2018: The Place of Gratitude in Youth Ministry

The 17th Annual Orthodox Christian Camp and Youth Workers Conference took place in Atlanta, GA from Thursday, February 1 – Saturday, February 3rd, 2018.  Camp and Youth Workers from across North America gathered together for two full days of enriching and uplifting presentations and discussions, as well as opportunities to connect with other Youth Ministry professionals.  This year’s theme “The Place of Gratitude in Youth Ministry”,  helped our Camp and Youth Workers discover a key element of ministry that often eludes us:  the “gratitude of St. Paul”, who while struggling to establish and maintain churches, was in fact thankful for everyone and everything.  Come and learn what it means to “abound in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:7) in the midst of the beautiful, but often difficult field of Youth Work.

The keynote speaker was Fr. Alexander Gousettis, the Director of the Center for Family Care of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America.  Workshops and Discussion Groups were also offered to help youth workers in the parish, among the clergy, at camps, and across programs relate the theme to the specific field of Youth Ministry in which they are engaged.

The 2018 conference was hosted by the Youth Departments of the American-Carpatho Russian Diocese and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.

2017: The Seamless Garment: Towards a Unified Model of Ministry

2016: Feed My Sheep: Crisis, Trauma, and Everyday Life

The 2016 Pan-Orthodox Youth and Camp Workers' Conference was hosted by the Orthodox Church in America at St. Seraphim's Cathedral in Dallas, TX, from January 21-23, 2016. The V. Rev. Steven Voytovich, DMin., Dean of Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, was the Keynote Speaker. Workshops included Young Adult Ministry: Foundation of a Healthy Parish led by Jacob Saylor; When Crisis Comes to Camp led by Dr. Jelena Ozegovic; The College Campus, Place of Trauma and Healing led by OCF Manager of Chapter Relations Christina Andresen; Youth Ministry in a Missionary Parish led by Fr. Justin Patterson; and When Young Veterans Come Homeled led by Fr. James Parnell. Below are links to some of the presentation notes:

  • Feed My Sheep (pdf via Google Drive)
  • Chickering's Seven Vectors of Student Development: Meaning Making and the Collegiate Experience by Fr. Steven Voytovich (pdf)
  • When Crisis Comes to Camp, by Jelena Ozegovic, Ph.D (pdf)
  • Slaying the Dragon: The Reintegration and Healing Of Soldiers and Veterans in an Orthodox Context by Fr. James Parnell (pdf)

2015: Walking Alongside Our Youth

The 13th Annual Orthodox Christian Camp and Youth Workers Conference was held January 22-24, 2015 at the Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA. The keynote addresses were offered by Fr. Bogdan Bucur, Professor at Duquesne University, and Dr. Stefanie Yazge, Professor of Theology at St. Vincent College. Other activities included a series of workshops focusing on Youth Ministry as it relates to Youth Workers and Camp Staff and daily services and fellowship so that we might get to know each other better. 

2014: “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.  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 Worship:  The 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 Life – How to Keep the Ball Rolling. –  Fr. Jason Roll

Camp Track - Finding Christ in a difficult Camper:  Techniques for Handling Challenging Camper Behavior – Marek Simon


Shine Forth: A Summary of the 2013 Orthodox Christian Camp & Youth Worker Conference

By Steven Christoforou
The 11th Annual Orthodox Christian Camp & Youth Worker Conference took place at the Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Austin, Texas January 24-26.  Over 100 youth workers from around the United States and Bahamas assembled for this three-day conference hosted by the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.  This year’s theme was “Shine Forth:  Helping our Orthodox Youth Follow and Represent Christ.”
Father Apostolos Hill, of St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Prescott, AZ, offered the keynote address.  He distilled his years of pastoral experience into a talk that urged his listeners to maintain a focus on the transformative power of Christ.  He stressed an “openness to the truly broken” as essential to any true Christian ministry, however, he was careful to note that a youth worker cannot open a young person’s eyes to the Gospel without attempting to live it oneself.  He stated that “you cannot push a rope;” just as a rope is used to pull a person towards oneself, a youth worker needs to be grounded in Christ so he can pull a young person towards Him.  He also cautioned that a parish’s budget, both of time and money, says a lot about its priorities, and that these are messages our youth absorb.  Finally, he insisted that a call to service is a necessary part of youth ministry: no matter how effectively we educate young people, if we do not engage them then they will disconnect from Christ and His Church. 
Friday featured workshops led by youth workers from various jurisdictions.   Subjects included keeping our college aged young adults connected to Christ and His Church to protecting our youth. 
Fr. Jason Roll, Director of the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, left the conference enthused.  “It’s great to see old and new faces developing their talents together and sharing best practices with one another.  We put our heads together and came up with some great ideas while cementing crucial ties with our fellow youth workers.”
The Ukrainian and Carpatho-Russian Churches will host the next conference, slated for January of 2014.  The conference provides an arena for Orthodox youth workers from different jurisdictions to share and provide resources. All Orthodox parish and diocese youth workers, camp directors and staff, and OCF chaplains are invited to attend.
Steven Christoforou is the new Youth Protection / Parish Ministries Coordinator of the National Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.  Originally from Astoria, NY, he is in his fourth and final year of the Masters of Divinity Program at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, MA.  A graduate of Yale University and Fordham University School of Law, Steve worked as a corporate attorney on Wall Street for two years before enrolling at Seminary.  This year, he has been serving as Lay Coordinator for the Harvard and MIT chapters of Orthodox Christian Fellowship.  He has extensive parish experience, as a former Parish Council member, Sunday School teacher, and youth volunteer.  He also has extensive experience in youth and camping ministries, having led retreats around the country as a member of the Seminary's Ambassadors Program, and having served at the Direct Archdiocesan District's Camp Saint Paul, both as a Counselor and Boys Director.

2012 Conference Recap

The 10th annual Orthodox Christian Camp, Youth Worker, and OCF Chaplain Conference was held January 25-28, 2012 in Ligonier, PA, at the Antiochian Village, hosted by the Antiochian Village. This year's theme was "Presenting the Message of the Gospel to Today's Youth." This conference has had a long history in several different forms.  The purpose as it exists today is to bring all Orthodox Christians doing youth ministry at any level and in any form together for several days to further our education, foster brotherhood and provide fellowship.  There were several keynote addresses from Fr Bogdan Bucur, Assistant Professor at Duquesne University, a series of workshops that are carved into three tracks (Youth Workers, Camp Staff & OCF Chaplains), daily services and fellowship.

Resources from the 2012 Conference:

2011 Conference Recap

The 9th annual Orthodox Christian Camp and Youth Worker Conference was held January 27-29, 2011 in Dallas, TX, hosted by the Orthodox Church in America at St. Seraphim Cathedral. The keynote speaker was Fr. Meletios Weber of St. John Monastery (Manton, CA), and the theme was "Equipping the Saints."

2010 Conference Recap

The 8th annual Orthodox Christian Camp and Youth Worker Conference was held January 28-30, 2010 in Silver Springs, MD, and hosted by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. The theme was "Communicating the Gospel in the 21st Century." The conference was graciously hosted by St. Andrew’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral at 15001 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Springs, MD 20905.

2009 Conference Recap

The 7th annual Orthodox Christian Camp & Youth Worker Conference was hosted by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and was held at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL (home of OCN - Orthodox Christian Network) from January 22-24, 2009.  The theme was "Protecting our Youth" led by our keynote speaker, Dr. Jane Hickerson, Vice-President of Training and Development for Praesidium Inc., a risk management agency that specializes in sexual misconduct policies for churches. Conference participants were introduced to the latest policies and procedures in safeguarding our youth. Over 85 participants from camps and churches all over the United States and Canada were in attendance.

Pictures from the 2009 Conference at the Orthodox Christian Network - Follow the link and then click on "Pan-Orthodox Youth Retreat"
Conference Summary by Lis Lourie

2008 Conference Recap

The 6th annual Orthodox Christian Camp Conference was a great success. It was held January 24-26, 2008 in Houston, TX! Over 30 participants from the United States and Canada representing the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, the Armenian Church of America, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA were present for a weekend of learning and fun. We were blessed to have as our keynote speaker Fr. James Coles of St. Ignatius Mission in Mesa, AZ who spoke on the topic "Forming Disciples of Christ." We are very greatful to Fr. John Salem and the faithful of St. George Church in Houston, TX for being such gracious hosts to us!

Click here to listen to the 2008 Keynote Address by Fr. James Coles.