Regular readers of this blog know the importance I attach to the religious upbringing of young Orthodox Christians. As the father of two teenage sons, I believe strongly that parents have a critical role to play. As central as our role is to the development of young people and imbuing them with a foundation in the Orthodox faith, parents need help. This effort should properly involve and include the Church, as a whole. As Orthodox Christians we are members of the Church and we are not alone. Individual communities within the body of the Church may encounter and have to grapple with all kinds of problems. These problems stem from the fact that all of us are flawed to some degree, we live in a flawed and often adversarial world and our communities and parishes reflect these flaws. Each of us needs to do his part. Many of these communities are enhanced by new converts who come to the Orthodox faith through trial and error and have built a strong foundation in the faith. Those of us who happen to be Orthodox by an accident of birth, need to re-energize our own faith to act as appropriate role models within our communities and most importantly for our young people. One of our key tasks as Orthodox Christians is the need to focus on the future, and the key to the future of Orthodoxy in America and in Greece is its young people.
Youth programs at the local, Diocesan and Archdiocesan level are essential to evangelizing the next generation. If we fail to give young people our full and undivided attention we risk losing them to those aspects of our societies that are destructive. In my own parish, we have been fortunate to have the requisite leadership to help bring about a vibrant youth program that has made huge leaps forward. It hasn't been easy. The biggest stumbling block I have found is not money, or even leadership, it is in fact the willingness of parents to get their kids involved. Sometimes quite frankly a parent feels like this is just too hard. Too many commitments and too many forces pulling us in different directions. There is nothing more important, I repeat NOTHING, than giving our kids the spiritual tools to deal with life. Little George and Maria will probably never be soccer stars or violin virtuosos, but they will definitely need God in their lives, no matter what they do or where they go. Without a strong faith, they will truly be handicapped. By participating in Church youth activities, kids will bond with other kids who share their faith. Youth ministry doesn't end at the parish level. Two programs I think parents really need to learn about are the Metropolis of Boston Camp (one of many camps sponsored by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America) and the CrossRoad program at Hellenic College.
Both of my sons have attended the Metropolis of Boston Camp for the last five years. The first year they attended I volunteered to work in the camp cafeteria, so I had ample opportunity to see the program and staff in action. I was thoroughly impressed. His Eminence, Metropolitan Methodios of Boston has been an active supporter of youth ministry and this is reflected in the growth of the Metropolis Camp program. This year’s program was very successful. More than 700 youngsters from throughout New England and several other states enjoyed a wonderful experience at the 200-acre Faith & Heritage Center in Contoocook, New Hampshire. Father Phillip Mousis, the dynamic director of Youth Ministries, oversaw the program, supervising a counseling staff comprised of dedicated and well trained young adults. The themes for this summer was Koinonia (Community and Fellowship), Diakonia (Service and Stewardship), Litourgia (Worship) and Martyria (Witness). These four themes are essential components to building a strong faith in Christ. Each summer, the camp program grows and improves. This was the third year that children with “special needs" were included. They enjoyed a week of activities together with all the campers. Summer Camp, 2007 promises to be another wonderful and spiritually fulfilling summer, connecting the campers through fun, faith and fellowship.
On Sunday, September 10th, a groundbreaking ceremony will plant the seeds of faith and hope for the future of the Metropolis and its parishes throughout New England by building a Retreat House at the Camp site. The planned Retreat House will enhance the fine work already being done to further our spiritual and cultural heritage. The Metropolis is planning retreats, conferences and workshops for Parish Council members; for Philoptochos women; for young adults; for our choirs and chanters; for our Sunday School and Greek School teachers; and for senior citizens groups and young married couples.
This year, my son Nick, a high school senior attended his last summer as a camper. He sat me down and informed me in no uncertain terms that he couldn't go to Greece until he went to camp. He was also lucky enough to get the opportunity to participate in the CrossRoad program. CrossRoad is an engaging 10-day summer program for Orthodox Christian high school juniors and seniors of all jurisdictions that takes place every summer on the campus of Hellenic College/Holy Cross in Brookline, Massachusetts. The office of Vocation and Ministry covers all expenses except for travel. The program offers faith based courses on vocation that help the student answer the question: What are my unique gifts, and how am I to use them in the world in service of God and my neighbor. For ten days participants experience a full liturgical life, attend mini seminars on the Orthodox faith given by college professors, serve their community, hang out together. Hellenic College/Holy Cross is a perfect place to experience both the excitement of a big city and the peace of a holy mountain. The beautiful 52-acre campus is situated on a hilltop overlooking downtown Boston and provides the necessary place for quiet study, prayer and reflection. At the same time, one is never far away from lively and historic Boston, a city that offers many opportunities for art, live music, baseball games, people watching, and delicious foods from around the world. Nick couldn't stop talking about his experience when he got home, interspersed with frequent use of the word "awesome."
Truthfully, my sons have benefited greatly from these programs. I can honestly say that they have grown spiritually, made lasting friendships with other Orthodox young people and been positively influenced by outstanding Orthodox role models, many of them either their own age or young adults. Although most parents think that teenagers ignore anything they have to say; I guarantee that our kids are actually listening and even resent parents who abandon the parental role in order to be their "friend." On the other hand, teenagers are heavily influenced by peers in their own age group. Exposing them to other young people who share the Orthodox faith, and more importantly who are trying to live their faith, is absolutely essential. They will find out that it is OK and very "cool" to be and act as a Christian in a world that keeps telling them the exact opposite. To all those struggling parents out there (and I am certainly one), hang in there, and always remember: all we can do is prepare our children within the Church to receive God's grace, the rest is up to them.
May all our efforts on behalf of our youth be blessed.