Every year Orthodox Christian Fellowship, which is the official campus ministry of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, hosts a Conference for college students at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA during the students’ winter break. It is called College Conference East because there is also when out West. This year’s theme was “Modern Martyrs: Witnesses of the Word”. Students discussed and learned how they can be witnesses for Christ on their college campuses and in the world around them. Students participated in church services, service projects, fellowship activities, and workshop sessions as part of their scheduled time. In all, over 300 college students from all over the country came to this year’s Conference.
My portion of the Conference included a brief 24 hour stay at the Village. This was in part due to the work being done at Camp Nazareth, and in part due to being “under the weather” at the time of the Conference. That means that I cannot tell you from first-hand experience what it was (and is) like at the Conference. I leave it to you to read our students’ write-ups about the Conference. They are excellent and inspiring, and they illustrate the reasons we should absolutely be funding our students so that they can attend College Conference EVERY year. I leave it also to you to think about why our Bishop makes it a point to attend the entire Conference every year…He knows well the work to be done in that part of the Lord’s vineyard, and how his presence there makes a difference, by the grace of God, in the lives of our college students.
For my part, I can tell you that for the brief time I was there I realized how necessary College Conference is in the life of our college students. You can read the write-ups, but teaching the students, listening to their questions, listening to them sing in Church, worshipping with them, seeing them in the presence of the Kardiotissa (the Myrrh-streaming icon of the Mother of God from Taylor, PA), and simply talking with them left me with the impression that our students not only need what College Conference provides, but they actually desire it. And that is really the wonder of it. Isn’t so much of our complaint against college students that they go after and get what they DON’T need at College, and the things they really DO need at college, they don’t want and don’t take seriously? But at College Conference, what they DO need and what they actually WANT come together. The best part is that it all centers on our Faith!
I could tell you about the schedule, which is rigorous and has all the elements college students need (teaching, worship, fun, service and fellowship), and I could describe in detail the activities that took place while I was there, but really the most important part of the Conference to me is simply that our college students (who are at a critical moment in their lives – fighting through the pressures of school and trying to find where their place is in the world) actually WANT the good, the Faith, the fellowship, the spirituality that College Conference gives them. At a time when we and our kids want things we don’t need, and so often care little about what we really do need, at College Conference I believe our college students truly find “the one thing needful” because they want it, and God responds to their desire. In my estimation, that is a program, an event, that needs to be supported, and we need to do what we can as parents, as parishes, and as a Diocese to both encourage our students to attend and help them to do so.
It is worth noting that thanks to the generosity of one of our Diocesan parishioners, 17 of our Diocesan College Students were able to attend the 2015 College Conference East. Along with 3 non-diocesan students who worked this past year at Camp Nazareth.
The participation of our Diocesan college student has increased dramatically over the past several years.
Three years ago we had only 8 students attend, and before that zero since the early 1990’s when we had 1 or 2 students attend College Conference. Given the declining population trends in many of our parishes, this is an encouraging sign that a greater number of our Diocesan students are being fed each year with the “one thing needful” while they’re at OCF’s College Conference.