First a quick backstory - I’m cradle born Orthodox and then some. My mom started an Orthodox school in large part to give me and my sisters an Orthodox Christian education complete with 3rd and 6th hour prayers every day.
Did I have my rebellious phase? Yes. I went to a lot of keggers and my church attendance wasn’t great. But that whole scene began to pale in comparison to the St. John’s community as my college years drew to a close. I’ve come realize how grateful I am to be a part of it. I’m not saying I became a saint or anything. Church became more than just something I did to make my mom happy. I wanted to go. Not all the time mind you - I’m still pretty bad about attending Vespers and other weekly services. But, I knew it was the direction in which I wanted to go.
Fast forward 4 years to 2017. I’ve got a job where I travel a ton in the spring and fall. Five to six months out of the year I’m on the road. So, building connections outside my established group isn’t something that happens often. And, my oldest sister, Rebecca, kept pestering me about going to this new young adult thing called Connect Conference.
I was skeptical.
Not just because I didn’t know if I could go due to work, but because I thought it might be, well, kinda lame. But, I caved. Even though I was flying to Atlanta Friday and flying out Sunday, I bought a ticket to the conference because she’d been working super hard as part of the planning committee. Honestly, maybe I was feeling a little guilty after turning down her multiple requests to join the committee. Whatever.
How can I put this best – Connect 2017 was a whole lot of what I didn’t realize I needed. There were a BUNCH of us. I was surrounded by youngish Orthodox folks I didn't know and yet felt close to because of our shared belief. Often, I find myself surrounded by folks who think Christianity is a joke. But at Connect, we all understood it. Words from speakers like Bishop Gregory and Tim Tassopoulos hit me where it hurt - not in a bad way, since we’re talking about salvation - but their words forced me to look at my life in ways I hadn’t in quite a while.
Now, we’re in present day and somehow I’ve landed myself a seat on the Connect planning committee. Throughout this year I’ve planned several outings for our Atlanta-area Connect group, and I’ve helped craft the social events for the conference. I’ve helped make sure we can record the breakout sessions so attendees don’t feel like they miss anything.
Most recently, we did a full-court press on registration and I was reaching out to friends and priests with a discount code for tickets. I’ve never “cold called” before (although now it’s more like cold text or Facebook message) and was dreading it. But when I reached out, I found myself chatting about life with old friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, people I never would have reached out to otherwise. It surprised me, and I’m glad to say some of them are able to make it to the conference. I’m really stoked to see them!
A lot of the things I was skeptical about turned out to be really positive. Making the effort to connect with other Orthodox Christians, however small, has been very rewarding. I’m really excited for Connect 2018, and I’m grateful to God. He works in mysterious ways.
-Chris Showalter, Activities Chair