I just returned from a week-long Orthodox summer camp that I help run for our Metropolis. As always, I was impressed and truly moved by the amount of character and sincerity displayed by the children, and counsellors, who attended. Indeed, every year I am reminded just what a precious resource our youth truly are.
These children, who deal with prejudices, peer pressures, and mass media brain washing, still make the conscious choice to come to camp and experience the communion which they only find in the secluded woods of northern Ontario. Truly, Camp is the most important youth ministry we have today; a truth that too few parents and elders in our communities realize or support. Furthermore, beyond being just important, it is authentic.
Authenticity usually describes something that is "genuine or known to be true" (Webster's Dictionary). In this sense, Camp fulfills both such adjectives, as it consists of genuine people, volunteering their time, money and talents to teach our future generations. It is known to be true because the fruits of the last 10 years of Camp Metamorphosis can been seen in the character and virtue exhibited by those youth who have passed through the program.
I point this out because, if we think about it, few Church programs today can really boast to be practicing "Authentic Ministry." This is why we usually never ask the questions; 1. Is what we are doing genuine and true to the Word of God? 2. Are our volunteers genuine in their motives for helping, or are they simply there to gossip, socialize, or to satisfy their ego in some way? 3. Are the fruits of our labours known to be true? 4. Is there a positive effect on those involved? 5. Is there consistent success in quality, regardless of the numbers? It is these questions, and subsequent answers, that should be compared to the truth contained in the Scriptures.
At Camp this year campers tackled such practical issues as outsourcing pregnancy, homosexuality and same sex marriage, rising atheism, and the pursuit of happiness for the average citizen. These are issues that were not only discussed with senior campers, but with junior youth as young as 12 years old. Camp does not look to "sugar coat" the issues confronting our children today. It seeks to teach them how to think critically about everyday issues they face, and will face in their lives. Furthermore, it provides them with a solid understanding of Orthodox Spirituality to be the guiding star in such future deliberations.
It is camp's unique ability to not only educate, but also engage our youth, in an environment free from mass media influence and of non-orthodox peer pressure, that makes it invaluable in the battle against nominal Christianity in North America. It is also its ability to truly teach the truth, without any parish "Politics" or "Obstacles" that makes camp a truly "Authentic Ministry." The rest of the Church should heed this warning; learn from such an approach, instead of treating camp as simply another past-time for our children, pushed into the "back burner" of parish life because we are too busy re-building the stairs of the church, or the banquet hall, or the iconography, or any other such thing that will have no use to us in 20 years when our church buildings are empty due to lack of Authentic Ministry.