It’s that time of year: high school seniors are donning caps and gowns and graduating! It’s both exciting and scary — a whole new life is about to unfold, as we send them out into the unknown.
Whether kids are heading to faraway universities or staying home and taking classes nearby, there’s a whole new lifestyle to negotiate. They’re growing up. We know that our goal has been to raise up saints, to help cultivate a faith that is truly their own… and now the rubber hits the road. Now they’re going to have more and more autonomy, making their own decisions about attending church services and observing fasts, and saying their prayers.
On his way out of the house, Fr. Tom Hopko of blessed memory, tells us that his mother gave him simple advice:
Remember God. Go to church. Say your prayers.
Let’s give them the same advice, and know that if we have raised them to have a heart that turns to God in times of need, then they’ll take that heart into the world.
Over the coming weeks, after the parties settle down, parents will help their fledgling adults collect the supplies they need to stock dorm rooms or apartments. They’ll make lists of bulletin boards and sheets, mini-refrigerators and posters. Make sure that there’s a Bible on that list, and a prayerbook and an icon or two.
In all of our flurry to get them set up wherever they are going, let us not forget the one thing needful: where will they go to church?
Sometimes we do it backwards. We get them set up with housing and supplies, books and schedules, and we assume that after a period of adjustment and transition, they’ll have time to go see the nearest church and attend services.
Have you ever heard of the First Forty Days?
Studies show that the habits formed in the first forty days of college (or of any new lifestyle, I’m sure) will be the habits that stick all year. If a student falls into the rhythm of Tuesdays at the library, that’s how their Tuesdays will be. After those first forty days, it’s hard to create a new habit, like a weekly OCF meeting or Vespers service.
A lot can happen in forty days. Ask Noah. God flooded the whole world in forty days, and everything was changed when He was finished.
So before school starts, let’s put first things first: before we pick out sheets and corkboards, let’s get them set up with a spiritual support system. Go to ocf.net and find out if their school has an OCF chapter — OCF stands for Orthodox Christian Fellowship, and it’s the official college ministry program under the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. Their mission is to connect students to the Church with campus fellowship groups who worship and socialize together. In addition, they offer College Conferences and Real Break domestic and international service projects.
If a student’s school does not have an OCF chapter, look around online: where’s the nearest Orthodox church? My godson is headed to a smaller school without an OCF presence, so I’ve already emailed the local priest, letting him know that there’s a great kid on his way to town. Into his graduation card, I’ll be tucking information about his new parish.
Parents and godparents, grandparents and friendly aunts and uncles can all send emails like this. Sunday School Directors should consider it part of the job description — after all, why would we send them out when they finish Sunday School without directing them to the next step? I think every Sunday School Director should write an email to the new priest, copying the parents and the student, making introductions. Begin with, I’d like to introduce a wonderful high school graduate who will be coming your way in the Fall… and finish with, what is the usual schedule of weekly services, and what information or advice can you give us about getting settled into the parish (or OCF chapter) when school begins?
If there is an OCF on campus, you’ll find the chapter information at ocf.net and email the priest listed as the chapter contact. Don’t be shy. This is important.
A lot of OCF chapters don’t update the information on the national site very often, and they aren’t great about their other websites either. In my experience, the OCF chapter’s Facebook page has the most up-to-date information, and will help you find a way to get students introduced. Parents and students should follow those pages now, and check them a week or two before school starts. There’s probably a back-to-school party full of Orthodox kids, waiting to meet the latest arrivals.
Here’s a great blog post from the Orthodox College Fellowship’s Christina Andresen and on their national site you’ll also find a page where you can submit incoming student contact information to help get them connected with their school’s chapter.
And when parents move their kids into new dorms and tour the campus, be sure to stay for Sunday. Go to liturgy. Introduce your kiddo around, talk to the priest. Ask people personally to watch out for your kid. You’ll be surprised at how happily they’ll do it.
Congratulations to the graduates, and may Christ and His Holy Church be right there with you through these exciting years! And Congratulations to their families and teachers on a job well done.