Over 300 Young Adults Reclaim Their Connections Through Virtual Young Adult League Conference

“Reclaim your faith by living out your calling as Orthodox Christians. Reclaim your soul through confession and reconciliation. Reclaim your heart by being an example of love to your fellow human beings. Reclaim your life by giving it over to God as your compass and as the one Who will navigate your journey through life.” It is with these words that His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos greeted over 300 young adults who attended the 2021 Virtual Young Adult League Conference hosted by the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco on January 9 – 10, 2021.

The theme for this gathering was “Reclaim” and this seven-letter word proved to be thought-provoking and motivational throughout the two-day conference, inspiring young adults to pursue greater engagement in worship, service, fellowship and witness.

His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros offered a video greeting to the conference attendees where he shared, “Knowing that you are reclaiming your real connectivity and your bonds with one another is most encouraging for me as your Archbishop. Your gathering today and tomorrow may be virtual but it is real, it comes out of your love for the church and for one another. Therefore, as you focus on reclaiming your relationships both with God and with your brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope that these trying times of isolation can be overcome in your personal lives by your truly heroic efforts for community.”

The first convo (workshop) of the conference featured Rev. Father Barnabas Powell (Sts. Raphael, Nicholas and Irene Church – Cumming, GA) who spoke on the relevant topic of Maintaining Connection Amidst Physical Distance. Father Barnabas challenged the young adults by stating, “When you reclaim your connections you’re reclaiming the reality of who you are, and your ‘why’ if you understand it, if you explore it, if you allow the wisdom of the faith to inform you and shape you and mold you, the ‘why’ underneath your practice will be strong enough and motivated enough to carry you through the challenges of the present day.”

Steven Christoforou, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America offered a practical and tangible presentation on How to Balance Your Faith and Career. He challenged the young adults “to stop thinking like modern Americans and start thinking like Christians; with the mind of Christ”. He continued on to share that “there is no balance between faith and career. When we kid ourselves and try to reach this balance, what we’re actually saying is that career comes first. That faith is something we squeeze in on the margins; a Sunday morning here, maybe a holiday there. Faith becomes just another thing on our calendar.” Christoforou concluded his presentation by sharing this powerful message, “Let’s not seek a life of balance – it’s not a thing. Instead, let’s go all in. Let’s go all in on Jesus, because He is continually going all in on us.”

A speed networking session included breakout groups based on careers which included Law, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Medical, Creative/Arts, Media and Communications, Education, and Business. Participants joined in conversation with other young adults, exchanging ideas and resources for their chosen career path.

Saturday’s virtual conference concluded with a musical performance by Greek-American singer-songwriter Stavro Piperis who released his first solo album, Chances, in December 2019. During the pandemic lockdown, he began songwriting again and just released a brand new album, Akoma: Songs for Greek America. His musical set for the YAL Conference included original songs in both Greek and English, which were performed live from the stage of the Pioneer Theater in Fremont, Nebraska.

Stavro Piperis performed songs from his new album Akoma: Songs for Greek America.
 
Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Camarillo, California welcomed the virtual conference participants to Divine Liturgy on Sunday, with a special homily offered by Rev. Father Gary Kyriacou. He shared, “What gift has God given you that you can give back to the Church? What talent have you been given that you can share with the church to bring others to a closer and better understanding of who Christ is in their lives? Because this gift of Grace that God has given us is given through the work that we do on an everyday basis. So the cross that we wear around our neck, the cross that we display when we say our prayers in public, the cross that we carry as we move forward in our lives needs to be an example of love, an example of fellowship, an example of a desire for worship, and most of all a desire for service and martyria – witness of our faith.”At the time of registration, young adults had the opportunity to submit questions anonymously for a Q & A session which featured three distinguished panelists: Rev. Father Paul Paris (Holy Trinity Cathedral – Portland, OR); Rev. Father Jordan Brown (Sts. Peter and Paul – Boulder, CO); and Dr. Ann Mitsakos Bezzerides (Director, Office of Vocation and Ministry at Hellenic College Holy Cross – Brookline, MA). The session was facilitated by Rev. Father Christopher Retelas (Saint John the Baptist – Anaheim, CA). Discussion focused on acknowledging the emotional pain brought on by the pandemic, staying strong in the faith while away from home, challenges facing young adults in the faith, and how can we reclaim our faith when there are so many distractions around us.
 
Service to others is one of the four components of the YAL ministry, and an inspirational presentation was offered to the young adults from the Saint Innocent Orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico. Rev. Father Demetrios Andrews, Executive Director, offered a historical review of Project Mexico and Saint Innocent Orphanage. They offer three ministries: providing homes for suffering families; providing for abandoned boys; and providing a place where Orthodox Christians can live the faith.  Chaplain and Associate Director Father Nicholas Andruchow led the boys in singing the Apolytikion of Saint Innocent, one young boy provided a tour of the church, and another young man shared how the orphanage has saved his life, giving him a chance to succeed through education, with compassionate and loving leadership. Because of the pandemic, the popular youth and young adult trips to Project Mexico to help build homes has been on hiatus, but Father Nicholas expressed his hope that young adults will take advantage of this opportunity once it is allowed again. Dr. John Moxen, National Programs Director for FOCUS North America proclaimed how we can overcome our own spiritual poverty by serving others before ourselves. He also provided some tangible examples of how young adults can get involved by assembling and distributing St. Nicholas Sack Hygiene Kits to those in need in their communities. 

The final convo was presented by the Metropolis of San Francisco Family Wellness Ministry Team led by George Papageorge, MFT, and Rev. Father Tom and Presvytera Pat Tsagalakis, and focused on Becoming the Best Version of Yourself to Find the “One”. They encouraged the young adults to always put forth the best version of themselves which will connect with the best version of others through seeking Christ as The One. They also offered a 30-Day Challenge “3-3-3-1 Prayer” comprised of: Three things for which I am thankful; Three people for whom I wish to pray; Three things I need today; and One person that God will place in my path today who I can help, meet and connect as my authentic true self.

The boys from Saint Innocent Orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico prepare to chant the Apolytikion of Saint Innocent.
 

Under the leadership of Chairman George Anagnostopoulos, the YAL Conference Steering Committee planned a spiritually uplifting, informative and interactive event that attracted participants from 41 states as well as Canada, France and Israel. In his concluding remarks, George thanked the members of the Steering Committee: Marissa Hondros (CA), Christiana Konugres (WA), Alex Krantz (CA), Yianna Papadeas (CA), Niko Piperis (NE), Christine Scolinos (CA), Christos Schwarz (NJ), Marina Settelmayer (CA), Costa Theodore (AZ), Stavroula Tsantilas (WA). The Chairman  also acknowledged the YAL Conference Co-Advisors, the Honorable Steven and Stacia Counelis; Metropolis Youth and Young Adult Ministries Director,  Johanna Carter; and Metropolis Director of Development and Communications, Kristen Bruskas, for their collective leadership and assistance in making this Conference possible.

The Young Adult League movement will continue to develop by the participants staying connected using the Discord app, and through the new “YAL In Your Backyard” initiative to foster friendships and regional activities throughout the year. Plans are presently being developed for an in-person conference over Labor Day 2021, as long as large group gatherings are permitted.

Metropolitan Gerasimos charged the young adults with his closing remarks, “Now that this weekend is coming to a close, do not just disconnect from all the people you have been interacting with these past two days. Keep your friendships thriving. Reclaim time for yourselves – cultivating your spiritual life to grow closer to Christ, cultivating your talents to serve the Church, and cultivating your faith so that you spread the light and love of Jesus Christ to the world around you.”