The best perk of being a Y2AM Young Adult Ministries Coordinator (at least this far) is spending two weeks with some of my very favorite young adults and Clergy at Camp Emmanuel, the Metropolis of Denver summer camp. Every year, across the entire Archdiocese, very dedicated and patient people commit their time and energy to put on some really incredible camps for Orthodox youth. By the time you’re reading this, I will be in the Manzano Mountains completely exhausted (and probably very dirty) but experiencing my favorite blessing of the year.
We know that camp is an important experience for the youth that show up ready to spend a week immersed in Orthodoxy, but I’m not sure we realize how important it is for camp counselors, too. Camp is an opportunity for young adults like me to (hopefully) help shape young Orthodox Christians, and it’s also a very necessary reminder to refocus on our own faith.
Getting older often includes getting busier, which can distract us from Christ I’m not the only one who doesn’t get as many truly spiritual moments as I would like. Yet camp gives us a few weeks to step back from school and work and reconnect with our Faith. It gives me the inspiration I need to make God more of a priority in my life.
It’s also a beautiful reminder that I’m not alone. We are all struggling to keep God at the center of our lives as we enter our twenties and thirties.
A big part of that struggle includes staying involved.
As we get older, graduate college, stop having our summers off, and start building careers, it becomes more and more difficult for young adults to find time to dedicate to things like summer camp.
Last year, in order to be a staffer at Camp Emmanuel, I took every vacation day my job offered. For the entire year. I used all of my vacation time to go on what is most definitely NOT a vacation. When I went back to work my coworkers couldn’t understand why I was more exhausted than when I left.
I go to camp because I love it. I go to camp because I need it. But I didn’t always realize that.
You could say I’m part of a “camp family;” my father has been involved in the program for as long as I can remember and I’ve watched my little sister go from a dedicated camper to a dedicated staff member. I attended camp pretty consistently when I was in junior high and high school, but, until recently, it had been more years than I care to admit since I had last been back. My family spent those years trying to peer pressure me into going but I always had something “more important” going on.
Without my family’s patient (yet consistent) advice, I don’t know that I would have ever gone back to camp. Most of the staff that is here are either part of a “‘camp family”’ or actively sought out the program as a way to serve their Church. It’s rare (at least at Camp Emmanuel) to meet a staffer that the camp found and encouraged to join.
And maybe that’s part of the problem.
The Church raised me. As I write this I’m with many of the same Clergy that served here when I was a camper. I’m co-staff with friends I met when we were campers. And, of course, my father and sisters are here.
These are the people who have helped shape my identity. They were with me when I was a camper, they’re with me now that I’m on staff, and they were patiently waiting for me all those years I was off doing my own thing. They are Christians in the best and most true sense of the word, and I doubt I could ever express exactly what they have done for me. They made sure I knew the Church was home, even when I was wandering. And they made sure the door was open for me when I returned.
It can be difficult to find your way home once you become lost. It doesn’t always come as easily as it did for me. One of the parables we discussed with our campers this week was the Prodigal Son. While all it took was a little gentle encouragement from my family for me to return “home,” for the Prodigal Son, it took the loss of everything
But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:11-32)
Losing your way doesn’t always include blowing your inheritance on Gatsby style parties and finding yourself with nothing. But we all have our prodigal moments, whether they last days or years. And if we hope that prodigals find their way back home, we need to make sure that they know home is waiting for them.
So are we?
The Church is full of active youth, the type you see at summer camps and those that participate in GOYA activities throughout the year. But it is also full of not-so-active young adults. The struggle becomes turning that group of active youth into an active group of young adults, and serving at summer camps is an important part of that.
So, are we inviting them in? Are we calling them home?
We can invite young adults back by making sure we, as a Church, offer ministry opportunities for them. For those who are about to start (or currently in the midst of) college OCF is a great way to help our college students stay involved in the Church while they’re on campus.
Visit ocf.net/firstfortydays [hyperlink] to learn how to connect college freshmen to Orthodox college ministry.
And for those of us out of college, there should be a REAL group waiting for you at your parish. REAL is the new young adult ministry from Y2AM and we’re seeing some awesome work happening all across the country. If you don’t already have one in your community, let’s talk about getting a REAL group started.
And keep a lookout for REAL Weekend, coming later this fall.
Hopefully in combination with OCF, REAL, and getting our young adults serving at camp programs, we can start to see a more of our young adults who are seeking home (and those who didn’t know they wanted to) finding their way home.
Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and studied political science at the University of Utah. She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones. Charissa currently lives in New York City.
For more on summer camp, check out this episode of Be the Bee:
For more on returning home to the Church, check out this episode of Be the Bee: