Our greatest hope is that when one of our children walks into a church far, far away that God is watching over them and that some special person is taking care of them as one of their own. What we sometimes forget is that we may be that special person for someone else’s child far, far from home. The Youth Ministry Program may be prepared to welcome students in many ways.
Keep in mind that when a young adult enters your parish for the first time they enter with shyness, self-consciousness and the desire to feel welcome. The college and young adult years are a time of self-discovery, that discovery may manifest itself in experimentation with fashion, hair color, and body piercing to name a few. Do not judge these young adults by these outward expressions of independence. What we are concerned with is the delicate soul on the inside. If your parish has a certain expectation of dress, approach the situation with care and compassion.
If your parish has a particular practice concerning receiving of Holy Communion or Confession, gently inform the student so they may be saved any embarrassment or confusion. We want to utilize every opportunity to bring our young people closer to Christ and not a step away. Keep in mind that the students who may be visiting may come from another Orthodox tradition (Greek, Antiochian, Serbian, etc.) and the traditions of your parish may seem a bit foreign.
- Things to include in your Welcome Package
- Icon card with the name, address, phone number of your parish and name of your priest on the back.
- A brochure or flyer that tells about your parish, its history, times for services, web address, etc.
- Information about the organizations in your parish, when they meet and what they do (UOL, YAL, Youth Ministry, Sisterhood, Brotherhood, Sporting Groups, Youth Groups, Dance Group etc.)
- Names and phone numbers of people that are able to drive them to and from services or parish events.
- Information about Orthodoxy and the Orthodox Church (not all college students who wander through our doors may be Orthodox).
- Bus and subway schedules for buses that have stops near your parish with the stops highlighted.
- Gift card to a local eatery (Panera, Starbucks, etc)
Additional information that you find important or useful.
A great way to reach out to local college students is to support your local OCF (Orthodox Christian Fellowship) Chapter. You can invite the OCF chapter for a special meal hosted by your parish, provide a space for the students to meet, offer rides to services or send them care packages full of goodies. To see if there is an OCF at a college or university near your parish, visit www.ocf.net.
Ensure that the visiting student is introduced to your priest. You may also want to introduce them to parishioners who may be able to drive them to and from services. When visiting somewhere new, it is often comforting to meet individuals with similar background and interests. Introduce students to parishioners of similar age, interests or background (such as introduce a education student to a parishioner who is a teacher.)
A college student may attend your parish for a year or more. This may be a wonderful blessing to them and your parish. They are sure to have many talents and gifts. Invite them to participate in all aspects of a parish life. They may enjoy aiding with the church school program or youth group, working on parish social media or helping out at a parish festival. Discover their interests and talents and offer them the opportunity to give them back to Christ and His Church. Keep in mind, however, that they are also in school and their time may be limited. Always offer and be ready for when they can give.
Students may also just need a break from school and studies. You may be able to establish a mentor program, pairing parishioners with a student to help them with studies, take them to lunch or just be a friend.
Remember, some college students will return home upon graduation, while others may remain in the city that is their new home. Either way, your parish may send them home loved, cared for and ready to serve in their home parish or you may just have a new member of your own parish family!