Whether they were singing the responses at the Divine Liturgy and Compline, serving Atlanta’s homeless at the Loaves and Fishes Ministry, or surfing—“Atlanta style!”—at a water park, the eighty-five children who participated in the 18th All-American Council youth program experienced an unparalleled week of “faith, fun and fellowship.”
Organized by Priest Benjamin Tucci and OCA Youth Director Andrew Boyd, in conjunction with the Department of Christian Education and a team of some two-dozen leaders and chaperones, the week-long program demonstrated, as Father Benjamin observed, “that the Church is indeed in good hands for generations to come!”
Every morning during the AAC, the youth enjoyed educational sessions, during which they learned the hymns they sang at Friday’s closing Plenary Session, studied the lives of saints while applying lessons learned to their own calling to “Expand the Mission” of the Church, and engaged in art projects and discussions on their faith.
Afternoons were occupied with visits to Atlanta’s many attractions, including the city’s Aquarium and Zoo, the World of Coca Cola, and White Water Six Flags Water Park.
One of the highlights of their week was serving meals to the homeless and needy at Loaves and Fishes, a pan-Orthodox ministry based at Atlanta’s Saint John the Wonderworker parish. As one teen observed, “this really hit home to me, as it got me thinking how when Christ said we should ‘feed the hungry,’ He really meant it. I hope to get our parish’s youth group involved in a similar effort when I return home.”
The youth also enjoyed a Thursday morning breakfast with His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon and the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops, sang Compline each evening, and preparing the moving presentations that delighted everyone at the closing Plenary Session. [See related story.] And, of course, the new friendships they formed during the AAC are likely to last a lifetime.
“We had a phenomenal staff that worked as a team to offer the children and teens an enjoyable and time-treasured experience,” Father Benjamin recounted. “They came from all over the OCA, carving time out of their daily lives to experience and enjoy the Christian spirit and love that abounds.
“During one of the nightly Compline services, I was so humbled by their beautiful singing that I broke down into uncontrollable tears of joy,” he added. “They were amazing—so much so that I am convinced we have nothing to worry about! I feel confident that they will have no problem ‘running the Church’ in the years to come!”