Report on the Children's Programme at the Deanery Conference and Festival 2016

When I was asked to write a brief report on the children's programme, I thought it was going to be very easy.  I knew it inside out, so I only needed to list all the activities we did with the children, acknowledge the people involved, and that could have been a “job done”.  But not quite.

I also wanted it to tell about the love and the joy, the enthusiasm, the anxiety and the excitement, the courage and the creativity we all felt in different parts of the programme.  Last but not least, to point out the great care and attention to detail all the grown-ups put into setting up and delivering it.

This year we had an impressive 34 children attending, which was the largest number we'd had in the past eight years.  The theme of the conference, “Orthodox Christianity in everyday life” provided a nice frame and good foundation to build upon.  The team led by Viktor Mastoridis already had a head start after brainstorming sub themes and ideas about activities aimed both at the younger group of 3-10 year olds and the youth of 11-17 years.

The children’s programme will be remembered by several 'firsts': Viktor led a two-session workshop called 'Can I be Orthodox and cool?' where the boys and girls discussed about their life as Orthodox Christian teenagers and surprised their workshop leader with how much they knew about Orthodoxy, applied it in their lives and indeed managed to 'stay cool'.  The second session of the workshop was used to come up with specific actions, how all together could support a cause, they chose to raise money for the children of refugees from Syria.  By the end of the session, they had exchanged emails, created a logo and name of their project.  The next step is to create a fundraising web-page and spread the word.

Another 'first' came from the experienced helpers Joanna Robins and Aphrodite Demetriou, both from the parish of St Bega, St Mungo and St Herbert in Keswick, leading their own workshops.  Joanna opened the “official” part of the children's programme with the Lord's Prayer and us all venerating the icons of the Pantocrator and the Mother of God.  On Saturday afternoon, Joanna's main workshop was on the sacrament of baptism, when the children 'baptised' a doll and played priests and deacons, godparents and guests.  On Sunday afternoon, Aphrodite's workshop on the gifts of the Holy Spirit took place – the children had a chance to talk about the gifts and act them out in small groups.  Some true talents shone in that activity.

One of the highlights and another 'first' this year happened on Saturday evening.  While the adults were in the chapel attending vespers and getting ready for confession, the children had their own vespers, Reader’s vespers, based on the Camp evening prayer, led by Anne-Marie and James Angus from the parish in Redbourn.  I'd never seen a larger number of readers, all very keen and using their best loud voices when reading a psalm from a book called “Celebrate the Earth” by Dorrie Papademetriou.  We also looked at the Gospel reading for the Sunday's liturgy – James presented the story of the Samaritan woman and skilfully led the discussion that followed, which again demonstrated great understanding and how knowledgeable the children are. We were happy and excited that quite a few other parents chose to join the children's vespers.

Throughout the years, the arts and crafts activities have become an inseparable part– this year both groups of children created two 3D displays of life as Orthodox Christians, which they presented at the party on Sunday evening.  Traditionally, the children also performed songs and entertained us with their individual talents in singing and dancing, rapping and playing the violin, the ukulele and the piano.  Everyone present noticed the quality of their performance and it was a pure joy to see their talents blossom year on year, hopefully making them and their parents happy and proud too.

Lastly, we were very lucky with the weather – we had enough rain when it was time for indoor activities and plenty of sunshine for outdoor games and a hike to the pond.
I believe, having the children around at the Conference, and visible, is an important ingredient of our Orthodox community.  Many thanks to all the parishes and individuals who support the children's programme and I personally can't wait for Festival 2017. 

Ginka Mastoridis