In the wooded foothills of South Carolina resides a special place for our Holy Metropolis. The Diakonia Retreat Center, located just a few minutes outside of Clemson, has been the spiritual refuge for Orthodox Christians since 2004. Every year it hosts clergy retreats, family getaways, lenten service projects. But its premier ministry is the Saint Stephen's Summer Camp program. Every summer over 500 campers and 150 staff come to glorify God and build lifelong relationships for our young people in the Church. However in 2020, for the first time in its proud history it was closed due to the Coronavirus.
This year, with the DRC reopened, Saint Stephen's Camp made its triumphant return with the theme "ALL IN!"
- “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it ALL IN the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17)
The objective was to shout a rallying cry to all of our young people who had spent the last 15 months trapped inside their homes, and to encourage them to dive back "ALL IN" to the Church. In order to do this, the directors identified 5 areas in which we needed to fully commit ourselves spiritually:
- Go ALL IN on Faith - The struggles of 2020 were real. During challenging times does our faith waver? Or is our faith strong enough to remain steadfast during the good times and the bad (like Job)?
- Get your Spiritual "Tools" ALL IN your Toolbox - Once we understand the great faith we possess, we need to make sure we are equipped to walk in that faith every day. Spiritual tools like "mercy," "prayer," "scripture," etc. are essential to the Christian way of life. We need to make sure that we have all of these in our arsenal.
- Go ALL IN on Yourself - Children today are as anxious and insecure than any other time in history. At alarmingly higher rates than ever before, our teens are forced to deal with serious issues like negative body image, depression, self harm, and even suicidal thoughts. What makes camp so special is that our kids are taught to see within themselves what makes them cherished and significant. We are all children of God, and our Heavenly Father who made us loves us for who we are. We should ourselves too!
- God is ALL IN on You - On the 4th day of camp every year, the campers are given the chance to experience the sacrament of Holy Confession. In this setting, our kids feel God's love by divesting themselves of their burdens and receiving God's tender compassion. No matter what we've done in our lives, God will always love us and welcome us with open arms.
- Go Out & Bring Everyone Else ALL IN! - Now that we have reconnected with God, it is our job to go out and get ALL others IN as well! Who else can benefit from this incredible faith? Who else may have ears to hear this good news? ALL people, that's who. Go get them!
That's a great message, but it means nothing unless it can be delivered to our young people effectively. The unique quality about Saint Stephen's Camp is how it is able to impress these profound and life-saving truths on the kids without lectures or classrooms. The campers learn all (or better yet, "FEEL" all of this), just by spending time on the camp grounds with their cabin mates, counselors and clergy. When the kids are being doused with thousands of water balloons and super soakers on a hot July day, they are feeling how refreshing God's mercy is. When they are doing challenges on the ropes course, they are really developing trusting relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ. When they are singing around the campfire at night, they are witnessing how the Light of Christ can illumine any darkness once it is reflected by enough united believers. Whether or not the campers can actually articulate any of these spoken (and unspoken) lessons is inconsequential, the point is that nearly every child who comes to camp leaves transformed by the Grace of God. Take it from one of our very own kids from our parish of Saint Nicholas, here in Wilmington.
“Best. Week. EVER! I made so many new friends. This week at camp has made me want to become a better Christian.” - Alex (2021 Camper)
Quite simply, Saint Stephen's Camp changes lives. I can say this from experience, not only as a Camp Director, but also as a former camper (2000-2003), and staff member (2005-2018) myself! We are so thankful for the opportunity to have this hugely important ministry available to us once again. On a personal note, I am very grateful to the devoted young people who served on staff this summer from our parish (Week 1 group pictured in the header above). Jordan, Lexi, Cassie, Maria, Maia, and Katerina THANK YOU for going ALL IN this Summer!
If you want to learn more about Saint Stephen's Camp please contact Fr. Steven, or speak to any of our SSC alums.
Highlights from Week 1 of SSC 2021
Highlights from Week 1 of SSC 2021