Report of Diocesan Youth Department

Report of Diocesan Youth Department

Youth or young adult age is the most crucial stage of life.  Middle schoolers are at the crossroads, high schoolers are an emotional wreck, and college students are extremely vulnerable.  As one of the recent holy fathers said: “the world attracts the youth like a magnet; worldly things have great power over the newly enlightened soul that just started to find his bearings and see his purpose in life and the duty calling him.”
On the other hand, our children were raised to understand and believe that “…there is no comparison between pleasures of the world and the pure pleasures of God” (James 4:4).

The special challenge with this age group in the 21st century is that they have everything at the tip of their fingers and “don’t need anyone.”  Therefore, we the Church and obviously family and friends must make an extra effort to guide them without getting in the way of their natural progression. We need to visibly and invisibly be there and gently guide them because history has shown that no matter how much young people know, the experience is still not there, and the decisions of people in that stage may affect them for the rest of their lives and even eternity. We need our young people to listen to the words of our Lord, specifically I Timothy 4:12:  Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.

The members of our Youth Department, 19 in number, ranging in age from 16 to 65, are very much aware of the above and therefore willing to do everything and anything for the good of our young people.

Before I continue with the report, please allow me to give you a brief history of our Youth Department. Nearly 20 years ago our Serbian Church on this continent found it was time to challenge each diocese to establish and organize a youth department. Sadly, because of the Serbian Church dealing with typical and traditional challenges in the old country and here, most of the other Orthodox jurisdictions on this continent already had active Youth Departments with full-time employees. On the other hand, our Midwest Diocese is by far best organized and most active Serbian diocese on this continent in this regard.

What is it that we do?

1. We practically cover and regularly maintain all web-based opportunities which attract the youth, such as:
Snapchat and
a blog in process
* We regularly offer inspirational, educational and spiritual videos, pictures and sayings.

2. We organize and/or participate in organizing the following:
– The now very famous Winter Youth Retreat, which this year had nearly 120 participants. Here is what one of the participants wrote to me:  “Hello father, today after the retreat I wanted to thank you but I didn’t want camp to end because I feel I great connection with God. I’m scared to lose that connection because I have before. But anyway again thank you for making this retreat I would have been lost without it.”
– Oratorical Festival
– National Youth Conference. Save the dates:  June 22-26 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
– Teenage Week at Summer Camp

3. We provide materials for a regular youth ministries page in the Path of Orthodoxy, the official magazine of the Serbian Church on this continent.

4. We established a 24/7telephone hotline with a pager number, in case someone has a desperate need.

5. We have supported in different ways our youth of low income families.

6. We write recommendation letters for school and work.

It must be said that we receive absolutely great support from our dear bishop with whom I communicate regularly, our clergy, our monastics, the secretary of our diocese and all the workers therein, our great and dear sisters or KSS, our Diocesan Camp Directors, St. Sava and New Gracanica camp administrators, a few parishes, and a few individuals who have been more than kind in supporting us financially and any other way needed. The most amazing support was when we received a substantial donation from one of the smallest parishes in our diocese and a few $20 donations from the youth who were part of the Winter Youth Retreat. Those young people also wrote thank-you letters.

I truly hope every parish of our diocese will from this year on include us in the annual budget. Very important forms have been distributed to each of you, the delegates, to take back to your parishes and to present at your next executive board meeting. Please don’t put this aside and, God forbid, forget. Thank you.

Because of the above-mentioned support and the donations, we were able to:
– put together and print portable churches (Tryptichs) for youth, but especially college students.
– formally educate future youth workers.
– send students to: theological Institutes, pan-Orthodox youth director meetings, Orthodox Christian humanitarian weeklong seminars, monastery pilgrimages, and so on. Every time we have done so, we have also made specific requests for the good and benefit of all.  For example, recently we supported two students who went on a pilgrimage visiting monasteries in Arizona, recording and posting short inspirational videos about their trip as well as writing blogs.
– financially support the making of “Mountain Men of St. Nicholas Church” documentary, offering an opportunity to college students to go on a kind of a pilgrimage here in America.
-This past year we also opened up a secret group on Facebook which now (after much effort) numbers around 2000 members of youth and young adults from the Serbian Church across the nation and Canada.  The group is called “United Youth of the Serbian Church” and it’s secret, only because this kind of a set-up better protects the individuals in it. Please note, we always encourage activity and participation in the real (not web-based) local church community. By being on social media, we are there for the churched youth who are on the net but also reaching out to many others.

