The Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) Summer Leadership Institute trains nearly fifty college students each year to serve their local campuses through OCF. Applicants to this program demonstrate a heart for service, desiring to "give back" to the OCF ministry that has had such a positive impact on them. Students explore what it means to be an Orthodox Christian as a leader in OCF, the Church, and the world. They are challenged through Christ's teaching to avoid ego-driven leadership, and instead take on the mindset of servant leadership, including a practice of generosity through the resources of their first jobs. As students explore the diverse Orthodox practices and cultures, they grow more united as the body of Christ and together take on some of the most pressing social issues we face in America.
As college graduates launch their careers, their first employers readily harness the value of those who received leadership training and practice in teamwork through service on the OCF Student Leadership Board. But are our parishes so quick to harness the gifts of these students? Christina offers some suggestions to both parish leaders and young emerging leaders to create opportunities for those capable college graduates who desire to serve the Church.
Christina Andresen, Director of Ministries for the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, shares how student leaders are trained to serve OCF ministries on their college campuses. She will be a featured speaker at the upcoming National Orthodox Advanced Leadership Conference which will focus on Investing in Emerging Leaders.
See the Full Episode Transcript.
Hollie Benton 0:12
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. I'm so excited to be interviewing Christina Andresen, director of ministries for Orthodox Christian Fellowship. Christina works alongside college students as they grow in faith and as leaders on campus in the church and in the world. She's a graduate of Texas A&M University, and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. In addition to OCF she is involved in parish ministries as a mentor for the young adult leadership team, a founding member of the sisterhood of St Xenia, and a member of Philoptochos. You can hear Christina on Ancient Faith radios pop culture coffee hour and Sirach, Meech & Teens. She and her husband who met on a Real Break trip, live in Dallas with their three children. Welcome Christina.
Christina Andresen 1:09
Thanks, Hollie, it's really great to be here with you.
Hollie Benton 1:11
And I'm so excited too. You're going to be speaking at the National Advanced Leadership Conference and our theme this year is"Generously Investing in Emerging Leaders" and you are going to be bringing your experience and learning that you've had with Orthodox Christian Fellowship to the table at that conference and we're gonna be so excited to have you there.
Christina Andresen 1:32
It will be my first time at St. Vladimir's which I'm very excited about and such a great opportunity to be with part of such a incredible panel of speakers that you have lined up.
Hollie Benton 1:41
So Christina You lead the training for the Student Leadership Board for OCF Orthodox Christian Fellowship. Tell us a little bit about the responsibilities for this board and how they're selected.
Christina Andresen 1:53
Sure. So, since about 2002, one of the components of the National Organization of OCF has been to have a student board used to be called the Student Advisory Board and we've made a very strategic change there in the name a few years ago to the Student Leadership Board, who have the opportunity to serve alongside the OCF staff and volunteers, to minister to their peers to bring resources, to lead programs that impact their peers. Currently our board is made up of 17 student leaders from all across the United States and Canada, and we're actually in the process of finding the 2021-2022 student leadership.
Hollie Benton 2:34
So in these applications are you noticing some common themes and motivations among the students who are applying to be on the Student Leadership Board for OCF?
Christina Andresen 2:44
That's a great question. You know we have students who are serving in three main areas: as regional leaders, as program leaders for our big programs like college conference and Real Break and then as content leaders so they create our podcasts and our blogs and social media those our YouTube channel, they're kind of responsible for that. So you do see certain students applying for things where they think their skill set might line up well, which is helpful for us but I think bigger than that, the themes that we see that really turned us on to someone as an applicant, are just a heart of service. People who say I want to give back to the organization that's given so much to me, that's very common to hear on applications, who are obviously very active in the life of the church the full life of the church, and then specifically in OCF maybe locally maybe nationally through programs, but who have really seen what the impact of this ministry can be. And then a third thing that I find very often in our applications a big theme is that they were personally impacted by the Ministry of a current student leadership board member or a former student leadership board member, it's very common for us to see and an application, I'm applying because I met Anna and Anna reached out to me and I wouldn't be the Christian I am if it hadn't been for her, and then her role as a student leadership board member and I find that to be really encouraging to see in applications.
Hollie Benton 4:10
Wow, that's really wonderful. So when students get there, how do you kick things off? What's your foundational scripture you use to ground your students through your leadership training? What vision do you set for them?
