Saturday, July 5, 2014

Ecumenism and Esther People

I've alluded several times to major changes in my college Christian Fellowship and the fact that I'm now part of the leadership. I wanted to write in a bit more detail about all of that because, for me at least, it brought up a lot of interesting issues and thoughts.

The fellowship, OCF, is one of only two Christian groups on campus, as my college is very small. The other group is a Catholic association, which is a joint group with the college next door. All the OCF leadership (and honestly, most of the active members) were seniors. The non-seniors who had been deeply involved this year were two first years, and me (a sophomore). Michel and Sonia, the two first years, will be co-presidents. I'll be abroad in the fall but back in the spring.

So far, pretty normal. It's a smaller group than we'd like, but other than that, it seems like this should just be a passing of the torch, right?

In early or mid March, Sonia, Michel, and I started meeting for about an hour a week to figure out that passing of the torch with some of the graduating seniors as well as two adults. The two adults were the Cru staff members who had been assigned to OCF since it affiliated with Cru a couple of years before. At the first meeting, we mostly talked about what these meetings would be like and some logistics, then prayed. It was the second meeting when we really started talking. The president, Sara, asked each of us (seniors and underclassmen) to talk about what we would like to see in OCF.

A couple of nights before, I'd come to Sara's room and had talked to her for maybe half an hour about OCF's relationship with the Catholic association and Catholics (and liturgical Protestants, really) on campus. The affiliation with Cru had essentially happened by Catholic students being outvoted, and the result was that most of the Catholic students weren't involved in OCF at all. The rising senior who will be the president of the Catholic association next year came to OCF events because she felt like she needed the community, but that was it. The general feeling was that Cru's statement of faith can be read to imply that Catholics (and again, many liturgical Protestants) aren't Christian. Beyond Cru's statement of faith, OCF's affiliation with Cru both aligned with and further encouraged OCF's evangelical bent, and as counterintuitive as it may seem, that made the community far less welcoming to campus Christians who weren't evangelical. One of my mainstream Protestant friends had become very involved in the Catholic association because it was a better fit than OCF. I'd struggled a lot with feeling out of place, even though I knew the other OCFers considered me very much a part.

I had told Sara some of this, and I had told her that I wanted it to change. I didn't know what form that change would take, but OCF needs to be a group in which anyone on campus who identifies as Christian should feel and expect to feel welcome. This isn't a campus with a variety of Christian groups; it's OCF and the Catholic association, which means OCF must be ecumenical, truly ecumenical, in order to serve the community. It's an individual decision to be a member or not, but no Christian student should choose not come to OCF events because they think they wouldn't be comfortable or accepted. I focused on the example of the Catholic association because it was the most concrete, but really, half of my hallway was in my mind: the stoic Christian that most students at my college probably think is atheist, my Methodist but not super practicing roommate, my very busy friend who goes to church with me most Sundays, her lapsed Catholic roommate, the tall and sarcastic Episcopalian at the end of the hall.

Even with the best possible OCF, I do not expect that all these people would come. I don't necessarily think they should. But they should feel like they could.

So when Sara asked what we wanted to see in OCF, and I was the first person to talk after her, I was nervous. I remembering wondering if it was the right time to mention this. I glanced at Sara, and she just looked at me, and I figured that if I didn't say it now, I might never, and that would be such a waste.

After I talked, even after we'd gone all the way around the circle, people kept asking me questions. What were the problems specifically, what was the full situation, what were possible solutions, and what were obstacles? It was a really stressful conversation, but it was an important conversation to have, and other people agreed that this was an issue we needed to address in some manner. It was a beginning.

We didn't set out to separate from Cru. It would be dishonest for me to say that it wasn't something I had considered as a possible direction, but it wasn't the goal. It just ended up being the solution that we - Michel, Sonia, Catholic association members, and I - decided was the best one after a lot of meetings and conversations with a variety of people. The dissociation isn't official yet, since there hasn't been a vote to change the charter, but when there is one, it will pass.

There's a lot more work involved in shaping OCF to be a welcoming, ecumenical community, and we've talked a lot about all of that, too. What kinds of events do we do? How do we inform people about them? What should the tone of these events be? How do we welcome first year students? How do we engage the wider college community?

All of these are really hard questions. The most important thing for us to remember was, is, and will be that God is at work. We are the vessels, and the work is God's. The OCF we're creating shouldn't be the OCF that we, the new leadership, would want if it were left up to us. It's not up to us; it's up to God. We're trying to grow OCF to be what God desires it to be, and the LORD has put us in these leadership positions to accomplish God's will.

"And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?"
-- Esther 4:14

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