCF, we know there is much work to be done and many improvements to be made. But you seem perfectly content to oversimplify the problem to this equation:

    -Campus statistics are abysmal and campus ministry is severely lacking: therefore, fix campus ministry and the statistics will be fixed.

    If this is what you’re saying, then I will once again state the truth: you are singling out only one of the problems, and unfortunately it is lesser of the problems.

    No one here disagrees on the issues you’ve raised as being true. Of course they are. I’m not ignoring the statistics, no matter how much you accuse me of it. Our point of contention is not over the statistics, but over what the initial and main cause is. You say it’s campus ministry, and you leave it at that. But to leave it at that, or merely to begin at campus ministry as the starting point is, quite simply, naïve and wrong.

    Let it be understood: I want ALL of the improvements you have listed in campus ministry. All of them. But those improvements are totally unrealistic, based on your approach. This is why:

    The ministries of the Church must always be assessed in the context of the Church and its health as a whole. We cannot merely look at the symptoms and do topical treatment. Rather, we must trace the symptoms back to their root cause.

    We are faced with the statistics:

    -The majority Orthodox college students are falling away from the Faith.
    -The ones staying involved are poorly catechized and lack basic understandings of the Faith in both content and practice.
    -The flailing campus ministry in existence is doing an insufficient job.
    -There is a decline in the chapters that are in existence, and the ones that remain are unstable.
    And so on…

    Your response has been to go and directly address each of those at the campus ministry level. That’s nice, but how? How are you going to bring about that change? Where are you going to find the resources? Where are you finding the clergy capable and interested in taking this charge? How about the massive amount of funds required to sustain this? Please, do tell me; myself, the staff workers and student leaders that you never bothered to contact before telling us all how it ought to be would dearly like to know.

    You see, Andrew, if you had actually bothered to touch base with our Chapter Relations Coordinator before you wrote this article, you would have found that she—who spends tireless hours for next-to-nothing pay—sees and understands on a much more intimate level than you or I do the problems and grim reality of these statistics. You would have also found that she agrees with most of your recommendations. Indeed, you would have found out that the vision of those who run the day-to-day operations of OCF is very much inline with yours. But ultimately you would have learned that a ministry is only as capable of such visions as the support behind it. And that leads us beyond the statistical symptoms you’ve cited and closer to the root of our problems:

    Ignorance, complacency, and apathy.

    There is next-to-nothing when it comes to support for campus ministry from the Orthodox churches here in America. Lip service is paid occasionally, but on the ground level there is profound disconnection on the importance of providing our college students with the resources and support they need in college. All of us who are involved with campus ministry have heard the same thing from those who ought to be supporting the ministry:

    Ignorance: “Oh, I thought OCF was huge and well-funded. No? How can I be involved?”

    Complacency and Apathy: “Well, college kids do what they do. They’ll come back to the Church eventually. They’ll be fine.”

    And no matter how much we tell those same people “No, OCF is not huge or well-funded, but here’s how you can be involved or help.” and “No, the statistics plainly show that our college kids are NOT returning. Not even close.”, we get hardly any change in behavior or response. The parents, the clergy—yes even the bishops who we interact with—so few are willing to make the change/be the change necessary to make campus ministry what it ought to be.

    Campus ministry is quite simply not on the radar of the average parish. But again, this is still not getting to the core of the issue, because something far more preeminent is not on the radar of the average parish: raising children actively, intentionally, and knowledgably in the Ancient Faith, and firstly doing these things ourselves.

    That’s the core issue, Andrew. And it can be applied to each and every one of those statistics.

    Would you not agree that an 18-year-old should be knowledgeable, active, and free-willingly intentional in the Orthodox Faith by this age, if not earlier? Should not regular (at least weekly) church attendance already be understood and confirmed by then? Should not their Orthodox worldview already have its foundational understandings in place? Should not their prayer life be one that they take personal responsibility for? You’ve cited the statistic that shows none of these are the case, and yet you jump to blame it on campus ministry…really?

    Who here would contend that an 18-year-old about to enter college should not already be properly formed and equipped to own their Orthodox faith? The challenges, antagonism, temptations, and difficulties they will face in college are ones that require this to already be in place. It is only by the grace of God—not by excellence of campus ministry—that a college student without these foundations already in place is able to begin owning them and not fall away.

    College, and I would argue even before then, is as the parable goes when the waters rise and show whether a college student’s life in Christ has been built on the Rock, the sand, or has not built at all. It is the time of testing. The time of building must happen before. The time of sowing must happen before.