Christina Andresen 4:23
Our Summer Leadership Institute program is required for Student Leadership Board members, but just because I think this gets confusing for people sometimes it is actually open to other students as well. So we usually train a cohort of around 50 students, each summer, and 17 of those will be our incoming board. I mean I don't think you'll be surprised Hollie to hear you know the Scriptures we ground them in, we talk about John 13, which is the feet washing, and we ask the question of what's Peter think about leadership here? Okay, but what did Jesus say about it? And a similar question about James and John, in Mark 10, where they asked about being who's on the right hand and who's going to be on the left hand, the sense of who's going to have the most honor and Jesus kind of turns that on its head. And then I think the third big one is in Matthew 23, when Jesus is pointing out the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees and the heavy burdens they bind on people and the ego-driven leadership that they exemplify, and Jesus' counter to that.
And I think something that's really important that we emphasize especially in those first two readings is, these are the apostles, these are the disciples, these are the people following Jesus and they still have it completely wrong. That is a moment of humility for all of us who are looking for a position of leadership or who think we might be called to some kind of position of leadership in the church to say even Jesus's closest disciples were clueless about what it looked like and struggled to really adopt Jesus's vision of leadership and so that's the place we try to start is with countering the ego, in terms of leadership.
Hollie Benton 5:55
I love that. You know when people listen to stories or watch movies, we imagine ourselves as the heroes of those stories. But Scripture is so genius in the way it plays on that tendency to fantasize about being the hero in Scripture. It's the prostitute, it's the lame, it's the blind, those who are in need of God's mercy are shown to be the heroes or even the anti-heroes, if you will. Only God is the hero and providing that mercy and makes those who are in need of that mercy righteous, when they humble themselves and seek it. And this is the mindset that you bring to this servant leadership training which is wonderful. So tell us a little bit about what goes on at the training, what are some of the critical components in terms of content and shared experiences.
Christina Andresen 6:44
We often talk about the purpose of the Summer Leadership Institute, is to help young people explore what it means to be an orthodox leader in OCF, the church and the world. Everything that we do is geared towards that exploration. This program has been going on now for a while, but I really think it's coming into a form that I think is more repeatable and more sustainable now and what are the foundations, the skills, knowledge and practices that a young person should be seeking to acquire to take on a leadership role in OCF, the church, and in the world? We start always with your own spiritual life. We always start with some kind of topic that's around prayer obedience or service in a scriptural biblical, pay attention to yourself first. And then of course, servant leadership we talked a little bit about that we've had other guest speakers come in who have business world experience in terms of servant leadership to talk about what does that really look like as an Orthodox Christian. We always talk about self-evaluation, then also that in the context of building a team. I really think that people in this age group, this is like really the right time to really introduce self-reflection, and for them to also see how that might affect them as leaders of teams or as maybe not the leader of a team every time, being part of a group and how their own brokenness, their own talents, as well as weaknesses might impact a group. We always talk about generosity and giving. And a little bit of fundraising, which I think sometimes the college students are like why are we talking about this? But nobody's talking about this with college students, and if they are it's probably like the local on campus environmental group, which is great, but it's not the church, typically. And I did have a former student leader just say to me a couple weeks ago. "Yeah, I always thought that was a weird thing that we talked about at SLI, and then now that I have a job, and money I'm really grateful that we had that conversation, It's impacted the way I think about what I do with my income as a single person going out into the world for the first time."
Hollie Benton 8:49
Right, and that's actually the presentation topic you're going to be bringing to the National Conference is inspiring generosity and young people. Yeah, kind of framing up the conversation with those first jobs. God provides. so I give back in return I offer what God has already provided to me so I'm so grateful. What an exciting thing to hear that you're actually doing this with student leaders.
Christina Andresen 9:14
For the Student Leadership Board specifically they are actively involved in the fundraising for OCF while they're serving on the board too so it helps them have a little bit of confidence too I think when we do make them talk to other people about money, to know like "wait I already have an integrated sense that money and time and talent, these things are part of my spiritual life, they're not separate from it." That's really encouraging. We always cover pan-orthodoxy again a classic OCF things I guess you could say, because we're one of the only pan-orthodox agency of the Assembly that is inward facing, if that makes sense. Like we have pan-orthodox missions we have pan orthodox charities, but we're really the only one that says let's get all the Orthodox people from with all of their different baggage from where they came from, to sit at the table and really look at each other and say "We're one church and we're going to worship and pray and live and serve together." We have to name it, we have to name some of the hard stuff around that, we have to break down some of the assumptions people have around that so that's a big part of our training.
Hollie Benton 10:18
Yeah when we worked with OCF in Madison, one of the hallmark things that we did with our OCF was to intentionally go to other parishes, so that people who weren't Greek could see what it's like at an Antiochian parish or a Serbian parish or whatever and, and those students really valued that opportunity and even even churches that were in the same jurisdiction, you know, they, they each have their unique personalities and styles, it's a great opportunity to see what else is out there and other communities worship.
