2014 Orthodox Christian Camp and Youth Worker Conference

“Writing Icons of the Kingdom ”

2014 Orthodox Christian Camp & Youth Worker Conference Group Photo

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.  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 3 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.  Each year we 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 it 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.

2014 Photo Gallery

Click here for photos from the 2014 Conference.

2014 Conference Theme and Workshops

Theme: As Youth Workers we are “writing” icons of the Kingdom – these icons are our children – every relationship, every program, every activity is a “stroke of the brush”.  What do you want your icon to look like?  What kind of ‘icons’ are we helping God to reveal to the world?

Conference Structure: 

The Keynote speaker will give 3 addresses that will bring us together to start off and/or tie together what we will be learning in each Workshop Session.  After each keynote the Conference participants will be able to attend one of several workshops offered.  The workshops are organized in three “tracks”:  1. Youth Worker Track, 2. Camp Track and 3. Pastoral Track.  While participants may attend any workshop the Pastoral Track will be available only to our priests.

The three Keynote Addresses and the subsequent Workshops will focus on the following 3 areas:

  1. Theology of Creating the Icon – Setting the foundation from which all participants can build regardless of what part of youth ministry in which they are engaged. 
  2. Training the Iconographer – This section covers what we as Youth Workers are meant to be like, how we are writing ourselves as icons.  Coming to the Youth Ministry “table” with something, i.e. with a solid spiritual formation, with a solid grasp of Scripture, etc, but maybe most importantly with a heart that cares for and is ready to receive what God is giving to us in our children.  How we as Youth Workers must be prepared before we begin in Youth Ministry or before we start any program, event, activity, etc.
  3. Tools and Techniques for Writing and Revealing the Icon – This section will have very practical models and examples of the different segments of our Youth Work that can be applied in our ministries.

Workshop Session 1 – Theology of Creating the Icon

□   “Until Christ be Formed in You…”:  Insights of the Holy Fathers for Guiding Children and Youth Along the Path to Salvation – Looking at the words of the Holy Fathers on raising and teaching children and how this applies to youth work – Fr. Philip Tolbert

□   Liturgy and WorshipThe Basis for Youth Work – Making it Real in the Lives of Our Youth – Fr. Anthony Yazge

□   “Let the Children Come to Me…”:  Biblical Passages and Stories to Help Your Youth Ministry –Fr. Stephen Loposky

□   Living Icons – What does that mean and how do we imbue that in our youth?Cheryl Pituch

Workshop Session 2 – Training the Iconographer 

□   Youth Worker Track -- The Daily Iconographer – Parents: The Daily Iconographer -- techniques for working with parents in creating a solid, unified approach to youth work in your parish – Dn. Paul Zaharas

□   Youth Worker/Camp Tracks -- Writing your own Icon while Striving to Write Others – How to maintain your spiritual balance and growth while working in ministry -- Fr. Joseph Purpura - Presentation - Presentation Handouts

□   Youth Worker/Camp Tracks -- Designing Your Icon:  How to Create your Goals and Program for the Type of Icon you Hope to Create  – Natalie Kapeluck Nixon

□   Pastoral Track – The Parish Priest:  What is Your Contribution to the Icon?  How do you interact with your parish children – where, when, how much, etc.  What is your prerogative?  Role of the priest in the life of the child?  If the iconographer is the Youth Worker and the child is the icon, what does the priest do? – Fr. Stevan Rocknage

Workshop Session 3 – Tools and Techniques for Writing the Icon

□   Youth Worker/Camp Tracks -- "Saints as Icons of Christian Life”: Presenting the Lives of the Saints through Drama in Youth Ministry -- Popadia Junia Tolbert.

□   Youth Worker/Camp Tracks – Iconography:  How to Present Icons and Iconography to the Youth of Today -- Michael Kapeluck

□   Youth Worker/Camp Tracks - Bridging the Gap between Camp and Parish LifeHow to Keep the Ball Rolling. Fr. Jason Roll

Camp Track - Finding Christ in a difficult CamperTechniques for Handling Challenging Camper Behavior Marek Simon

Past Conferences:

Click here for information about the 2013 Conference and past conferences.