    Andrew, you asked me if I have ever heard of the 15th chapter of Luke. You’re assuming that because I assert that college students falling away are already casualties long before, that I do not believe we should do everything to go after them and bring them home. You are quite mistaken. Indeed, it is why I got involved with Orthodox Christian Fellowship to begin with. It is why I love College Conference West; I cannot even begin to account for the students who arrive at CC West feeling disillusion, doubt, and strangers to the faith they were raised in, yet leave being transformed by the mystical experience of Christ and His Body found there. They don’t even know how to describe the experience, but many of them would without reservation say that God, through OCF’s CC West, saved them and brought them home. I am more frustrated than you that such an amazing, mystical, and transformative experience is not made known or available to so many more college students. As the organization stands, we’ve done everything we can to change that. But that change requires the active involvement of our bishops, our clergy, and our parishes.

    We have reached out to all of them. The biggest response is silence.

    So, Andrew, how would you yield better results? How would you get responses and change from the hierarchy, the clergy, and the laity? Indeed, the Canonical Assembly of Bishops (OCF is a ministry directly under them, by the way) are the ones who released the report mentioned. What are they doing about it? Have they come together and made a plan to make the necessary changes at all the required levels? If they choose to do nothing of substance, can you still implement your ideas of reform for campus ministry? Many priests are overwhelmed and do not have enough time to properly dedicate to campus ministry. Some do not care enough to bother. How will you change that? Hire several staff workers to work on campuses? OCF has longed to do so. Where will the money come from?

    You see, Andrew, what you’ve brought up and the recommendations you’ve made are nothing new. Everyone at OCF knows these problems, and we’ve all strategized on how to change it. In fact, most of them are waiting to be implemented. We’ve done our very best to change what is in our power to do so. But both the changes we desire and the changes you’ve put forth require a re-posturing on a Church-wide level in America. It requires every single person who calls themselves Orthodox to change what they do at an organizational and behavioral level. In short, I am saying a healthy and robust campus ministry can only come from a healthy and robust Church at large.

    The statistics you’ve cited and the Pew Research results I’ve cited say otherwise: the Church in America is not healthy. When almost half to a majority of self-identifying Orthodox hold worldviews in harmony with Modernity and Progress and not according the Holy Wisdom of the Ancient Faith, we can see that we have a much deeper problem than feeble campus ministry on our hands. It shows us that at the most fundamental day-to-day living, it is not the Life of the Church that is feeding, forming, and catechizing us—no, it is the World. Individualism, the worship of Self, careerism, progress, materialism—all these cancerous and anti-Christian elements are pervading the individual’s, the family’s, and the parish’s life, and they compete directly against a life formed by prayer, liturgical worship, cultivation of the virtues, study and imitation of the Saints, etc. The World does not discriminate based on age either; it is forming and catechizing from day one unless actively countered by the parents and parish. So it becomes quite obvious that by the time one turns 18 and is finishing high school, plenty of formation has already happened, and not by the Church.

    So that is why I take issue with your article, Andrew. How can you begin to tackle the very real issue of campus ministry and college apostasy without first tackling the greater issue of how apostasy pervades the Church as a whole? If campus ministry was a blip in an otherwise healthy and robust Church showing itself resilient to the zeitgeist, we could continue such a simplistic dialogue as you have begun. But we cannot, because doing so is an exercise in arrogance and futility. You cannot separate one from the other.

    When I first entered Orthodoxy several years ago, I saw all these problems in the Orthodox Church; I had all my opinions on how to fix them, and I let everyone know it. Well, my spiritual father caught wind of me ‘telling it like it is’, and he said these words to me:

    “What you see are real problems in the Church. But I tell you right now: if you come into the Church with an agenda, you are working for the devil. Your work here is to repent and be transformed by the Holy Spirit, nothing more. It is His job to change the Church, and He can only use those who have fully submitted themselves to Him.”

    This is truth. Made evident by the Saints themselves.

    Better programs, better organizations, better ministries—they will not fix our problems or act as a saving net. Transformation begins at the individual level through repentance and living the Life of the Church. From there, the same applied at the family level. Then at the parish level. Then the diocese level. And so on. Like I said before, re-organizing without transformation is just re-applying external bandages to internal hemorrhaging wounds.

    So if we’re going to dialogue, let’s start at the appropriate place. Let’s talk heart surgery before we talk stitches.

