The Youth Committee of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America recently held its annual St. Herman Youth conference near Dallas, Texas in cooperation with the local St. Nicholas parish. Begun with the blessing of His Grace, Bishop Peter, this annual event fosters friendships among Orthodox youth and provides them much-needed spiritual nourishment.
Hailing from 11 states and two dioceses, 32 young people assembled on Monday evening, December 28; some had driven for over 30 hours – through flood waters and snow – just to see each other! The primary events of the conference were held at the YMCA Collin County Adventure Camp facility in Anna, Texas, not far from St. Nicholas church in McKinney, Texas.
Returning to downtown Dallas, the group toured the Sixth Floor Museum, not far from the site of President Kennedy’s assassination, and enjoyed dinner at a restaurant. Arriving back at the camp well after dark, a night hike offered joys far from the lights of the big city: plentiful star gazing, a serenade by a creek and a few night critters, including Evening Prayers read by flashlight on a bridge beneath the open sky. After a 16-hour day, sleep came easily.
Before lunch on Thursday, the group continued its major assignment: preparing to sing and read all of Vespers, Matins and the Hierarchical Liturgy for St. Boniface. This sizable task was accomplished under the guidance of Larissa Sander and Fr. Deacon Alexander Petrovsky, Chairman and member, respectively, of the Diocesan Liturgical Music Committee. While a few of the youth were active members of their parish choirs, the majority were neither regular church singers nor experienced readers. The choir rehearsed each day during the conference, for a total of just three and a half hours.
After lunch, rector of the host St. Nicholas parish, Fr. Seraphim Holland, applied the lessons he has learned while conducting prison ministry to the married life, to great effect: no small amount of humor combined with a series of poignant letters written by inmates to the youth at the conference and stories from his time visiting behind bars. In turn, the youth prepared notes and pictures to send back to the inmates. The youth then learned about the substantial financial support which the Fund for Assistance ( http://www.fundforassistance.org/ ) annually provides for the DCMA St. Herman conference and other charitable causes within ROCOR. This aid funds scholarships to the conference and helps keep the overall cost reasonable. We are grateful to the FFA for this funding.
Vespers was served in the late afternoon, followed by dinner and a highly-entertaining talent show. Matins for St. Boniface rounded out the night, during which everyone made their confession. After a short New Year’s moleben, the group packed up their bags to leave in the morning and gathered around a bon fire.
Breaking camp early, the conference shifted venues to the recently-constructed St. Nicholas Church in McKinney. From the initial greeting of His Grace, Bishop Peter to the last note of the Hierarchical Liturgy, the gathered youth sang beautifully and prayerfully under the direction of Larissa Sander. The assembled clergy included archimandrite Gregory (Hermitage of St. Arsenios); priest Seraphim Holland (St. Nicholas parish), priest Daniel Marshall (St. George parish, Cincinnati, OH), priest George Temidis (Holy Virgin Nativity Church, Mahopac, NY), deacon Nicholas Park (St. Nicholas parish), and deacon David Companik (St. Jonah parish, Spring, TX). Bishop Peter gave an inspiring sermon. Following the Liturgy, the conference enjoyed a delicious meal, prepared by the St. Nicholas parish sisterhood.