I will begin with a brief history of our Youth Department.
Nearly 15 years ago Bishop Longin called me and told me I was appointed to represent the youth of our diocese on a special task force team of the Serbian Orthodox Church on this continent – established by the Central Church Council. Being on that team, composed of representatives of each of our dioceses in United States and Canada, has been inspiring, educational and enlightening. Thanks to His Grace, the task force I mentioned, and many good people who were there to help and support us, we were able to:
* firmly establish the Youth Department for our diocese – with an assistant director, one part-time employee, and 12 members.
* infiltrate all the social media where the youth gather: website, Facebook, twitter, Instagram, tumbler, phone apps and more. All of this is regularly, some of them daily, updated.
* organize actual\physical gatherings – winter youth retreat for example.
There is nothing more urgent than saving our youth from: drugs, sexual misconduct, serious depression, emotional stress, loneliness, etc. First and foremost, however, is getting to them through social media and physical gatherings at retreats, camps and conferences – to enlighten them with our Orthodox Christian faith and Serbian tradition – which then naturally pushes all the bad things away. To prove my point I’d like to share the following. At the Winter Youth Retreats 2013 and 2014 on the last day, we asked the youth to write down two great things and one to improve on regarding the retreat. An overwhelming number of teens wrote, how even though they were allowed, they didn’t have the need for cell phones. That’s amazing – for a 21st-century teen not to be constantly mesmerized by their smart phone.
All of this requires time, effort and money. I take this opportunity to thank all those who have invested in our youth:
– first of all – members of the Youth Department: Hieromonk Serafim
– Fr. Tom Kazich with his Department of Education is always there to help, give advice and support.
– Mira Andjelković with all the sisters of our diocese who support us in many different ways.
– The faithful of St. Nicholas Church in Indianapolis who support me in this regard, especially Jim Fields who is our board member and regular volunteer for the parish and youth department – taking care of all the finances and the budget.
– My family, who offers me and my time given to the Youth Department.
– Last but certainly not least, our Bishop and Diocese and all those who have supported us with monthly donations. In fact if it wasn’t for the many delegates who promised and gave $20 a month for the past 12 months, plus several others who pleasantly surprised us a couple of times during the year – we really could not be nearly successful as we have been.
Please allow me to share some specifics of our success inthis past year.
– At our last Winter Youth Retreat we had a record-breaking, historic attendance of youth: over 110 participants – have in mind that we started four years ago with 30 participants. Now we are at the point of talking to and possibly hiring, presently out of work, architect who would (for very little money) give us a picture of what it would look like and how much it would cost to set up small log cabins on the monastery grounds – to accommodate more youth and to be used for different kinds of retreats. This of course would then be presented to the Diocesan Council for further looking into and possible development.
– Thanks to a very nice donation from a board president and friend of his, as well as a modest bill from a young Serbian movie maker, we were able to create a professional 10-minute promotional movie about our Winter Youth Retreat and Department. Each parish will receive one.
– Thanks to our Bishop (Diocese) for tuition, one of our youth department members, Jovan Šinik, aside from studying child psychology at a local university, has enrolled in the St. Stephen’s Theological Course. This two-year theological program will prepare him for future work with the youth of our diocese. We would like to have the ability to send at least one more of our students to the mentioned course.
– Thanks to the financial support of the Central Church Council, we were able to send seven of our college students (four of which are department members) to Phoenix, Arizona, for six days to the Theological Institute organized by the Serbian Church. They learned much and we need them to learn more.
– Every year since we started organizing the Winter Youth Retreat we were able to collect and distribute help to the poor and needy for Christmas.
– We have supported in different ways our youth of low income families.
– The annual budget of our Youth Department, even though we would like it to be much higher, we have built up from zero dollars to now around and over $10,000.
– The little book “From Conception to Redemption” you have in front of you is a gift to you. This is something I wrote mostly for my parish, but also for our youth to help them look at the whole life before them and hopefully understand that life without Church is hard, but with It is great and awesome.
– We regularly counsel youth over the phone, Internet and in person.
– We write recommendation letters for school and work.
– We study work on youth and follow trends.
– We organize St. Nikolaj Oratorical Festival. A youth from our diocese Jovana Jevtić won second place in Los Angeles last year. This year, the finals will be in Washington DC at the Youth Conference of the Serbian Orthodox Church – where we hope to send our finalist and maybe others.
– Much more has been done and details would take a long time to share.
At last, I would like to share the following with you. As our Department meets and always discusses what more we can do, we have recently reconstructed our Department and created special committees focusing on youth (high school students), but also since there is a serious need – on youth not recognized as youth yet (middle schoolers),and students at universities and those of that age who are usually completely forgotten. The middle schoolers are nowadays exposed to the same if not worse things than youth were back in the day. The college students are those who soon after will have families and have the need for the Church. If the Church is not there for them while they are away from home, they just may choose a church that was there for them – which a friend from college suggested. That church then they will be loyal to. We cannot allow that to happen.
We will be working on programs in the near future to help us support and make aware of each of our parishes – so that we can have a healthy youth and church loving (and supporting) young, out of college, people and families.
Most of the Orthodox jurisdictions in America invest much in their youth. We need to continue and do the same. I don’t like to bag, but I sincerely ask you, if you are able, to sign up and support us regularly for one year. Thank you in advance.
Dragan Petrovic – priest