Christina Andresen 10:50
And it's really transformative to be a part of these conversations when you hear someone say, I didn't know an Arab person could be a Christian, or I had some Russian kids one year insist that Pascha baskets were not a Russian tradition that was just Orthodox. Like all the Greek kids in the room are like we don't know what you're talking about, you know, it just really, it's really good for them to have a chance to honor, we always are very honoring of traditional cultures where people are coming from in the ways that Orthodoxy has been expressed, and to also differentiate that and to understand how, when are these cultural practices iconographic that they're leading us through themselves and to Christ and when have they become idols and to take some time to think about that it's, I love having that conversation, one of my favorites.
And then the last two topics that we cover are always some kind of practical ministry: pastoral peacemaking, facilitating discussions, active listening, something along those lines that help them be a better person with people. And then finally, I've recently renamed this last category: Understanding our Context." When we talk about American Orthodox histories, how do we get where we are as specifically in the context of America. We talk about other religions and apologetics. This coming year we're going to be talking about the spiritual foundation of the civil rights movement in the United States and where Orthodoxy has or hasn't been a part of that narrative and where we should be speaking into it and this last area is really just a chance for students to maybe challenge the assumptions they have about who we are as American Orthodox Christians, as a minority in this country, as immigrants all these things, and to be able then to bring the light of Christ and the fullness of Orthodoxy, into the context we send them back into.
Hollie Benton 12:38
That's really ambitious, a great agenda lots of content. Do you have any stories that you'd like to share from particular students that you've seen develop through OCF who maybe have come in as freshmen and, you know eventually get on the student leadership board and then go out to make a difference as you said, serving the church and serving the world?
Christina Andresen 13:00
We have a current student leader who joined our board, the Student Leadership Board as a sophomore, which is not super common, typically juniors and seniors who are on the national board. She came in younger and has served two years in one position is, and is next year taking on a higher level position. She was reflecting in her application most recently for this current position about "how I was the typical college freshmen hadn't left church behind but I wasn't really the center of my life, maybe not necessarily getting into trouble but not making the best choices I could make about where at what I was doing with my time" and again, a friend who was on the board, reached out to her and said, you were part of this with me. It's just been amazing to see where she is. Three years later, Taking the lead of a national ministry when she would have said herself, freshman year she wasn't sure if she'd be Orthodox, that she would stay in the church because she wasn't really putting any emphasis on that. In general, one of my favorite things is really seeing when one of the students is willing to sacrifice their student experience for the sake of everyone else having a fruitful experience that's sometimes a hard transition for some of them to take to realize wow this is not going to be the college conference. They applied to lead the college conference because they had such a great time the year before, and then they realized, when they get there as the leader like, I'm not gonna get that experience. I will not be sleeping, I will probably miss half the content, I'll spend more time, you know, on the walkie talkie because somebody has a stomach ache than I will in church. But it is really beautiful to see them make that transition and then say, you know, it was worth it because somebody came up to me and said they had the experience I had last year.
You know, of course I love to hear the stories about the ones who go to seminary or are now leading their own young adult group or there's a woman who was on the Student Leadership Board two years who's just started a national women's ministries. I don't know if you've heard about the St Photini Women's Fellowship. One of the two young women who started it as a former student leader so of course I love them seeing the benefit they had being student leaders and wanting to give in a ministry context, but I also really love that it's really, really common for Student Leadership Board members to talk about SLB at their first job interviews. They suddenly, you know, they get that question about "Tell us about a time that you went through a difficult situation or tell us the time when you were on a team" that kinds of typical first job interviews, and they come back to me afterwards and say, "I didn't talk about any of my engineering internship, or my classes in college, I talked about being on the Student Leadership Board, and how that was the place that I really learned the skills I needed to be able to function on a team and faced difficult questions" and I think that's just really encouraging to me because that makes me feel like we are translating these truly orthodox leadership skills into not just the church but also the world.
Hollie Benton 16:08
Yeah, you could advertise like be on a student leadership board and get great stories for your next job interview.
Christina Andresen 16:13
Next, you know I do advertise it that way sometimes, like, people tell me.
Hollie Benton 16:20
You know, I, I didn't prep you with this question, but I'm wondering if you could say a little bit about the students who have such a meaningful positive experience in Orthodox Christian Fellowship at their local universities and colleges, they're engaged in the life of the church, they're learning, they're growing they're developing. And then they get those first jobs, they move into new cities, they join new parish communities, and they look around and there's really no place for them to serve. They want to serve but they're really not being invited in. Is OCF addressing that in any way?
Christina Andresen 17:04
Yeah, I mean, that's definitely a trend that I have seen and I've often had those students who are super involved, maybe not even at the Student Leadership Board level but like you said local level leadership as well, who go into their parishes and then I get the phone calls that are like "Christina it's so hard. I don't know how to tell them like I know what I'm doing. I was on the student leadership board I went through this training three times," But there's not a really an invitation, like you said, for them to be a part of anything that they would see as on the same level of impact as they got to experience in OCF.
The first thing I would say is just, if you're a parish leader and you're listening to this podcast, and a young person comes into your community, don't assume that they haven't had any leadership experience, especially in the Orthodox context. They might have quite a bit. And on the other hand, I would say to those young people going into parishes that it does take some time. I have a young woman who's here in our local parish, who was a OCF leader and went to college in the area. I think she's now been out of college, three years, and I feel like just this year, the rest of the parish discovered that she was there. Buy not like coming to church but she has gifts, that she has talents, that she wants to serve. And I think if she had been a little less persistent, if she'd given up after six months of trying, and no one really recognizing her work, we wouldn't be where she is right now, but her own resilience and her own persistence and saying, "I want to do something, I love the Lord, I love the church. I know I can serve you know I'm not going to wait until someone recognizes it I'm just going to keep trying." And then suddenly, three years in everyone's like "Wow! Who's this Anna girl? She's great! We want her to do everything!" Think again that kind of goes back to what you said earlier about one of the really foundational things about leadership is just not being about your ego. That's hard, it goes both ways. I think both on the parish side and on the young person side, one needs to be attentive and the other needs to be persistent.
Hollie Benton 19:12
Right, persistence. And sometimes even finding a champion, sometimes we think if we want to serve the church we go directly to the priest who's like juggling 59 balls in the air and he's got a lot on his plate it's, it's really hard to address everybody individually. So sometimes just finding that person that you click with at Coffee Hour find out what they're doing and finding someone who is willing to make the investment in a relationship to understand you and your gifts and where you can serve and, and what you'd like to learn. Even coming in with curiosity about wanting to learn how things are done on the parish council or as a teacher.
Christina Andresen 19:51
It can be hard to remember as a new graduate that you had to do that when you went into college when it came to OCF or some other student organization, there was a system in place and you had to in some ways, adjust and conform to that before you could bring your creativity and your own ideas. And I know I struggled with that when I first sort of was a normal parishioner out of college that it took some time to adjust to the fact that there was a system in place in the parish and it wasn't all bad. It didn't mean that I could didn't have something to offer, but it was honoring and respectful of me to learn, like you said, what's the mode of ministry is there before I tried to insert myself.
Hollie Benton 20:32
Right, right. Yeah, even at seminary. I remember Father Paul Lazor teaching the seminarians, "Don't be too creative, even your first year, you know you're coming in as a leader, as the priest, but understand that they have their ways of doing things in a way you kind of have to earn their trust and kind of learn the ropes," just like you said. So Christina tell us about some of the important events that OCF hosts throughout the year. Let our listeners know how college students, parents of students and any other people who are really passionate about campus ministry can find out more about the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, and apply to serve on this student leadership board.
Christina Andresen 21:10
So we have I'd say right now we have the old way, we have the pre-pandemic way of hosting events, We have the full blown pandemic way of hosting OCF events, and I think we're starting to settle into going into this coming school year, what things are going to stick from pandemic land and which things are not. Generally speaking the things I am hopeful for is that we will be able to host some version of our college conference. It's normally in December between Christmas and New Year's this year, as well as a normal, or some semi-normal Real Break season in the spring for spring break trips for students. We host district and regional retreats throughout the semester, every semester, those vary timing-wise and location-wise, and then I think one of the really great pandemic programs that will likely stick around and I'd really love to encourage students to be part of is our small groups program. They're all-male or all-female small groups. They're led by Student Leadership Board alumni so people who were very active in OCF when they were students but who are now out in the world or another ministry roles, and they meet weekly for 10 weeks for the semester virtually, we've just really had great response from students about whether they have a local OCF chapter or not, that this has been an additional really meaningful opportunity especially because it's all men or all women. We don't really have something else like that, but you can always find out on our website ocf.net what is up and coming, or follow us on Instagram or Facebook @OCFministry. we post our regular updates there as well. The Summer Leadership Institute registration will be opening in early June so for any students listening who would love to get a taste of the program that we talked about earlier, that will be available to them.
Hollie Benton 23:03
Wonderful, exciting. Well thanks so much Christina, so happy to have you on this podcast and really excited to have you be a part of Generously Investing in Emerging Leaders, our theme for the fifth annual National Orthodox Leadership Conference, which we will hold God willing, at St. Vladimir's Seminary. There will be online options in our current pandemic situations, just never know, we're ready to pivot on a dime at any time. Well thanks so much Christina.
Christina Andresen 23:34
Thank you, Hollie.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai