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All North American Youth Conference – Building a Church from the Inside Out

The Youth Department of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is proud to debut its newest project: the All North American Youth Conference. Due to the pandemic, there has not yet been an opportunity to organize an All-Diaspora Youth Conference, such as the Church Abroad has been holding since 1973. The last two were held in Paris and San Francisco. Taking part were young people from every continent where ROCOR parishes exist, as well as from Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.

Archpriest Andrei Sommer, deputy chairman of the Synodal Youth Department, spoke how preparations are proceeding and where the conference will be held.

– The conference will be held June 13-19, 2022 in Salt Lake City, UT. It will be attended by young people from the four North American dioceses of the Russian Church Abroad: Western American, Eastern American, Mid-American, and Canadian. The host parish will be the St. George Russian Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City.

Most of the events of the conference will be held in a beautiful location – in the mountains at a ski lodge near the state capital, Salt Lake City, where participants will live, work, and relax.

Salt Lake City itself is located in the Western United States in a very picturesque area off the Southeast coast of the Great Salt Lake, after which it got its name. Rocky cliffs and powerful mountain ranges give way to desert plains, offering a striking contrast of green space and desert. The city became attractive to visit after the 2002 Olympic Games, and many new entertainment centers and sports facilities were opened in Salt Lake City. From an industrial town, it turned into a major tourist center.

– What is the main theme and agenda of this conference?

– The theme of the conference is "Building a Church from the Inside Out." During the COVID pandemic, many of our parishes were impacted and temporarily closed. Many of the youth were deeply affected by the isolation and we are now faced with the need to live and work in new conditions.

We will strive to attract young people to the parish life, to teach them how to work for the good of the parish, and to make this work their choice and purpose in life. It is important that young people can fully participate in the parish life community, contribute to the life of the parish with their knowledge and talents, and help the rector and the parish council. Examples include singing and reading on kliros, serving in the altar, organizing a Sunday school or pilgrimage trips, helping with bookkeeping, being involved in various social services, and maintaining media platforms.

During the conference, participants will take part in lectures and presentations. They will partake in workshops using break out rooms and engage in master classes led by clergy and bishops. Of course, they will pray together during church services and be offered informal cultural trips and events.

The conference participants will be divided into groups to develop plans and programs for youth participation in parish life and assistance to parish priests. At the conclusion of the conference, these newly developed programs will be presented to all participants. These programs will be published and made available on YouTube so that youth in other dioceses can view and use them in their parishes.

The conference will take place with the blessing of the ROCOR Synod of Bishops and with the sponsorship of the St. Prince Vladimir Youth Association.

– How many people will take part in the conference and what is the age of the youth?

– The number of participants will be no more than 100 people. Young adults over the age of 18 will take part in the conference. This is exactly the age when young people are entering adulthood, and they need to understand how important it is to make the Church and its parish an integral part of their lives. The goal is for them to develop a sense of responsibility and contribute their time and effort to the preservation and growth of a parish. When I am asked about how to effectively conduct missionary work, I always emphasize how important it is to teach young people that through their example they can attract other people to the church, including their peers.

Parish life is very important for young people. All the work in the parish cannot lie with the priest alone.

What are the features of this conference?

– Unlike conferences such as the All-Diaspora conference, this one will be held in English. Another feature is that, unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we cannot invite participants from other countries outside of North America.

– Tell us more about the parish that will be receiving the conference participants.

– This is a relatively young, active parish, which includes a fair number of young people. The rector is Archpriest Michael van Opstall, a professor of Mathematics at the University of Utah. He learned Russian himself. In 2007, he graduated from the Pastoral School of the Mid-American Diocese, and is a composer of church music, whose compositions are available for singing at the divine services. Three choirs prayerfully sing at the church – a mixed, male, and youth choir.

The church also hosts a parish school named for St. John of Kronstadt, where students study Holy Scripture, the Law of God, singing, reading on kliros, and serving in the altar.

– Fr. Andrei, you have just returned from a business trip to Salt Lake City. How are preparations for the conference going?

– The parish has already created a local youth committee, which is attended mainly by young people from the Western American Diocese. Diocesan youth committees will also be established in other participating dioceses, which will hold virtual preparatory meetings with each other.

During my trip, the details of the conference were discussed. Thus, at the conference, there will be a youth podcast established that will later share the work of the conference and will give participants the opportunity to personally share their thoughts on the conference topic. Also, a videoconferencing component to the conference will also be arranged as a live working connection between the participants and the youth who could not attend.

All participants will be required to comply with the state’s COVID-19 rules and restrictions.

Registration for the conference will begin on Monday, January 31, at www.youthpv.org.

Interview by Tatiana Veselkina

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Eastern American Diocese | Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia