Orthodox Christian Fellowship at Cleveland, Ohio – A Recipe That Works!

Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) is the program that SCOBA, now replaced by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops designed and oversees to keep our youth in the Orthodox Church in America. They, of course, are the future of the Church and when the OCF national office published a survey at its inception showing that 60% of our college youth are leaving the Church and never returning, and a more recent survey showing this trend accelerating to almost 70% (that’s almost 3 out of 4) it should be a cause of alarm for all Orthodox clergy and lay. OCF is directed to college youth. OCF is only one of the many remedial efforts needed to reverse this trend. But it can be an effective program when properly organized and funded.

Unfortunately, when the program was inaugurated and a national OCF office set up, it was never adequately funded and staffed. Support from this office to chapters in the field is therefore very limited. While there are over 200 chapters in colleges and universities listed nationwide, many chapters exist in name only and some only having as few as one or two students. For example, in one major city which has four major universities, when I spoke to the OCF students there I was surprised to find that they had only a total of 5 students from the four universities. This is shocking and the reasons are obvious. Without adequate staff in the national office that can go out into the field and spend time getting chapters started and operating, it is left up to the local Orthodox clergy and laity to get involved and initiating organization efforts and funding support in order to have strong functioning chapters in their local universities.

We started here in Cleveland in 2005 when a group of lay people saw the need for OCF in its four major universities (Case Western Reserve, Baldwin Wallace, John Carroll, and Cleveland State Universities). By the second year we had chapters in all four universities and they have remained successful and are sought out by the students. Each year there are between 130 to 170 members in the four chapters. This is a good ‘capture’ rate when it is estimated that of the 28,000 students enrolled in the four universities, 1% are estimated to be Orthodox. The students have fun and fellowship and are eager to meet and be with their fellow Orthodox. In fact, the chapter at Case Western insists on meeting weekly even though we suggest bi- weekly meetings as the norm.

Here is the ‘recipe’ we used in Cleveland to start our program and oversee it so as to maintain its success:

  1. Board of Directors: Laity who saw the need and were interested in getting involved were invited to join a Board of Directors. It doesn’t hurt if the Board includes several prominent members of the community. We are fortunate to have the retired Publisher of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and a mayor of one of Cleveland’s suburbs on the Board. The Board’s responsibilities are to hire and support a Program Coordinator, solicit funding from the parishes and keeping the financial records, review and plan programs with the Program Coordinator, and maintain liaison with the clergy community.
  2. Stay in touch with the clergy: When we began the program we first went to the Cleveland Brotherhood of Clergy, told them of our plans, asked for their support and stated our goal was to eventually pass the program to the Brotherhood once it became self-sustaining. The clergy have been very gracious with their support and their time. Four of the clergy serve as Chaplains to the chapters and most of the others readily volunteer to meet with the students both formally and informally to discuss issues of interest to the students regarding their faith.
  3. Program Coordinators: This is the most important part of the equation. An energetic and committed Program Coordinator is the one that will make the program a success. We are fortunate to have a committed couple who have been with the program from its beginning. They receive a modest pay and their expenses are reimbursed. They spend many hours attending the meetings at the various schools, planning and carrying out social events, inviting speakers to meetings, manning booths each year with student members at the welcoming fairs for incoming freshman each to find Orthodox students, and maintain the website for the four chapters. They are superb in their commitment to OCF and we are blessed to have them.
  4. Funding: You cannot have a successful program without funds. It doesn’t take a lot of money to support an OCF chapter. Our funding needs for all four chapters are modest running under $20,000 per year. But you have to have it. The money goes to pay for the food (normally pizza and soft drinks) that is a must for every meeting, to pay for or subsidize tickets or costs of social events for the students, and the Program Coordinator salaries. Our aim is to make the events and tickets ‘affordable’ for the students
  5. Funding sources: Our intent from the beginning has been for the funding to come from the 25 Cleveland area churches and their ladies auxiliaries. To date, about 40% of the parishes are donors and the number is growing each year as they become familiar with the program’s success. The ladies’ auxiliaries have an even higher percentage donating. While we do not solicit funds from individuals we still receive a few donations from individuals in the city.
  6. Activities: In the beginning we sought advice from Father Michail Nasser who was involved in the program on a national basis. His advice was to concentrate on social activities, not religious activities. He said that would follow. And we found it to be a good formula. The social activities have included bowling, ice skating, bike trips up the Erie Canal tow path, and tickets to Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Cavalier games. Then we find that the students want to learn more about their Church and like having the local clergy come in to talk to them, they like to visit monasteries, some like to attend Sunday liturgies as a group and they visit various churches in the city, and we have had students join church choirs and help in the church festivals. Each year we also sponsor 8 students to attend Winter Break at Antiochian Village.

This is the ‘recipe’ we have followed in Cleveland and it has worked beautifully. If more information is desired you can contact Andy Kartalis, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Board, at (216) 831-2263 or at kartalis@aol.com.

Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) is the program that SCOBA, now replaced by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops designed and oversees to keep our youth in the Orthodox Church in America. They, of course, are the future of the Church and when the OCF national office published a survey at its inception showing that 60% of our college youth are leaving the Church and never returning, and a more recent survey showing this trend accelerating to almost 70% (that’s almost 3 out of 4) it should be a cause of alarm for all Orthodox clergy and lay. OCF is directed to college youth. OCF is only one of the many remedial efforts needed to reverse this trend. But it can be an effective program when properly organized and funded.

Unfortunately, when the program was inaugurated and a national OCF office set up, it was never adequately funded and staffed. Support from this office to chapters in the field is therefore very limited. While there are over 200 chapters in colleges and universities listed nationwide, many chapters exist in name only and some only having as few as one or two students. For example, in one major city which has four major universities, when I spoke to the OCF students there I was surprised to find that they had only a total of 5 students from the four universities. This is shocking and the reasons are obvious. Without adequate staff in the national office that can go out into the field and spend time getting chapters started and operating, it is left up to the local Orthodox clergy and laity to get involved and initiating organization efforts and funding support in order to have strong functioning chapters in their local universities.

We started here in Cleveland in 2005 when a group of lay people saw the need for OCF in its four major universities (Case Western Reserve, Baldwin Wallace, John Carroll, and Cleveland State Universities). By the second year we had chapters in all four universities and they have remained successful and are sought out by the students. Each year there are between 130 to 170 members in the four chapters. This is a good ‘capture’ rate when it is estimated that of the 28,000 students enrolled in the four universities, 1% are estimated to be Orthodox. The students have fun and fellowship and are eager to meet and be with their fellow Orthodox. In fact, the chapter at Case Western insists on meeting weekly even though we suggest bi- weekly meetings as the norm.

Here is the ‘recipe’ we used in Cleveland to start our program and oversee it so as to maintain its success:

  1. Board of Directors: Laity who saw the need and were interested in getting involved were invited to join a Board of Directors. It doesn’t hurt if the Board includes several prominent members of the community. We are fortunate to have the retired Publisher of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and a mayor of one of Cleveland’s suburbs on the Board. The Board’s responsibilities are to hire and support a Program Coordinator, solicit funding from the parishes and keeping the financial records, review and plan programs with the Program Coordinator, and maintain liaison with the clergy community.
  2. Stay in touch with the clergy: When we began the program we first went to the Cleveland Brotherhood of Clergy, told them of our plans, asked for their support and stated our goal was to eventually pass the program to the Brotherhood once it became self-sustaining. The clergy have been very gracious with their support and their time. Four of the clergy serve as Chaplains to the chapters and most of the others readily volunteer to meet with the students both formally and informally to discuss issues of interest to the students regarding their faith.
  3. Program Coordinators: This is the most important part of the equation. An energetic and committed Program Coordinator is the one that will make the program a success. We are fortunate to have a committed couple who have been with the program from its beginning. They receive a modest pay and their expenses are reimbursed. They spend many hours attending the meetings at the various schools, planning and carrying out social events, inviting speakers to meetings, manning booths each year with student members at the welcoming fairs for incoming freshman each to find Orthodox students, and maintain the website for the four chapters. They are superb in their commitment to OCF and we are blessed to have them.
  4. Funding: You cannot have a successful program without funds. It doesn’t take a lot of money to support an OCF chapter. Our funding needs for all four chapters are modest running under $20,000 per year. But you have to have it. The money goes to pay for the food (normally pizza and soft drinks) that is a must for every meeting, to pay for or subsidize tickets or costs of social events for the students, and the Program Coordinator salaries. Our aim is to make the events and tickets ‘affordable’ for the students
  5. Funding sources: Our intent from the beginning has been for the funding to come from the 25 Cleveland area churches and their ladies auxiliaries. To date, about 40% of the parishes are donors and the number is growing each year as they become familiar with the program’s success. The ladies’ auxiliaries have an even higher percentage donating. While we do not solicit funds from individuals we still receive a few donations from individuals in the city.
  6. Activities: In the beginning we sought advice from Father Michail Nasser who was involved in the program on a national basis. His advice was to concentrate on social activities, not religious activities. He said that would follow. And we found it to be a good formula. The social activities have included bowling, ice skating, bike trips up the Erie Canal tow path, and tickets to Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Cavalier games. Then we find that the students want to learn more about their Church and like having the local clergy come in to talk to them, they like to visit monasteries, some like to attend Sunday liturgies as a group and they visit various churches in the city, and we have had students join church choirs and help in the church festivals. Each year we also sponsor 8 students to attend Winter Break at Antiochian Village.

This is the ‘recipe’ we have followed in Cleveland and it has worked beautifully. If more information is desired you can contact Andy Kartalis, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Board, at (216) 831-2263 or at kartalis@aol.com.

Visit the OCF Cleveland website.

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