Recap of 2016 GROW's 1st Women Camp

G.R.O.W. Ministries of the Northeast American Diocese conducted its first ever Women’s Camp from June 17th to June 19th at The Conference Center at Valley Forge in Phoenixville, PA. Women from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, D.C., Virginia, Boston and Georgia attended the event. The ladies were welcomed by the Camp Committee with G.R.O.W. tote bags filled with items they can use during and after the camp.

The camp kicked off with an opening ceremony that included each participant receiving a flower representing their beauty. A welcome speech was given by Ms. Pincy Jacob, Secretary of GROW Ministries, followed by the presidential address by His Grace Zachariah Mar Nicholovos, Metropolitan of the Northeast American Diocese, and a brief introduction by Mrs. Elizabeth Joy (Kochamma), the main speaker. Afterwards a reflective poem related to the theme was read. The opening ceremony concluded with evening prayer.

As a treat, the participants enjoyed a bonfire which included icebreakers and s’mores. Jiji Mathew and team led worship songs, used the time to reflect on God’s mercy and to prepare ourselves for the upcoming days of the camp. The atmosphere was warm, welcoming, and uplifting.

The next day began with midnight prayers, and afterwards morning prayers were held outside under the shade of trees. How wonderful it was to experience God’s creation and glory. Following prayers, hymns were sung and then a devotional led by His Grace Zachariah Mar Nicholovos. His Grace discussed how we all are called to make the lives of those around us beautiful. He emphasized that it was our responsibility and our calling to do so.

The day continued with Elizabeth Joy Kochamma’s keynote address. Kochamma addressed how going from Ashes to Beauty was a process. It is a change or transformation from one state to another. She emphasized Theosis which is a transformative process where the goal is our divinization. In order for that process to take place, we need to purify our mind and body and be illuminated with the vision of God. It is the very purpose of our lives!

After Kochamma’s thought-provoking message, participants broke out into groups to discuss different questions. The questions addressed how Orthodox women could provide support to others, overcome certain obstacles when dealing with anxiety and nervousness, become advocates for beauty according to the Orthodox faith and spirituality, and some steps that G.R.O.W. should take to guide women when facing challenges. The group time was rewarding and insightful. The ladies reflected, discussed trials and tribulations, and most importantly learned about God. The group breakout session was a good segway to our two main workshops: “Orthodoxy 101” led by Rev. Fr. Aju Philip Mathews and “How to Make Prayer Real” led by Mrs. Ceena Mathew. Orthodoxy 101 touched on the foundation of the Orthodox faith being built on the teachings of the Holy Bible and the Church Fathers. Questions such as ‘Why are we different from other denominations; and where do our traditions stem from?’ were addressed. Aju Achen emphasized that we needed to know about our faith so that we may be able to live out our faith.

“How to Make Prayer Real” was a workshop that helped us identify what prayer is and how we can make Christ real in our daily lives. Defining prayer as an ‘awareness of God’s presence’, Ceena shared how we can incorporate Christ into our everyday lives, with the help of practical examples. It helped us to see that we don’t necessarily have to separate our life in Christ and our life in the world; rather we should bring Christ into the world.

After the super sessions, we conducted noon prayer, had a grand photo session and went off to lunch! In the afternoon, the committee had planned a fun activity for the women, a trail-walk combined with a scavenger hunt! The teams had a number of clues and team-building tasks to complete. Once they completed that portion, they had to race to the end of the trail where the teams would get a reminder of how much easier the journey is for us compared to what the disciples had to go through.

The day continued with an open forum with His Grace, Elizabeth Kochamma, Fr. M.K. Kuriakose and Ceena on the panel. The session was filled with questions, wonderings, suggestions and plenty of fruitful discussion.

In the evening, a banquet dinner was hosted by the committee which allowed for women to mingle and relax.

An award ceremony was held at this time, to honor several women from all over the diocese who were selected by a nominating committee. The purpose of the GROW Awards is to recognize the contributions that women make in our community and our churches. The honorees included Dr. Ammukutty Paulose, Mrs. Mary Ennacheril, Mrs. Sunitha Zacharia, Mrs. Nirmala Thomas, Mrs. Sara Thomas and Mrs. Anu Vergis.

G.R.O.W. committee members were also recognized for their efforts in putting together this year's two events. The award ceremony continued with the recognition of His Grace for his guidance and love, Kuriakose Achen for being a great supporter, Dn. Alex Abraham for his help throughout the camp, Elizabeth Kochamma for being our amazing speaker, and Aju Achen and Ceena for leading our workshops. Afterwards, evening prayer was held, followed by confession and counseling.

The final day of camp concluded with Holy Qurbana. The ladies also had a chance to reflect on their experience at camp. His Grace encouraged the ladies to play active roles in their church and in supporting the ministry. All together, the camp was a very blessed and fruitful event. The first of many G.R.O.W. Camps to come! God willing! Thank you to all those who supported the ministry through their prayers as well as financial contributions. Please remember G.R.O.W. Ministries in your daily prayers.

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