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Bishop Anthony is Keynote Speaker at Orthodox Family Camp in Minnesota

Photography by Nick Barakos

Where on earth would you find Bishop Anthony worshipping with Greek, Antiochian, Romanian, Serbian, Russian, and Chinese families in one place? At Family Camp, October 2-4, 2015, north of Minneapolis, Minnesota! For over a decade, members of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in West St. Paul, MN, have helped organize a pan-Orthodox Family Camp that includes parishioners of over a dozen Orthodox churches in the Minnesota area.

This year, we were blessed to have Bishop Anthony of Toledo as our main speaker. Over 160 people spent the weekend in a beautiful retreat setting with our Orthodox friends from all different churches learning about how to live as Orthodox Christians in a secular world. Captivating, inspiring, and entertaining, Bishop Anthony recapped the change in American culture over the decades and spoke with passion about the world we live in. Not to leave us depressed, he offered solid instruction for survival in such a changing world. You could hear a pin drop as he addressed the group Friday night after Vespers, Saturday morning as a family, Saturday morning and afternoon to parents, Saturday evening to teens and college students, and Sunday in his sermon. Attendees who offered feedback raved about His Grace and suggested a repeat visit next year! Ironically, Bishop Anthony is no stranger to this camp. He has spoken at the camp as Rick Michaels, then Fr. Anthony Michaels, and now, Bishop Anthony, all in the last decade.

Why a Family Camp? We have realized that it is difficult in our fast-moving world to build relationships with other Orthodox Christians, to spend time with our families in a Christian setting, and to pull out of the world in an effort to focus our families on Christ and his teachings. Attending Family Camp is a true commitment for families today; however, we have found that it provides a bedrock and foundation for faith, for Minnesota families, who come year after year. Because we have a huge pan-Orthodox summer camp in Minnesota, many of the kids are great friends and love to get together outside of that wonderful summer experience.

Family Camp gives parents a chance to sit around a campfire with their kids singing the same camp songs. For families who have not sent their kids to camp before, it gives them the chance to introduce the idea of Orthodox camping before the child goes by themselves. This year we had over 50 teens attend family camp! Watching them sway together singing camp songs was worth the price of admission, itself.

Our weekend began with Vespers and was followed by social time with icebreakers, snacks and song. The evening ended with saint stories, outdoor games for older kids, and a parent game time. Saturday morning began with morning prayer, breakfast and a general talk to everyone. The kids were then divided by age and taken to various meeting areas around the camp for an age appropriate session while the parents listened to our speaker—in this case, Bishop Anthony! After lunch there was family free time which included pontoon rides, field games, crafts, swimming, gym games, hikes, and naps. The kids had crazy Olympics while their parents had another session with Bishop Anthony and everyone had Vespers together before dinner.

After a delicious dinner we had a family activity and then a huge sing along at a roaring campfire. We were blessed this year to have a special performance by Fr. Patrick Kinder of the singing group Kerygma. The evening ended like it did on Friday with saint stories, night games and parent time. Sunday morning was the most beautiful act of love, a Divine Liturgy with everyone participating in singing with the choir. It didn't matter one bit what ethnic background you came from, because every voice joyfully praised God asking for His mercy with one voice. A beautiful brunch ended our weekend with everyone giving hugs and kisses until next time we would be together.

In Minnesota, the Orthodox do not have to wait long to be together, thank God. The 20 plus Orthodox churches are united throughout the year. The Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Clergy Association meets monthly for lunch, offers Introduction to Orthodoxy classes, and leads pan Orthodox services. As a community we have an active and successful FOCUS North America site, we have a very alive summer camp with counselors from all the churches, and we take a mission trip to Guatemala to serve the orphans. Parishioners are invited to attend speakers at all the churches and it is not unusual to find Greeks and OCA members helping Antiochians and visa versa, at all of our festivals!

At the end of Family Camp, it was clear that Bishop Anthony was one of our most beloved speakers. He knows his flock and the world in which we live. We are grateful to him for joining us and inspiring us to be strong Orthodox Christians in a difficult secular world, and we ask God to grant him many years!