In Proverbs we read:
“Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
By the Grace of God, prayers of His most holy mother, all the saints and angels, your support and the blessing of our dear bishop, the Youth Department of our diocese is able to contribute (in raising a child/youth) to the hard work of the parents, our department of religious education, church school teachers and good examples of the faithful of our diocese.
That which we are able to help with the upbringing of our young people is very little compared to those mentioned above, but certainly is essential and of great benefit.
Especially because in this age of extreme busyness of the parents while our young people are confronted with emotional confusion, questioning of sexuality and gender, abuse of legal and illegal drugs, and the list goes on.
Every little help counts and every hand extended is worthwhile and important. Our Diocese, by the way, is the only one in North America of the Serbian Church which is active in this regard.
We are using the social media to get to them and also to be there for them. For example, we have a Facebook page called “United youth of the Serbian Orthodox Church” where we have around 2000 members and the page is private but very active. In the past year, I have been doing Facebook live and recently one of the things which I have been offering to then is pre-wedding counseling. For those who don’t know what Facebook live is, it is a live stream video where they can ask questions and make comments. Even though initially only a few of them join in, later when I look at the video there is rarely less than 200 views and sometimes up to 500 or more.
When I communicate with them through the Facebook messenger or text messaging, I make every effort (doing all the research necessary) to answer their questions, but at the end I always tell them to confirm with their parents and their parish priest – always directing them to their local community.
In addition to this we organize different gatherings, like the winter youth retreat where every year so far we have broken the record of participants. Starting with 30 present several years ago to now close to 130. Because of overwhelming interest, this year we will have to break them up into 2 groups so that we can accept as many as we are able to handle. By the way, at these gatherings many of them have a life-changing experience. Others enjoy it because it is an ultimate place of love and care, learning and healing.
We write recommendation letters, we have monthly meetings, we assist with summer youth week at camp, we extend and organize different educational opportunities for our high school and college students – example: serve-x-treme with IOCC and theological Institute of the Serbian Orthodox Church, we organize an oratorical Festival, we assist in organizing the youth conference of the Serbian Church in North America and so on.
In this upcoming year we plan on organizing another oratorical Festival on a larger scale for the celebration of Saint Mardarije, we plan on finding other ways to be there for the youth since many of them are not using Facebook anymore but Snapchat and Instagram – something which we have but has not been as active as we would like it to be.
As you can see there is much to do. I am a part-time youth director with a part-time assistant. This is great for now and we are so thankful for this opportunity and your support – more and more parishes are supporting us, and next year we plan on putting a list of churches who invest in these efforts. We are especially grateful to our wonderful and much loving mothers and sisters.
Our hope and prayer is to in a few years have A full-time youth director who will be able to spend even more time and be there even more for our youth and students. A person who will be able to regularly travel from parish to parish searching for youth and establishing a relationship with them. So please pray for us, share this good news with the people of your parish and please, please support us financially.
PS every year for the past several years we had delegates come up to the table and sign up for a one year commitment of giving $20 a month to the Youth Department. In addition to that, they have gone to the executive board of each parish asking each church to include the Youth Department in the annual parish budget. We are truly grateful that the future of our church depends on it.
Dragan Petrovic – priest