The following are some of the questions and concerns and comments we deal with from and about our young people:
– Hello! I have a question about fasting. My family has been discussing: if a women has been fasting and wants to receive communion, but she is menstruating: is she allowed to receive the communion and kiss the cross?
– Dear Father, Please forgive me if I seem to bother you. I didn’t know where to exactly turn to -I had a recent family member pass away, I had a sort of panic/anxiety attack that had occurred to me. This is not the first time I’d say it’s maybe the third. What happens is I get too deep into my thoughts and then death comes across my mind, I think to myself what happens when I die? Is this it? There’s nothing after this? I do not know if I had this thought come to mind simply because a recent family member passed, or because the thought just came back. The last time I remembered this happened to me was when I started high school two years ago. After this happened I thought to myself the only person that can help me is God. This is why I wanted to ask you for your opinion on this and if you have ever come across something like this. Thank You so much in advance!
– I am in a long term relationship with someone who is Catholic, and important issues have come up, can we talk?
– Father, I wanted to come to you personally about this because it has been bothering me since we started learning about it. In order to graduate I have to take a class called Bosnian Immigration. As you can imagine, it’s not an easy one to deal with. Yesterday the professor brought up this idea of christoslavism which basically says that as orthodox Christians we are encouraged to kill Muslims and have been since the 1300s because to us they are known as “Christ killers” he then went on to say that we believe that prince Lazar is Jesus and that we wait for his return and he even showed pictures of prince lazar pictured as “Jesus” (icons of Prince Lazar). He then went on to say that in our church if you kill a Muslim you are encouraged to take communion and not confess because what you took part in is not shameful but in face honors the religion. My mouth was hanging open during this entire lecture. At the end he compared us to ISIS and I quietly got up and left. I’m not sure how I should deal with this. I’ve never heard of Prince Lazar being Jesus in our church.
– Father what’s your take on Brittany Maynard the terminally ill 29yr old who has been getting a lot of press lately for her decision. I find myself sympathizing with her and her choice to “peacefully” die via prescribed pills. To be clear I do not believe in suicide and have a very very hard time understanding why one would take their life. But I can’t help but think maybe this is an “exception to the rule”. Or is it as simple as night and day. When you take your life, no matter the circumstances, it’s suicide. Thanks for you time!
– question.. It’s good to see the good in everybody though, right? Maybe not. But, if yes, then is there an extent to which we should or .. ?
– There is this girl I have know for a great deal of time, who is Serbian but her, and her father are atheist. I was wondering if you have ways I could use to help her understand God and his power.
– There is a person who I’ve been talking to, he comes from a Muslim family, they practice Islam and try to force it onto him, but in his heart he truly wants to be orthodox. Can you talk to him and explain better our beautiful religion to him?
– My friend is suffering from depression and she knows that the Devil is push that stuff into her mind and that scares her. I don’t know what to say because she had thoughts of cutting and harming herself.
– I honestly wish I was more religious. But my parents don’t really fast much and I want to go to church more often because I had done many things I regret. But my parent always have other things to do. What do you think I should do?
– Is it okay to apologize to people first even though they did something worse to you?
– How does one obtain salvation, and how is one Saved? would you rather think there is a heaven, or would you prefer “nirvana?” Or might you just be looking forward to annihilation (utter non-existence) after death?  In addition, many bring up this idea of ”forgiveness” when it comes to being saved. What exactly does it mean to be forgiven? How is one forgiven? Are there any sins in any scripture that are stated to be not forgiven?
– Hello father, I’m messaging you because just a few moments ago I opened a random page in the Bible that sits on my desk. When I did, I was sort of confused by the passage that I found, and I was hoping that you may be able to help me better interpret it. The passage is this: I Timothy 2:8?
***Do note that after we answer the questions, many times consulting with several clergy and professionals, we always direct the people to turn to and continue the discussion with their parish priest (and parents, if they are under age).

In the near future we hope to:
– put together and publish a youth ministry sources and resources handbook.
– make a short movie/documentary on the theme “life and faith,” with intentions of inspiring young people to believe, practice and defend their faith.
– compile a list of things parishes can do for their middle schoolers, high schoolers and college students, for example: giving parents of middle schoolers things to watch for and be observant of, providing short text messages to high school students, suggesting ideas for high school graduation gifts, keeping in touch with college students with a once-a-year (during finals) short note of love and encouragement including a $10 Starbucks gift card, and so on.
– develop a smaller (pocket-sized) portable church (Tryptich) for high school students.
– better structure and maintain our website.
– gather a group of professionals in the psychology and law fields, but of our Church, who are willing to offer advice and help when necessary.
– offer more of needed materials to our clergy and church school staff regarding challenges and burning issues.
We will be doing everything and anything in order to have healthy youth and church-loving (and supporting) young, out-of-college people and families.

A few years ago we administered a survey of all our churches regarding youth activities and interests. One thing learned from the survey was that 75% of parishes responding did not have an organized youth group but at the same time were showing much interest for it. There is definitely a need, so let’s put our efforts, hearts and money where our mouth is.  I don’t like to beg, but I sincerely ask you, if you are able, to sign up and support the work of the Youth Department.
Thank you in advance.

With love in Christ – for the Youth Department of our diocese,

Dragan Petrovic- priest, Director

Giving thanks to God for the following honorable and hard-working Youth Department members:
Hieromonk Serafim (Baltić), Priests Nikola Radovančević and Radomir Plavšić, , Deacon Marko Bojović, Protinica Snežana Novaković, Mirjana Čubrić, and college students: Jovan Šinik, Ana Mihajlović, Sandra Glišić, Katarina Ivančević, Milica Vuksanović,  Kosovka Sprečo, Tanja Samardzija, Dusan Markovic  and Marija Petrovic. Also the members of the Youth Council, elected at our last year’s Diocesan Assembly: Kristina Petrovic, Danijela Jevdosic, and Andrei Hubbard.