The XV Annual Saint Herman’s West Youth Conference of the Western American Diocese was held at St. George Russian Orthodox Church in West Jordan, Utah, from December 27 to 31, 2021.
The Chairman of the Youth Department of the Western American Diocese, Archpriest Michael van Opstall, along with a committee of youth counselors and the parishioners (particularly the Sisterhood) of Saint George Orthodox Church, of which Father Michael is the Rector, organized the first in-person youth conference of the Diocese since the Covid quarantine restrictions of March 2020.
Over 50 youth participated in the conference representing a broad area of our Diocese. His Grace JAMES Bishop of Sonora presided over the conference supported by several of our clergy. The conference’s keynote speaker was the Reverend Hieromonk Calinic Berger, whose three lively and thought-provoking lectures edified his audience.
The conference schedule included workshops in the areas of proshpora baking, reading on kliros, choir practice, and acolyte serving. All of the participants attentively and enthusiastically participated in these activities. The purpose of these workshops is to gain practical experience in the church arts and to bring back to respective parishes knowledge and skills that can be applied to the spiritual life.
The lectures and workshops combined with round table discussions where the youth are able to ask the clergy burning questions about the spiritual life and morality today, along with the social time organized for getting acquainted with a broader number of youth from other parishes is truly an enriching experience for the young people of the Diocese. The youth counselors of the conference were given an opportunity to share their own spiritual journey towards a lifetime commitment to our Faith by means of a round-table discussion. The presenters were aged from mid-twenties to just over thirty. It was very helpful to hear about their struggles, career choices, and what brought them to make the decision to remain in the Orthodox Church and serve Her. The youth counselors truly gave food for thought to our teenagers present.
The culminating event of the conference was the participation in the All-night Vigil and Divine Liturgy dedicated to the Patron Saint of our youth, Venerable Father Herman of Alaska. His Grace Bishop James presided over the priests and deacons assembled. And the youth sang the Divine Services with powerful voices under the direction of their choir conductor, Stephan Svechnikov. There were a great number of readers who shared the prescribed readings during the All-night Vigil according to a predetermined roster. The acolytes performed their appointed tasks. And, the prosphoras baked during the workshop were used for the celebration of the Eucharist. Almost everyone partook of the Holy Mysteries at Liturgy in preparation for the impending Feast of the Nativity of Christ.