  5. Christ is risen! So, I kind of feel like there’s a certain amount of inside baseball here in the comments. For my part, I never went to College Conference or anything like that, but I was the chair of an OCF chapter at a school that had a huge, diverse international student crowd but where the “nearby” parish wasn’t exactly nearby and didn’t really have the resources to focus on OCF. We were pretty isolated from other parishes and our jurisdiction in general. From where I sat, OCF as a parent organization wasn’t exactly helpful; the Vocations exercise got us a free pizza, sure, but things like the Connect Kits seemed poorly thought through — $600 to make sure everybody in a chapter of 15 active students gets one is a chunk of change for a small parish, and there’s no good reason that swag like mini water bottles need to be $10-$13/ea unless you’re buying them in such small quantities that you’re not getting the break you should be. So, our OCF chapter was pretty much on its own in terms of the parish and the national org. The students wanted to do things like invite speakers, which, as a small parish, they couldn’t afford being as small as it was, and they also wanted to hold events like haflis, which the largely-convert parish wasn’t comfortable with. Money was tricky overall because the parish needed gifts to support their annual budget, not the OCF chapter, and since the parish was relatively young (founded in the ’80s), there wasn’t much of an alumni network to draw on. The priest had no real time to give us in terms of leadership, and I remember a parish council meeting where I was told that it would be cheaper overall for the parish to spin off a mission that served the university specifically than for the parish to try to do a comprehensive job of serving the university from the distance they were at. We needed a different model in general, and it was difficult to find one that worked.

    I don’t know what that means in terms of the rethinking you’re talking about, Andrew, but it’s part of what informs the piece that I wrote, at least.

  6. There are various problems and inaccuracies with this article (the ministry is called Orthodox CHRISTIAN Fellowship, not Orthodox Campus Fellowship), but the main one is this:

    Andrew, you have done all your homework regarding the statistics on Orthodox college students falling away and the decline of OCF as a presence, but your description of OCF is highly inaccurate, and your conclusion misleading–as if OCF isn’t doing any of those things.

    As an OCF alumni of 4 years and Student Leadership Board member for two of those years, I can quite confidently say that OCF is not in the business of “polite conformity”, it does “get messy” with the issues, and it most certainly does more than “dispense information”.

    You’ve created a straw-man of OCF, basically.

    Have you even talked with students impacted by OCF? Have you read their reflections on OCF’s blog section about their experiences? Have you spoken with those two national staff members you mentioned? Have you been to College Conference West? Have you gone on a Real Break trip? You sure have a lot to say about what OCF needs to be doing, but quite obviously you did zero research in actually asking or experiencing what OCF already does. If you had, you would have found your conclusions redundant.

    Where you are ultimately misguided, Andrew, is in blaming OCF for the falling away of Orthodox college students–as if everything was going just fine until our graduated seniors hit the university campus. If you want to know why the statistics are abysmal regarding OCF’s ability to impact and retain the Church’s college-age youth, look no further than what is happening, or better to say, NOT happening in the parish and the family home the 18 years before those Orthodox students ever set foot on campus. No amount and intensity of college campus ministry will ever make up for the Faith not being lived and taught at home and in the parish. Our youth are falling away and losing the faith, not because OCF isn’t doing a good enough job, but because they were not given the foundation of the Faith to begin with.

    We don’t need to “rethink” Orthodox campus ministry. What we need to rethink is our lack of living the Ancient Faith and actively transmitting it to our children from the get-go.

    1. Thank you Patrick for your comment. It should be noted that unlike OCF blogs and social media, diverse opinions are welcome here. I want to assure you that as an alumni of OCF and College Conference East, I have the direct experience you claim I am lacking. I have also had years of disappointing contact with campus ministry leaders. Now that being said, it should be said that your feelings are not the sole measure of the health and well being of campus ministry. In my article, I meticulously document numerous facts many of which are from our bishops themselves. I know these facts do not align with your feelings and sentimental vision of OCF but they are still true nonetheless.

      And the facts make it clear we need to re-think campus ministry.

      1. Andrew, you meticulously document numerous facts, but you wrongly blame them solely on campus ministry.

        Every single fact you document in this article can, and must, first be attributed to the environment these students were in BEFORE they ever went to college.

        For example:

        ” Only half of campus ministry student leaders take seriously the essential Orthodox Church practice of regular church attendance and agree with the statement: ʺI think the person has to go to the church regularly to be a good Orthodox Christian; ʺ ”
        Honestly, Andrew, do you think that half took it seriously before college? Where do you think they got that idea from? Please.

        “Campus ministry chapters face a precarious existence and are in perpetual flux (p5). 29% of chapters report less than 5 members. 73% of chapters report less than 10 members (p14).”
        Yes, it’s called being a small religious minority in America and being drastically underfunded or not at all by the churches of the bishops in charge of this report.

        “Among Orthodox student leaders, 44% believe that how one lives is more important than being Orthodox.” Again, guess where this attitude was born: in the homes and in the parishes. Before college.

        “…years of disappointing contact with campus ministry leaders.” As in, students, priests, who?

        Orthodox Christian Fellowship is simply working with what it is given, and that is this: a Church ripe with nominalism, ethnicism, the zeitgeist of Modernity, and apathy. And it is also working with what it’s not given: proper funding.

        Take a look at the most recent Pew Research Center survey: http://www.pewforum.org/files/2015/11/201.11.03_RLS_II_full_report.pdf

        This isn’t just college age Orthodox Christians, this is overall:
        52% say religion is very important to them
        61% are certain of God’s existence
        68% think other religions lead to salvation
        27% look to their religion for questions of ‘right and wrong’
        33% believe there are absolute moral standards
        31% attend services weekly
        57% pray daily
        62% accept homosexuality as a societal norm
        54% support SSM
        53% believe abortion should be legal
        And so on…

        So, Andrew, the facts reside with what I have rightfully pointed out: this is a church-wide problem, not an OCF one. OCF just happens to be the last attempt in the overall failure of the Orthodox Church’s members to properly catechize and show by example their young on the Ancient Faith. Apparently, what seems based on your own subjective negative experience of OCF (which is no more valid than my positive experiences), you’ve chosen to single it out as the one thing that needs “rethinking”.

        If you have a problem with OCF, that’s fine. But blaming it solely for the mass exodus and apostatizing of Orthodox college adults is just absurd and is turning a blind eye to everything that comes before it.

        I love OCF, despite all it’s shortcomings, just as I love the Church. Because OCF is part of the Church. I want it to do all the things you say it should do, and have the proper support and funding behind it to make that possible. But not anymore than I want the Church at large to be doing all the things it should be doing but isn’t. If we, in theory, were able to have this flawless campus ministry you speak of, it would be a glorious bandage on a wound that is hemorrhaging internally. All the statistics you listed are symptoms of everything that’s wrong/missing before a student ever sets foot on campus.

        Perhaps you should put your efforts to rethinking what comes before campus ministry first.

        1. Patrick, I appreciate your passion and commitment for Orthodox College Students but I am standing by the facts as they are. Healthy Orthodox Stewardship means evaluating the health of a ministry by its results rather than its intentions. Healthy Orthodox leadership means dealing with reality as it is not reality as we would like it to be. Sure, you can blame families for the problems of campus ministry but the more Orthodox approach to this problem is to see things as they are and make changes that are very much needed.

          Today, college students who participate in campus ministry represent less than 2 in every 1000 Orthodox Christians who attend church regularly. The reality is that if there is no major course correction and rethinking of campus ministry then campus ministry will continue to decline and fade away. Ultimately, the casualties will be college students themselves.

          Nobody wants to see this happen.

          1. Standing by the facts means appropriately applying them to the actual cause.

            These statistics are not the result of campus ministry’s efforts. They are the result of everything that is happening/not happening beforehand.

            How do you not see that?

            Having actually served on the Student Leadership Board, worked closely with the OCF’s staff workers, spoken with board members and its residing bishop, etc. I did see things exactly as they are: board members working to ramp down rather than ramp up the ministry, the meager annual budget that isn’t even half of my own parishes yearly operating expenses, the struggles of students trying to start chapters but getting no support, clergy hurting the chapters they are in charge of rather than helping—I saw it all. But what I also see is amazing and devout Orthodox Christians giving their all for their love of Christ and His Church, despite everything being against them. The reality is that, yes OCF could use a lot of help–no one denies that–but a totally revamped and fully supported/funded OCF will hardly make a dent in those statistics if the changes are not made at the parish and family level.

            You’re grinding an axe with OCF, all-the-while ignoring the bigger picture here, Andrew.

            College campus ministry is meant to support that which has already been sustained leading up to college, not act as a saving net for kids whose parents and parishes have failed to produce young Orthodox Christians who own their faith. College students who fall away don’t become casualties, they already were long before they ever stepped foot on campus. I did a lot of outreach during my two years as a student leader. The biggest blockade I came across? Apathy. Campus ministry can’t fix apathy, Andrew.

            Let’s be honest: do you really think a robust campus ministry has the power to remedy the catastrophic deficit of discipleship and catechism? Indeed, the severe lack of daily living the life of the Church that pervades so many of our parishes? This is reality as it is, yet you choose to pick a bone with one particular ministry whose staff workers and student leaders work tirelessly to serve the Church, despite the opposition and lack of support from all sides.

            Such naivete astounds me.

            1. Patrick, I am happy to respond to your latest comment. Flannery O’Connor writes “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it” This certainly applies when one is confronted with a 114 page scientific study published by the assembly of bishops that you choose to ignore to the detriment of the health of Orthodox College Students.

              Here is a bonus fact that I am happy to share that was not included in my original article. The May 4, 2010 OCF press release cites 270 OCF Chapters, however the Assembly of bishops report (p5) which was produced in 2015 states that there are only 138 chapters. What accounts for the nearly 50% drop in chapters during this period?

              All the more concerning are your words”
              “Board members working to ramp down rather than ramp up the ministry”

              “Clergy hurting the chapters they are in charge of”

              “students trying to start chapters but getting no support”

              “opposition and lack of support on all sides”

              “catastrophic deficit of discipleship of catechism”

              It sure sounds like there is no shortage of problems within campus ministry. Chaos is perhaps a better word. This is certainly a testimony to the serious need to rethink campus ministry. Maybe we think alike after all?

              Most troubling though is the following comment of yours,
              “College students who fall away don’t become casualties, they already were long before they ever stepped foot on campus.” Have you ever heard of Luke Chapter 15?

              OCF is a ministry not a campus social club. This is the central problem today and this more than anything is why the ministry is on the verge of slipping away while people blame others for its problems.

              We belong to a Church where 12 Apostles changed the civilized world armed only with the Gospel. Certainly, campus ministry can be renewed by sharing in this witness. Yes, things can change. They need to change.

              But the question before those who claim leadership is whether or not they have the humility to change for the sake of those they serve and those who have lost their way.

              I would like to make an offer to you. I very much appreciate your passion for this issue and would like to invite you to contribute to this blog on the topic of Orthodox College students. A lively discussion is good for all involved and your concerns certainly can benefit from more writing and reflection.

              1. Yes, Patrick and Andrew, I believe you really do have common concerns here – and nobody wants to see the declines mentioned in the article continuing. There are two OCFs – the local one on campus struggling for existence, and the Bigger one – that has a certain organization, and leadership and commitment level – and students who get to that level are much more involved in Conferences, Real Break, etc. But it doesn’t filter down well to the local level.

                For me, the scary thing is that Andrew’s original quotes were regarding the attitudes of the student LEADERS about attending church, etc. Which only perpetuates the wrong message to all students and the posture of the local OCF organization. It’s often a ‘fellowship’ – more in the sense of social club than the biblical ‘koinonia’ which was an expression of the apostolic Church in its fullness. (Don’t we decry the social club church model elsewhere in the Church?)
                Now, thankfully, as I note in my comment earlier, where I have served, the student leaders have Led – amazingly so, with excellence, to where the OCF has provided ministry to other students and introduced non-Orthodox students to the Church, providing rides, sharing information, and yes – through social interactions which are so key to what ‘works’ on campus.
                What is needed, I believe, is a two fold approach – where the Church-established (institutional) provides a consistent framework of ministry in the campus context – time, place, trained presence, prayer, instruction, sacraments, ministry, outreach, evangelism, funds, etc. Side by side, is what OCF tends to be now – student driven, dynamic, responsive and open to reach out to other students, grow through encounters like retreats and Real Break, and experience on a personal level the love of Christ through mutual relationships. It needs both – the first to sustain the second. The second to energize and make meaningful the first. This was the experience of the early Church as well – taking ‘charism-driven’ communities and strengthening them through apostolic teaching and discipline, providing support (including $ – 2 Cor) and sustaining structures. This foundation, is what I see as both needed, and probably in many cases (save where parishes are parked next door to campus) lacking.
                As a final point regarding OCF funding commitment – think about how quickly former OCF students, so vibrantly connected in college, melt away into the fabric of society, and perhaps many even lose touch with the Church. They are immersed in new worlds that are demanding and challenging and distracting – and I just have to trust that their faith, strengthened in college, can sustain them. But they rarely look backward. As a Church – remembering is really important. And the blessings of God through OCF need to be sustained. I’m not in OCF circles, but I wonder if there are alumni associations that are effective in re-gathering students (in Thanksgiving) and encouraging those who have been so blessed to share the blessing with others. For 15 yrs I’ve tried to encourage student leaders to so organize alumn – but it hasn’t happened. They’ve moved on. Yet, I’m sure there will be little difference between the OCF students from other students, regarding their donations back to the University ($Thousands), especially the athletic programs, and the trips back to campus will be for the homecoming football game, where there will be no mention of OCF. I know a few who keep in touch, and do try to get together as alumni – but if you want to actually do something about the money – I think the alumni model is the way to go. Again – it will take an ‘institutional – organizational’ effort to get it going, and sustain it, and we’re back to part 1…. frr

