The idea of the St. Michael’s Youth Conference originated in Massachusetts in the mid-1960s. It was envisioned as a week-long retreat-like summer event where teens who had “graduated” from Sunday School and been confirmed could encounter a community where they could meet other young people their own age and continue exploring the faith at a more adult level, among thoughtful and sympathetic leaders. (Thus the event is called a “conference” rather than a “camp”, although it is not all seriousness; there is plenty of time for fun!)
Worship was always envisioned as playing a pivotal role throughout the Conference. The originators of the Conference were concerned that young Anglicans were not being exposed to the rich heritage of our tradition, especially the Book of Common Prayer. So the Prayer Book is used throughout the Conference week, with Morning and Evening Prayer every day and a closing service of Holy Communion. Traditional hymns are also taught, and sung during worship services.
Over time, other St. Michael’s Youth Conferences sprang up in Michigan, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan. The Ontario St. Michael’s Youth Conference was started in 1996. All of the Conferences follow essentially the same model as the original:
- Mornings are devoted to courses on the Bible, theology and Anglican spirituality.
- Afternoons feature outdoor activities such as swimming, canoeing and kayaking, hiking, volleyball and archery.
- Evening activities include indoor games, a movie night, and small-group discussions.
The highlight of the final evening is the “Pageant of Redemption”, a series of tableaux depicting the work of St. Michael the Archangel and the life of Jesus, with the older participants and staff as the actors and the first-year participants as the audience. The evening winds up with a bonfire and sing-along. Although originally the organizers of the Conferences only anticipated that Anglican youth would be interested in coming, over the years many young people of other Christian traditions (or none) have attended, and they are always welcome.
The St. Michael’s Youth Conference in Ontario is currently held at a retreat centre called Shalom by the Lake, in the Haliburton Highlands. The grounds are spacious and include a sandy beach right on beautiful Hall’s Lake. The retreat centre itself has two separate dorm wings, one for girls and one for boys. Each dorm room is led by an experienced young adult counsellor, all of whom are former Conference attendees and who have received the required diocesan sexual misconduct policy training.
The Conference director, Dr. Diana Verseghy, is a retired research scientist, formerly employed by Environment Canada. She is a long-time parishioner of St. Thomas’s Church (Huron Street) in Toronto, and was a churchwarden there for five years. She led the parish Sunday School for seven years, and co-led the parish youth group for four years. She regularly teaches one of the morning courses at the Conference (the other two are generally taught by parish priests from the Diocese of Toronto). Over the years, the Conference has drawn participants not only from the Greater Toronto Area but from as far afield as Hamilton, Orangeville, Mount Forest and Ottawa.
If you have any questions about St. Michael’s Youth Conference, please email our director, Diana Verseghy : email@example.com