Since October is Youth Month in the Antiochian Archdiocese, the editors at antiochian.org caught up with Fr. Anthony Yazge, who heads up the College Department for the Archdiocese, as well as the camping program at Antiochian Village. (Read this 2006 Word interview with Fr. Anthony  and browse his Ask Abouna column .)
Fr. Anthony has been serving teens, college students and campers since 1981, and after thirty years he still approaches his ministry with dedication and enthusiasm.
1. How many years have you been working in youth ministries, and what kind of roles have you filled?
I basically went from my teenage years to being involved in youth ministry. As a seminarian I was involved in planning and leading teen retreats. A few years after ordination, I was appointed as the Midwest Teen SOYO Spiritual Advisor and served in that position for fourteen years before being appointed as the NAC Teen SOYO Spiritual Advisor for the last six years. As the Spiritual Advisor of Teen SOYO, I participated with our teens in many outreach projects over twenty years. In 2001 I was assigned to be priest in charge of Teen SOYO’s Special Olympics Camp and am currently still part of this ministry.
In addition to serving as a Spiritual Advisor for Teen SOYO the past twenty years, I have served the Antiochian Village for many years. I was a camp counselor in 1981 and was a session priest for thirteen years prior to my current assignment as Camp Director in 2006. I have also led a team of teens on a short term mission trip to Project Mexico.
2. Given your extensive knowledge and experience, describe for us if youth work has changed in these years, and what your greatest challenges are today.
The greatest area of change over the years has been the growing passionate desire of our youth wanting to serve others. I have been blessed to witness thousands of our teens do outreach in the name of Christ and His Church. In doing so, I also have noticed that today’s youth that are active in our ministries are more spiritually mature than the teens from my youth.
The biggest challenges in youth ministry today are many but I offer three that seem to be at the forefront:
- Families today are putting many other things (sports, extracurricular school activities, teenage employment, etc) as priorities over the life of the Church.
- Identifying and connecting with the teens whose families are not as supportive of their children’s life in the Church.
- Having sufficient manpower and resources to adequately serve the youth that God has put before us.
3. What Archdiocesan youth programs have been most effective? What new ones are you most optimistic about?
I think that our Camping programs  and Teen SOYO  have helped transform a generation of young people in the life of the Church. These programs not only provide the teachings of the Church but they immerse our youth in the daily life of being an Orthodox Christian. Our young people more than ever have an appreciation and embrace the liturgical life of the Church through their experience at our Orthodox camps and Teen SOYO retreats and gatherings.
OCF (Orthodox Christian Fellowship) more recently has made significant strides to connect our college students to Christ and His Church. OCCHY (Orthodox Christian Coalition for Healthy Youth)  will make a significant impact in local communities to help in the battle against substance use and abuse.
4. What are a couple key things laypeople at the parish level can do to further the cause of youth ministry in the church?
The first thing is to keep our young people and those who are involved in youth ministry in their prayers. Second, as adults we need to be positive role models for our youth. They have to see us as people who are serious about our spiritual lives. Third, support youth ministry at the parish, diocesan, archdiocesan and inter-Orthodox levels by volunteering to assist in youth ministry utilizing the God-given talents that each of us possess. For some, that might mean teaching a Bible Study for our youth or teaching Sunday School. For others it may be providing transportation to and from Teen SOYO events and donating funds.
5. How are things at the Village and what programs do we have to look forward to in the future?
We no longer have an “off-season” at the Village as we run programs year round. We are hosting schools and other groups for Environmental and Outdoor Education programs as well as Challenge Course and Team-Building events. We will host our alumni for weekend the beginning of November to celebrate the feast of St Raphael and remember the 10th anniversary of the falling asleep of our first camp director, Fr John Namie. Winter Camp is right around the corner (January and February). Registration for Winter Camp will be open in November and Summer Camp in December (both for campers and staff). We encourage all high school students to consider our Sacred Arts Camps (Byzantine Chant and Iconography) that are part of our summer camping season. We already have a waiting list for our May Family Camp. Look for our staff visiting parishes throughout the Archdiocese over the next several months as well.