Preparations for the All-North American Youth Conference, to be held June 13-19 in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, UT, are nearing completion. Archpriest Andrei Sommer, vice chairman of the Synodal Youth Department, talks about what awaits the participants of this conference.
‒ During the planning stages of the conference, we worked with the participants who represent our four dioceses ‒ Eastern, Western, Mid-American, and Canadian. We sought their input as a means of supporting the idea of "Equipping the church with the talents of young people." For example, the logo for the conference was designed by the participating youth.
A total of 100 young people, ranging from 18-25 years of age, from 23 states of the United States and from Canada will take part in the conference. A wide range of states will be represented, including Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas, and Hawaii.
‒ What will be the format of the conference?
‒ We will have lectures, master classes, podcast preparation, videoconferencing, cultural programming and, of course, participation in divine services at St. George Church.
Participants will be divided into groups of ten, headed by a peer leader. Each group will be tasked with presenting a project idea to strengthen parish life. For example, sample ideas could include the formation of a youth choir, the creation of a Sunday school, the search for fundraising opportunities, the organization of a fund for charity, and the formation of a group to help the needy, maintain the parish website, build a parish garden, among others, with the goal of activating, revitalizing, and diversifying the life of the parish.
There will be three keynote addresses. The first speaker will be Bishop James of Sonora, vicar of the Western American Diocese. Bishop James will speak on the topic: "You are a Temple of the Living God: Choosing a Life of your Own in and with Christ," drawing the attention of young people to the spiritual foundation of the church temple.
The second speaker, Matushka Patricia Klar, who has been dedicating her time in organizing youth choirs and social events, will speak on the topic: "Be a Doer: Center Your Life around Christ and His Church."
The third speaker will be Eugene Kulesha, counselor of Camp NORR and who recently took an active part in the construction of the St. Michael Church in Wayne, NJ. He will present a talk entitled: "Building a Church – Physical and Spiritual Blueprints."
Also, an opportunity to simultaneously interact with participants of the youth conference of the German Diocese taking place in Cologne through a scheduled videoconference will be offered. This will be the first time that such an event will be held at a ROCOR church youth conference.
‒ What other new methods and opportunities for the enhancement of parish life will be tested and presented during the conference?
‒ We will be working on podcasts for Apple and Spotify. These podcasts will be comprised of discussions among participants related to current and relevant topics that Orthodox youth struggle with. This should be very interesting! I have already purchased all the necessary audio equipment for the participants to use.
The interviews and presentations will be livestreamed to the whole world here.
They will also be recorded for asynchronous viewing.
Participants of the conference will become acquainted with the work of the charitable foundation of St. John of Shanghai & San Francisco, run by the descendants of those who St. John helped in Shanghai and America.
The St. John of Shanghai Memorial Fund was founded in 1951 with the blessing of St. John himself. At the same time, in San Francisco, St. John recreated the St. Tikhon of Zadonsk orphanage that existed in Shanghai. In America, this orphanage continued to provide a variety of help and means of support to children, refugees, and immigrants. These children grew up and continued St. John’s mission of caring for the needy by organizing this fund. In 1996, in conjunction with the glorification of St. John, the foundation received the official name of The Benevolent Memorial Fund of St. Archbishop John. Nowadays, the foundation aids orphans, disadvantaged children, and poor elderly, and sends humanitarian aid to those in need in Ukraine.
This will be a very important meeting, because, for the successful functioning of a parish, there must be a charitable fund.
To the great joy of the participants of this conference, the myrrh-streaming Iveron "Hawaiian" icon of the Mother of God will be present during this time. The icon will be brought from Hawaii by its guardian, Deacon Nectarios Yangson. The conference will begin its work with the singing of the akathist before the wonderworking icon, and will end with a hierarchical Liturgy, during which young people will pray, sing, and serve in the altar.
‒ Will there be leisure time during the conference?
‒ There will be a day of rest at the Grand Canyon Cottonwood that will include hikes in the most beautiful places of this part of Utah, along with a picnic and campfire. Youth will be able to go ziplining, swimming, and tour Park City.
A banquet and awards ceremony will be held in the Salt Lake City Aquarium "Living Planet".
I would like to note that we are eager for this youth gathering, which we have managed to organize after several years since the last conference in San Francisco. There have been many obstacles leading up to it, including the recent COVID pandemic, which, in many instances, weakened our parishes financially. We hope that with the blessing of God, our youth, like bees, will collect many skills and knowledge during this event to realize and become builders of the future of their parishes.
Interview by Tatiana Veselkina