Is Your Area Meeting the Needs of Your Youth?

By Fr. Michael Anderson

In a recent letter to the editor of the Orthodox Christian Journal, Kimberly Metz from Pennsylvania wrote, As a fourteen-year-old Orthodox Christian who lives in an area where there are very few other Orthodox kids, I feel like I am the only one of my kind . . . I would like to point out how important youth activities are to my friends and I, the youth of the Orthodox Church. We thrive on them because they are the only way we can get to see each other, and we depend on them for the memories they make, the friendships they develop, and the fun they let us have together. The Orthodox youth want to take action, side by side with each other, to make the Church greater than it already is.

Kim’s letter expresses the feelings of Orthodox teens all across North America who feel as if “they are the only one of their kind.” As we prepare for the All-American Council in Pittsburgh and make goals for the new millennium, her words take on special meaning. Our youth are looking for opportunities to form lasting and meaningful friendships with other Orthodox youth and to take action in the life and ministry of the Church. We must ask ourselves, however, “How well are we giving them these opportunities?.”

Clearly, we have accomplished a lot over the past number of years. We have continued to advocate that youth are not only the future of the Church but are part of the Body of Christ right now. Camp attendance is at an all time high with five new areas forming camps in various parts of the Church in the past few years. The number of youth retreats being held continues to grow and hundreds of concerned adults have attended workshops on youth ministries because of their desire to share their faith with young people.

With all these activities going on, however, why are there still so many kids feeling as if “they are the only one of their kind?” Kim’s letter gives us some advice about establishing a fruitful youth ministry effort. In another part of her letter she goes on to say,

Four years ago I decided to attend St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Camp (South Canaan, PA) for the first time. While I was there, I met so many other Orthodox kids and made friends whom I felt close to because we had a common bond: our faith.

Over the years, those friendships that I made in that first year at camp grew strong, and although I only see my friends twice a year – for summer camp and at a Winter Retreat, led by Fr. Dn. Michael Anderson – I keep in touch with them by diligently writing to them. I hold those friendships so dear to me that I think it would be almost impossible for me to live if I were told I could never see those people again.

Kim tells us that twice a year she has the opportunity to participate in regional activities that give her a chance to form and maintain invaluable friendships. These activities take place consistently each year, gather youth and adults from a variety of parishes in a given area, and give their participants a positive balance of fellowship, education, worship, and service (the F.E.W.S.). Our Church’s camping programs are some of our most successful youth ministry efforts precisely because they fulfill all these requirements.

Many areas of our Church, however, lack this type of consistent approach. Sometimes we try to plan an activity and quickly give up when attendance isn’t what we hoped. Other times we have a successful retreat and don’t think of having another one until an entire year passes. Some of us feel that we are too small to have a successful event and others of us feel like it’s too great a task for us to undertake.

While these situations can quickly discourage both youth and adults, we can quickly overcome them if we work with other concerned adults from area parishes, maintain our vision and consistency, and strive for gradual improvement in our program. The Diocese of New England Youth Rally began with 13 participants. Ten years later they regularly report more than 100. More recently, the St. Peter the Aleut Camp in Texas started with 11 campers. A few years later they now have between 40-50. We can say the same of the Eastern Pennsylvania Winter Youth Encounter and the Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Winter Retreat. Besides being scheduled regularly from year to year, all these programs also provide a variety of activities.

The key to our Church more effectively meeting the needs of our youth lies in our ability and commitment to work together consistently on regional basis to provide them with the F.E.W.S... The youth at the last All-American Council stated that two elements of their Dream for the Church were 1) where laity and clergy work together within their own church and among area churches, and 2) where diocesan parishes have love for each other. What better way is there to help make this dream come true than to work together for the building up of our young people?

If you’re interested in having a youth ministry workshop to set up a regional youth ministry effort contact the Department of Youth, Young Adult, and Capus Ministry at the below addresses.

Taken from the OCA Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries