“Let me start by telling you, without any doubt, uncertainty or hesitation: I am here to stand by you, to laugh with you, to cry with you, and to serve with you! I have a yearning to see your generation advance the Church. Your generation is special! You have an innate desire to lift each other up – this is what our world needs now!” It was with these powerful words that His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America greeted the participants of the 2019 Young Adult League Conference following the Agiasmos Service on Friday, August 30, 2019 in Long Beach, CA.

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The participants of the 2019 Young Adult Conference

“Proclaim” was the theme of the conference held from August 29 – September 1 at the Hyatt Regency in Long Beach. This theme was incorporated into all aspects of the weekend filled with faith and fellowship amongst Orthodox young adults. While this was planned to initially be a Metropolis event, it quickly grew to attract 357 registrants from 33 states and 127 parishes across the Archdiocese. Conference Chairman George Anagnostopoulos, led a team of 54 young adults to plan and implement this event to put YAL back on the map!

In his welcome remarks, Metropolitan Gerasimos quoted from the poem Ithaca by renowned poet Constantine Cavafy who wrote, “The days of the future stand in front of us like a line of candles all alight; golden and warm and lively little candles.” Relating that passage to the young adults, Metropolitan Gerasimos continued, “This is how I see all of you – the future in front of me, shining like candles, shining with the love of the Lord in your hearts. What better way to create a legacy of leadership for our church than to cultivate the best and brightest of our young adults.”

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Five-time Daytime Emmy® Award winning actor and devoted Orthodox Christian Jonathan Jackson delivers the Keynote Address

The Keynote Address presented by five-time Daytime Emmy® Award winning actor and devoted Orthodox Christian Jonathan Jackson focused on the conference theme, “Proclaim”. In his remarks, Jackson shared a very personal message about proclaiming Christ in a secular world. He spoke about proclaiming the Mystery of Christ through silence, humility and prayer. He also spoke about the tension of Grace and Truth as the presence of the Cross in the world, noting that if we lose either of these realities, we no longer have the Cross, we no longer have Christianity. This void, as we have seen throughout history, will be replaced by religious fundamentalist or secular progressive ideologies. The Royal Path of Orthodoxy is the tension of Grace and Truth present in the world through the Holy Spirit and the faithful proclamation of the Gospel by the Church.       

Workshops were presented throughout the weekend, which allowed the attendees to actively engage in dialogue about topics relevant to their lives, addressing topics including: Balancing Humility with Career Progress as an Orthodox Christian; Proclaiming the Mystery of Christ in an Apathetic World; Not On Our Own Terms: Letting the Kingdom of God Come Into our Life and Transform Us; Broken, Wounded . . . and Perfect! Christ’s Perfection Amidst Our Broken Nature; Created for Connection; and Rediscovering Relationship: How the Church Calls Us Back After Falling Away.

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Fr. Tom Tsagalakis presents during one of the many workshops throughout the weekend

While the young adults enjoyed Friday afternoon at the beach, Archbishop Elpidophoros met with the clergy from the area. This provided a forum for the priests to share information on their parish ministries, while benefiting from hearing firsthand from Archbishop Elpidophoros about the priorities he has established for his archpastoral ministry.

Jonathan Jackson was the featured performer for a Friday night concert, performing his original music, filled with uplifting lyrics and soulful vocals. Additional performers from the YAL Conference included Nick Settelmeyer, Nia Matty, and DJ Andie Roy.

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Young Adults getting ready for beach

An open forum on Relationships was featured at the Saturday breakfast with Jonathan and Elisa Jackson, facilitated by Metropolis Family Wellness Ministry Director, George Papageorge. They shared their journey to the Orthodox faith and the development of their personal relationship, and how their shared faith in God brought forth their love for each other and became the foundation for their marriage, and raising their family as devoted Orthodox Christians.

Young adults had the opportunity to address Archbishop Elpidophoros directly in a Question and Answer session following Saturday’s luncheon. He was direct and engaging with the thoughtful questions brought forth, among which were: the role of women in the Church, the relationship with the Armenian Church, and the growing use of English in worship.

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Young adults package meals for Rise Against Hunger – in all 10,125 meals in 90 minutes

Giving back to others was another way that the YAL Conference participants exemplified the theme “Proclaim”, and this was done through a group Diakonia project on Saturday afternoon. Working with the non-profit Rise Against Hunger, young adults packaged 10,125 meals in under 90 minutes which will be distributed to people in Southeast Asia who are in desperate need. Prior to the Conference, YAL members also raised funds through smaller events at their local parishes, which resulted in $3,000 being raised for the International Orthodox Christians Charities. Both of these were excellent opportunities for team building, serving others, and looking beyond ourselves to those in need.

Hon. Steven and Stacia Counelis, YAL Conference Advisors, addressed the crowd at the Grand Banquet by proclaiming, “Keep alive the spirit that you are experiencing this weekend!

You and your generation have many challenges before you in keeping your faith vibrant. Bring together your friends and tell your priest you want to do the same thing we are doing here this weekend – worshipping together, witnessing your faith together, serving others together, and creating community together. What we are talking about is evangelizing – sharing the good news. Let’s also call it commitment. So if you pray enough, you dream enough, you plan enough, and you work hard enough, you will be able to write an amazing life story in real time that will be filled with faith and service, inspiring and motivating those around you to offer their God given gifts back to our Father in Heaven.” In special recognition of the visit of Archbishop Elpidophoros to the YAL Conference, he was presented with a hand crafted episcopal staff, upon which three images are depicted: the Golden Gate of Constantinople, the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco, and the Cross of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

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Young Adults dancing at the Glendi

In his Keynote Address at the Grand Banquet, Archbishop Elpidophoros stated, “As you depart from this blessed gathering, you will have discussed many marvelous thoughts and goals. It is not enough, though, to remember these ideas as intellectual concepts only. The point of proclaiming these truths here today is for you to enter more fully into the sacramental life from this day forward; and to do so with greater reverence for God, with faith and love.” The presence of Archbishop Elpidophoros throughout the Conference weekend and his positive interaction at all of the events was a true blessing for all the participants.

Sunday’s Divine Liturgy was prayed at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Long Beach. Following the service, the community offered exceptional hospitality to the young adults at the parish Greek Festival.

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Queen Mary WHITE OUT Farewell Dinner and Dance

The weekend festivities came to conclusion aboard the historic Queen Mary for a “white out” dinner and dance. The bonds of friendship formed during the weekend were evident by the embraces and tears shared as people prepared to say farewell. While this may have been the last evening of the Conference, it was evident to all involved that this is just the beginning of a new and expanded Young Adult ministry for the Metropolis of San Francisco, that will continue to be cultivated and expanded.

Conference chairman George Anagnostopoulos encapsulated the success of the weekend by saying, “I hope this weekend is everything you envisioned and more; that you leave here feeling spiritually fulfilled and socially connected. I want you to never forget there is always a place for you in the church, that you are not alone and that you now have this YAL Family, lifelong and nationwide to guide you, stand with you and be with you as we journey through life together. You are a part of a movement in which the resurgence of this ministry is strong and growing rapidly.” Plans are already underway for the 2020 Metropolis of San Francisco YAL Conference over Labor Day Weekend. Stay tuned for more details on the location and how you can be involved on the leadership team to grow this important ministry!

Photos by: Allen Altchech Photography