Diocesan Youth Workers Participate in Orthodox Camp And Youth Workers Conference

JOHNSTOWN, PA --  Diocesan Chancery --  From January 24-26, 2013 two of our diocesan priests and one of our Diocesan faithful attended the annual Orthodox Camp and Youth Workers Conference held in Austin, Texas.  This annual conference is open to all those involved in Youth Ministry across all jurisdictions in the United States and Canada and is held in a different city each year.  It is a tremendous opportunity for Church School Teachers, Youth Directors, Camp Directors, those involved in youth programming, and many others to come together, learn, share insights, network, and together lay the foundations for further inter-Orthodox cooperation and ministry to our youth.

Our Diocesan attendees included Fr. Stephen Loposky (Diocesan Youth Director and Camp Nazareth Administrator); Fr. Miles Zdinak (Diocesan Apostolate for Youth member and Spiritual Advisor to the Jr. ACRY); and Rachel Pribish (Vice-President of the National Sr. ACRY and Senior Advisor to the National Jr. ACRY).  Together they represented our Diocese and our collective Youth Ministry, and together they brought back much that can be beneficial to our Diocese.

At the Conference the camp and youth workers had opportunity to hear two keynote addresses from Fr. Apostolos Hill, and long-time Priest and youth worker within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, to participate in multiple workshop sessions, and to hear what is happening in each others’ Youth Ministry programs.  Oftentimes meals were an opportunity to network and further the discussions begun in the addresses and workshops.

The keynote addresses stressed the need for transformative Youth Ministry, a ministry that does not just teach our children about our faith, but gives them opportunities to grow in that faith and gives them experiences of their faith.  It stressed the need to “raise the bar” for our youth; to have higher expectations of them, while at the same time equipping them to reach and exceed those expectations.  We cannot be afraid to challenge our youth in their faith.  Nor can we expect to transform ourselves and our youth by just having church events, including church services, for them.  One line from the Conference that highlights this:  “You don’t become a Buick just by ‘hanging out’ a lot in the garage.”  Just the same, we cannot expect ourselves or our youth to be transformed by our Lord just by having events that allow us to ‘hang around’ the Church a lot.

From this Conference each of our Diocesan participants recognized the need to be connected with the Youth Ministry occurring in our sister jurisdictions, and to be involved at this level of Youth Ministry.  That is, at the level of the Assembly of Bishops and their Committee for Youth, as well as at the inter-jurisdictional level.  There are times when we do not have to “re-invent the wheel” in our Diocesan youth programs and there are times when others can learn from us.  In addition, each of our diocesan participants recognized the need for a unified Diocesan Youth Ministry.  We have many priests and parishes doing good work in this vital ministry.  That work needs to be supported, built up and unified in a way that allows us to speak with “one voice” to our children.  The Youth Ministry in our Diocese can be purposeful, intentional and transformative if we form the necessary partnerships and connections necessary for it to be so.

It was surprising to learn that in some of our sister jurisdiction’s seminaries an entire class is offered covering aspects of Orthodox Youth Ministry.  This includes foundations of Orthodox Youth Ministry, the various stages of youth development, and an introduction to the programs and resources that are already in the Orthodox world of ministry to our youth.  A class of this nature not only instills the necessity of this ministry in its seminarians, but also gives them the tools and resources necessary to meet and minister to our children where they are “at”.

In all, this annual Conference is a tremendous opportunity for those engaged in youth work.  Each of our Diocesan participants in the Conference came back with ideas and the inspiration to continue the necessary work of Youth Ministry.  Each of us recognizes that all is in the hands of God, and that with Him all things are possible.  He can transform a life in a moment of time.  We know this and believe this.  We can however, at the same time, be purposeful and intentional in our Diocesan Youth Ministry, and give our youth the opportunities and experiences necessary to allow for a genuine transformation of their lives.