“Writing Icons of the Kingdom”
The 12th Annual Orthodox Christian Camp and Youth Workers Conference took place at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA from January 23-25, 2014. Over 80 youth workers from across the United States and Canada gathered together for this year’s Conference. The Conference is sponsored by the Orthodox Christian Camps Association (orthodoxcamps.org) and all Jurisdictional Youth Departments, however a different sponsoring member takes on the responsibility of hosting the event each year. This year’s Conference was co-hosted by the Youth and Camping Ministries of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A. Our archdiocese was well represented with several staff from our camping ministry and parish youth workers. The theme of the Conference was “Writing Icons of the Kingdom: Understanding our Youth as Icons we are Helping to Write.”
His Grace Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, Ruling Hierarch of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese in the U.S.A was the keynote speaker. His Grace was asked to give three Keynote Addresses which would be followed by several workshops offered concurrently. On Thursday evening, in his first address, Bishop Gregory spoke about the unity required of us in Youth Ministry in order to effectively “write” Icons of the Kingdom. For his second address His Grace stepped aside for a very special presenter. His Grace had invited Very Reverend Protopresbyter Mark Leasure, his priest from St. George Church in Taylor, PA, to bring to the Conference the Myrrh-Streaming Icons of the Mother of God that reside in his parish. This became the highlight of the entire Conference. The presence of these icons really made the Conference not just exceptional, but made it what it was supposed to be, something deeply spiritual not just educational; without words beautifully illustrating the essence of the Conference theme. How could those present not be inspired in Youth Ministry after having seen the Mother of God in this way? She nurtured her Son in every way He needed…what a beautiful model of “Youth Ministry” for us.
The gathered assembly of Youth Workers from across North America were not only blessed to be in the presence of these icons and hear Fr. Mark witness to their “story” and the many miracles attributed to them, but also to be anointed with the Holy Myrrh from the icons and celebrate an Akathist to the Mother of God, the Nurturer of Children. This event followed upon the Friday morning Liturgy and was the concrete experience of the very real unity His Grace spoke about in his first keynote address the evening before.
Following each keynote address, the Conference participants were offered a choice of 3 to 4 workshops which covered a variety of topics related to Youth/Camping Ministry as the work of helping to write Icons of the Kingdom. These workshops included both the theological principles of Youth/Camping Ministry as well as the practical day-to-day techniques of accomplishing the work God puts in front of us in this part of His Vineyard. These Workshops included themes such as “Insights of the Holy Fathers for Guiding Children and Youth Along the Path to Salvation”, “Parents: The Daily Iconographer – Working with Parents in Your Parish”, and “Bridging the Gap between Camp and Parish Life”. The Workshop speakers were a diverse group which included Jurisdictional Youth Directors, priests, iconographers, men, women, camp directors and diocesan youth directors. Seven different Orthodox jurisdictions from across North America were represented among the Workshop Speakers. This diversity was a great way to again concretely represent the unity required of us in order to effectively minister to our youth.
Each day’s schedule was full, but included the free-time necessary to deepen and foster the friendships that help us in our collective ministry. Each evening included a themed gathering to encourage these connections through fellowship. One evening included a “Night in Hawaii” theme while the other evening included a “cozy fireside chat” theme. The “Night in Hawaii” required your favorite Hawaiian Shirt, while the “Fireside Chat” required your favorite ugly sweater. ( Please remember that this was a gathering of Camp and Youth Workers!)
Overall, the Conference was a tremendous opportunity to deepen faith, learn, and be inspired. Each year these conferences help foster a more unified ministry and outreach to the youth entrusted to us by God. Participants learn better how to help “write” the icons of the Kingdom who are our children. The next Conference, to be held in January 2015, will be no exception. Look for information about the 2015 conference this coming Fall on the Orthodox Christian Camps Association website (orthodoxcamps.org) as well as on all jurisdictional websites. Remember that all Orthodox youth workers including clergy, parish youth workers, diocesan youth workers, camp directors and staff, and OCF Chaplains are invited and encouraged to attend.