  7. The issue, in my view, is two-fold. We can trace most of the issues in the OCF to the same issue as most of our ministry efforts – money, or rather, the lack thereof.

    The second is that by waiting to college, we are simply waiting too late. If our children do not “own” their own faith – meaning practice our faith by their own decision and choice – before the middle of high school, we’re basically working without a foundation.

    It further may extend back to family life, or rather the lack of faith within family life. We have to ask our selves tough questions – do our kids see us (as adults) pursuing holiness, or worldly success? Service or seeking to be served?

  8. Lifting the lid on Orthodox Campus ministry reveals not only a decline of dedicated resources (human, financial, other) to this unique and important ministry, but accompanying that, a spiritual decline and critical loss of our next generation of believers and leaders in the Church. Serving in a parish which has, at varies times and levels of commitment, served two different college campuses, I’ve formed some impressions of how these wonderful young people can be quickly submerged in a social/academic milieu which can subtly but powerfully overcome even a firmly laid foundation of faith in their families and home parishes. The OCF model itself is seriously flawed because, being student-led/driven, it cannot address the natural ebb and flow of student interest and commitment. Ironically, due to the rapid changes happening in students’ lives, there is all the more need for a stable (but flexible) presence from the institutional Church, providing consistency in time, place and personnel to work with students in support of their spiritual growth in an ongoing way. Most local parishes/pastors are in no position, or have no interest, in providing a truly sustainable presence on campus – so activities can often be hit-and-miss. Gifted campus ministers can be trained and blessed (with or without formal ordination) to serve as an anchor for the student ministry. The small numbers of Orthodox students further militates against continuity and growth of the ministry. I’ve attended ‘meetings’ when only one student showed up. This is very disheartening for students trying to make OCF ‘happen’. Many of our student leaders in our local OCFs have been outstanding, and committed both to the OCF ministry, and to their own spiritual growth and service in the broader Church. Despite such a powerful witness, the majority of students never attend (or even hear of?) OCF, or a local parish, remaining tethered to the Faith only through their ‘home’ parish, as Orthodox-from-a-distance. As that distance grows in time, and place, the tether grows weaker and weaker.

    Renewal – a good word, is needed….now.

    frr

    1. Thank you, Fr. Robert, for everything you’ve said, both in this comment and in the response on my other comment.

      You are absolutely right about there being two OCF’s and that one at the local level is the one that suffers. We need the support, cooperation, and funding to change that. All things we don’t have.

      You said this:
      “What is needed, I believe, is a two fold approach – where the Church-established (institutional) provides a consistent framework of ministry in the campus context – time, place, trained presence, prayer, instruction, sacraments, ministry, outreach, evangelism, funds, etc. Side by side, is what OCF tends to be now – student driven, dynamic, responsive and open to reach out to other students, grow through encounters like retreats and Real Break, and experience on a personal level the love of Christ through mutual relationships. It needs both – the first to sustain the second. The second to energize and make meaningful the first. This was the experience of the early Church as well – taking ‘charism-driven’ communities and strengthening them through apostolic teaching and discipline, providing support (including $ – 2 Cor) and sustaining structures. This foundation, is what I see as both needed, and probably in many cases (save where parishes are parked next door to campus) lacking.”

      Absolutely. And as we know, the former is not supporting the latter sufficiently.

      As for alumni support, OCF is working on that right now. Per usual, we are working with a shoe-string budget to do so, but we must plow with the oxen we’re given.

      Your experience and observation of OCF is very accurate from my perspective. I appreciate your input.

Leave a Reply