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, sponsored by the Orthodox Christian Camps Association  and youth departments from different jurisdictions. 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."
Ruling Hierarch of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese His Grace Bishop Gregory of Nyssa was the keynote speaker. In his first address, Bishop Gregory spoke about the unity required of us in youth ministry in order to effectively "write" icons for the kingdom. For his second address His Grace stepped aside for a very special presenter, Protopresbyter Mark Leasure, his priest from St. George Church in Taylor, PA, who brought the myrrh-streaming icons of the Mother of God that reside in his parish.
The presence of these icons was the highlight of the entire conference, making it into a deeply spiritual event, beautifully illustrating the essence of the theme. How could those present not be inspired in 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. Those attending were anointed with the holy myrrh from the icons and prayed the "Akathist to the Mother of God, the Nurturer of Children." This event, followed by the Friday morning Liturgy, 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 several workshops  which covered a variety of topics related to youth and camping ministry. These workshops included both theological principles as well as the practical day-to-day techniques. Themes included "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 diverse group of speakers from seven jurisdictions included youth directors, priests, iconographers, camp directors and diocesan youth directors.
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. Overall, the Conference was a tremendous opportunity to deepen faith, learn, and be inspired. The next Conference scheduled for January 2015, will be no exception; information about it will be available this fall on the Orthodox Christian Camps Association Website .