The Eastern Diocese sent six representatives to the annual Orthodox Youth and Camp Workers Conference, hosted by the Antiochian Archdiocese and sponsored by the Orthodox Youth Directors in North America. The conference took place January 24-26, 2019, at the Antiochian Village Camp and Conference Center in Bolivar, PA.
Dr. Christopher Thurber was the keynote speaker and led two sessions titled, “Kids Do Dumb Stuff” and “X-Posed: Youth Development in the 21st Century.” In addition, there were small group discussions and TED Talk-inspired sessions touching on topics such as “Risk Management and Youth Protection,” “Social Media,” “Spiritual Self-Care,” “Exploring Our Youth Ministry Motivations,” and “Having Difficult Conversations.”
The Diocese’s delegation–which included Fr. Khatchatur Kesablyan (pastor of Sts. Vartanantz Church, Chelmsford, MA), Fr. Vart Gyozalyan, Fr. Tadeos Barseghyan, Kathryn Ashbahian, Lisa Mardigian, and Jennifer Morris–found the conference fruitful professionally and personally in their camping and parish ministries.
St. Vartan Camp director Fr. Vart Gyozalyan (pastor of Hye Pointe Church, in Bradford, MA) reflected on the conference: “I think it’s always good to talk to other youth workers and hear their experiences. Participating in conferences like this, especially ones that are organized by a sister church, open our eyes to the realities our young people are facing in their daily lives.”
Assistant director of Midwest Hye Camp Fr. Tadeos Barseghyan (pastor of St. Shag Church, St. Paul, MN) said: “Every year I learn about successful ministries from our Orthodox brothers and sisters. Some ministries in my parish were inspired by ideas I learned at the conference.”
After last year’s conference Fr. Barseghyan started a program called “Hot Chocolate with Der Hayr,” which encourages casual conversations between the pastor and parish youth. “It helps me understand the world they live in; I’ve noticed that often we don’t truly understand our youth, and struggle to connect with them.”
Parish Youth Coordinator Lisa Mardigian (of St John Church, Southfield, MI) said: “I truly enjoy spending time with Orthodox clergy and lay youth and camp leaders. I especially enjoy spending time with my fellow Diocesan youth leaders and camp directors. I believe this annual conference empowers us to kick off our 2019 camp season, working together and showing love and support for each other, which ultimately benefits our youth and young adults.”
Jennifer Morris, from the Diocese’s Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, noted: “This conference provides opportunities to network with Orthodox camp and youth workers. I’ve attended this conference for 10 years, and always leave feeling re-energized in my ministry.”
Kathryn Ashbahian of the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries added: “These conferences are as intellectually enriching as they are spiritually uplifting. The time we get to spend with our Diocesan camp directors is invaluable.”