Phillip was already a member of the NDCF when I was a clueless freshman, but I don't remember a thing about him. And he's not around for me to ask if I should have remembered him from that year. I don't think he joined the worship team (note to clueless Catholics: "worship team" = band that plays and sings the songs at the fellowship night, complete with amps and speakers and lyrics projected onto the wall and a girl singing with her eyes closed while shaking a shaker offbeat) until the next year, so there's a high probability I didn't even notice him. I was already intimidated by the people in my own bible study that year, so I didn't have time to be terrified by anyone else.
The girl who became one of my very close friends asked me to the new student barbecue and after that I found myself agreeing to go to bible study on Tuesday nights. I had no idea what bible study was. I'd never been to one. (And now that I have been to, oh, several HUNDRED bible studies, with Protestants and Catholics alike, I can safely say that I HATE bible study and would be okay if I never went to another. Such is the sorry state of my spiritual life.)
The NDCF was all about reaching out to freshmen, at least at that time, so every card carrying member was committed to living in the dorms and organizing bible studies for the students in that particular dorm. Depending on the size of the dorm, there were two or three, and whichever one you ended up in, that was kind of your little college family. Your team. You ate dinner with them, watched TV with them, studied with them. It's not like you weren't allowed to associate with non-NCDF people, you just got sort of sucked into your bible study group. I mean, there were a LOT of commitments. Bible study, worship night, little outings and gatherings planned by the bible study leaders, all sorts of stuff. And no one ever said you HAD to do all these things, but the expectation was there. If you spent time with non-NCDF people or, good heavens, non-Christians, you were also expected to invite them to bible study. You know. Represent.
I didn't catch on to this for a while. I did all that stuff because I didn't have anything else to do. And, for the most part, I really liked the people in my study, even if the leaders liked to do the unspoken expectation thing. The girls in my freshman dorm suite were all singularly weird and I was going to 500-person 100-level classes, so it wasn't like I was going to make any friends in class. I hated bible study (did I mention that?) because I'm not much for external processing (a term I learned in the NDCF!) I am very much a person who needs to sit on something for a while, or write about it, or talk a long time with one other person. I am not good at the sitting in a circle and discussing what a particular passage may have meant in Jesus' day. And this is entirely my own fault, not a flaw in the NDCF or anything like that. So even though I sort of despised the actual study part, I liked everything else.
I really liked worship nights, even though it was the strangest place for me as a Catholic, much stranger than bible study with these bible know-it-all college kids. I had never seen a worship band before. I'd only seen people close their eyes and wave their hands while praying or singing on television. We'd sing for nearly an hour and then one of the fellowship staff workers would get up to give a Talk. And oh, we loved these talks. There were some highly gifted staff workers when I was a freshman, one in particular stands out, and everyone loved him. Hung on his every word. I'd never been to anything like these worship nights, but for a lot of people it was 'church', or similar to churches they'd attended at home, only with a decidedly collegiate bent. The NDCF had maybe 150 people in it then? I can't really remember. So much smaller than the most popular NDCF on campus (which had hundreds and hundreds) but big enough to be a big group.
The NDCF was big on community. Discipleship. Accountability. I had no idea what those things were and no one bothered to enlighten me.
The NDCF's hierarchy had paid staff workers at the top, then volunteer "intern" staff workers, then a layer of student leadership- the kids who led the bible studies in the dorms, then the rest of us dutiful study-attending members. At the end of every year the leadership team would get together to decide who they would invite to lead bible studies the following year. More on that later, she says as she taps her fingers together Mr. Burns-style.
My bible study consisted of a bunch of silly freshmen girls and male bible study leaders- not a particularly good combination. At first, my now-close-friend was one of the bible study leaders. Then she and her boyfriend broke up and I remember her telling me that two of the staff workers thought that she should move to another dorm and get involved with another study, because it wasn't "healthy" for her to stay in our dorm where her boyfriend lived.
I was crushed. She was a big sister to me. She didn't seem to want to move and I didn't understand why these two staff workers had all this say in her life. I didn't want to be in the bible study if she wasn't going to be there. "Investing" was another NDCF buzz word and I'm pretty sure my now-close-friend had done quite a lot of that in me. And now she was just leaving? Did I want to be involved in something where one day someone might tell ME where to live and what to do? Because pretty much my favorite thing about college thus far was being my own boss.
That's when I started to suspect there were some, uh, really crappy things about the NDCF. Now, when I think back, that little episode is pretty tame. I was upset because she wasn't going to be my bible study leader anymore, but also because I didn't understand what this whole Secret NDCF Cabal was doing in the background, with all their decision making and life deciding. And also because you were supposed to love your bible study leaders. You were supposed to look up to them and be discipled by them (whatever THAT meant) and learn from them. That's the way the NDCF was set up. In that respect, I was following the plan.
Anyway, the baby is waking up and I must attend to the cereal making and pear thawing. I suspect that two or three things in this post may have potential for bending-out-of-shape, but it's just the first thing that happened in a long string of things and I haven't gotten to the What I Learned From This post. I also suspect this will sound really weird to people who haven't been sucked into an NDCF, but trust me that it wasn't cultish or out of the ordinary. This is just stuff that happened and how it felt. And, eventually, how it led me to where I am. So. There you go.