By Michael Andrzejewski
College is an important time of transition in the life of any young person. It is a time when one first begins to enjoy some form of independence and must identify his or her values and choose how one should uphold them. It is a critical period of decision-making in life and if one chooses to not make the church part of their life at that point, it will only become more and more difficult to do so. This is one reason why campus ministry is so important, helping our young adults make that choice.
I know for myself personally, and for many others, it did indeed become the time in my life when I decided to be a practicing Orthodox Christian. I had grown up attending Liturgy every Sunday, but I found that I knew very little about my faith and what made it different than the other denominations of Christianity. This humbling realization occurred after my first few meetings of the Orthodox group on my campus. I had been initially hesitant in participating in this group because I, like most college students, am weary of dogmatic positions and seemingly hypocritical and judgmental pronouncements. It turned out to be very much the opposite. There were discussions on complex parts of Orthodox theology, references to historical events within the church, and quotations from church fathers I had never heard. I found this all to be very intellectually stimulating as well as spiritually edifying, as I began to understand my faith and its fullness. Without campus ministry I would never have ignited the passion for my faith that I now possess
I was blessed enough to have a stable chapter of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship at my school (University of Connecticut), but unfortunately there are many schools that do not have one. Ours followed the simple of premise of meeting at a local coffee shop with the chapter paying for the coffee. We were also joined by one or two of the local priests and even occasionally our local bishop. Their presence meant a great deal to me since it showed that they cared about building a relationship with us as students, even in the midst of their own busy lives. They were also able to relate to us without speaking to us as if we were children. The connection to local parishes that flowed from the involvement of local clergy also motivated me because I could see how our group made a difference, whether it was singing in the choir, cleaning, or hosting coffee hour. Parishioners were also interested in hearing about our studies and plans for the future, which showed an active interest in and concern for us as members of their greater family in Christ. The bishop, the priests, the parishes all helped us to feel that we were part of the greater church as a whole and in communion with all other Orthodox Christians everywhere; something we can easily forget as we get caught up in our own routines and the distractions in the bubble of campus life.
The college campus is a perfect environment for ministry, but it is easy to be discouraged with all the behavior that is associated with college culture. Despite the constant presence of these temptations, however, part of the culture of college is also discovery and inquiry. Students are asking the important questions of life and why things happen or what’s really important. I think for me, the best answers were not ones spoken to me, but rather the examples of what I saw. There is something immensely powerful about seeing a group of college students that made the choice to consistently get to Liturgy every Sunday, especially when many of them may came from families where that is not the norm. They made it a priority in their week the plug into the sacramental life of the greater Church. Even at the end of the undergraduate experience it is never too late for college ministry. In fact, I found it most important then as I was attempting to discover my spiritual vocation that God has for me, as well as planning for my professional occupation, and whether or not they could line up with each other.
I am reminded of an experience my senior year of meeting another student at the involvement and activities fair for campus organizations. He happened to be tabling for his organization next to where my fraternity was tabling, and he started talking to me about his interest in Orthodoxy. He had recognized me from our OCF chapter’s poster board and by the Cross I was wearing. It was a memorable experience, someone had actually read our board, and I had an opportunity to share with someone else all the knowledge and experiences that campus ministry had given to me. He was also overjoyed to find a group of people his age who were actually interested in their faith and had a forum to discuss it. He started attending our meetings and ultimately ended up being baptized into the Orthodox faith. Initially, coming from staunch atheism, having an Orthodox group on campus was something he was incredibly grateful for. It provided him with a group of peers who could relate to the same struggles that he was having, an “Orthodox Support Group”. It further provided the group with new questions and topics to discuss as we all remembered our own reasons for embracing faith in a God who loves us and is personally involved in our lives.
Overall, campus ministry is a crucial ministry of the Church because college is more and more a crucial part of life for most people in our culture.