Reading Camp at Snellville

Sponsored by St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church

Reading Camp at Snellville, held annually since 2013, will be up and running again this year from June 18-22. It is modeled after the Reading Camp program begun by the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky.

A non- religious, no-fee camp, the camp focuses on campers who are rising 3rd, 4th and 5th graders and who demonstrate a deficit in reading skills. Campers participate in morning learning centers and afternoon traditional camping experiences. Nutritious meals- breakfast, lunch and two snacks are provided.

The 2018 camp, whose theme is “Alone and Brave”, is an all day camp Monday to Friday, June 18th- 22nd. The morning focus will revolve around “The Island of the Blue Dolphins”. The afternoon programing will include a guest children’s author and book signing, gardening, crafts, soda straw rocket making, yoga, cabin reading and a program presented by the Gwinnett Co. Public Library.

Our campers come primarily from the greater metro area, including public, parochial, and home schools. Although the campers are English speakers, many languages are spoken in their homes including Korean, Chinese, Amharic, French, and Creole. Many qualify for free and reduced meal programs.

For the 2018 camp we have an adult volunteer staff of 30+ and 6 teen counselors, five of whom are former campers. We are fired up and ready to enjoy a fun week with our 20 campers!

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2018 Pilgrimage

Many thanks to our congregation who gave our youth the gift of time and space to explore their relationships with God.  We spent the better part of a week hiking in the woods, contemplating the beauty of God in creation, and learning about our faith in depth in preparation for one of the biggest decisions of life: Confirmation!

Here’s what the Pilgrims had to say about what your gift meant to them:

“I left for the Pilgrimage excited for what was to occur. Within the next five days, my eyes, mind, and heart were opened to a whole new understanding of who God is and how God has shaped the world. I also grew closer to my friends who have now become family. Leaving the Pilgrimage, I now have a firmer faith in God. While I still have some questions, but I feel I know how to seek out and find the answers.” ~Andrew Byron

“For the past two years, I’ve been so excited for the Pilgrimage. I’m so happy that I went, and I got to enjoy this experience. This will probably be the highlight of my summer. There were funny moments and serious moments. Moments for laughter, and moments for lessons. I have memories now that I will never forget. I recommend the Pilgrimage for everyone. I am so incredibly happy I went on it; I can’t say it enough. I was excited for confirmation before, but now I’m even more excited for it, and I can’t wait to begin Confirmation Classes and become confirmed.” ~Liz Colinger

“I am so grateful to have been able to go on this Pilgrimage. Before the trip, I knew some aspects of Christianity and its beliefs, but this trip took it to a new level. I feel as though my eyes have been opened to new possibilities with Christianity. I feel as though my faith has a firmer foundation. This trip gave me time to process new information about Christ and gave me time to ask questions. I’ve learned about the Trinity, Jesus, and evangelism. I’ve also learned that Jesus’ death gave me and everyone else freedom from ourselves and from the world. I’m so glad I had the chance to go on the Pilgrimage, and this trip has given me relief and a sense of firmness with my faith.” ~Nailah Desamu-Thorpe

“This week with nothing but God, nature, and (now) family has colored the picture of Christ I had before, giving it depth and me a clearer understanding of what it means to be a Christian. I aim to let the Christlight and hope shine so bright that my faith is displayed with pride and is a beacon for those that seek the Lord.” ~Jessie Hurst

“To be able to go on this trip was incredibly changing. Before I had so many questions and worries. I still have questions, but so many have been answered, and those answers have given me more to think about. My worries were soothed with overwhelming love. My faith has definitely grown. I am ready to learn more and become more involved with my faith. Thank you to everyone who supported us pilgrims on this step in our journey. It means the world to us pilgrims who just want to grow closer to God and those who love us.” ~Katie Jones

“This trip really taught me what it meant to be a Christian. It made me begin to understand the importance of community in the body of Christ and what the Trinity is. I now know of the grace that is provided to children of Christ. I hope this trip really helps me become a part of the Christian community. Furthermore, many of the questions I had were answered, and that was extremely helpful and enlightening. This week has given me so many opportunities.” ~CJ Jordan

“I am so blessed that the fellow pilgrims and I are able to explore and gain knowledge about our faith. Before I went on this trip I was conflicted about my faith. Daily life at school and in the world would sway my opinion and try to convince me to believe something else. But after the pilgrimage retreat I feel like my faith has grown and strengthened. Because of the Pilgrimage, I am assured in my faith and I am forever blessed and thankful to grow up in a community so thoughtful and loving.” ~Nadine Kumbu-Smart

“The world is definitely a strange, insane, scary, and wonder-filled place. Whether we like it or not it’s going to hurt, but it will also feel amazing. Before the Pilgrimage, life was just “life,” nothing much to it. Life is hard, and I just dealt with it. But after, the world kind of changed. People began to understand me and my thoughts. An opening to God, I guess I would call it. During the Pilgrimage, I got to know friends better, know how they think, what they feel, etc. But most importantly, I learned more about what being a Christian is. How God loves everyone no matter their actions, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, reasonings, issues, or even the things we like to call ‘flaws’. That…that means the universe to me.” ~Stephen Prichard

Sally and the Pilgrims would also especially like to thank the other chaperones, Mara DiGiovanni, Ed Witek, and Shelley Witek, who sacrificed so much, including their time, to make this trip possible!


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Vacation Bible School & Special Needs VBS– Rolling River Rampage

Monday, July 9—Friday, July 13

9:00 a.m.—12:30 p.m.

Rising Pre-K — Fifth Grade (ages 4-10)

Cost: Before June 15 — $20.00 per child

After June 15 — $25.00 per child

(payable on the first day of camp)

Online Registration is open for volunteers and campers!

To register a camper, click here.

Can you help? Many adult and youth volunteers will be needed

for this fun and meaningful week.

To register to volunteer, click here.



Rising Pre-K through Rising 5th Grade (ages 4-10)

Tuesday & Thursday, July 10 & 12, 2018 

9:30 a.m. – 12:00 noon

COST:$10/child before June 15; $15/child after June 15

To register a special  needs camper, click here.

For the third  year in a row, we are pleased to announce a Special Needs Vacation Bible School, for part of the week during VBS.  It will happen concurrently with the VBS described above, but in a different space and with an abbreviated time and modified schedule. If you have experience with children on the Autism Spectrum or with physical handicaps and would like to help, please contact Abby Whatley at

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Youth Sunday 2018–Real vs Counterfeit

Youth Sunday! With sermon about Real vs Counterfeit and how to discern the REAL voice of the Good Shepherd: (look for love…that’s a big clue)!

Many thanks to all the youth who participated (and one mannequin…thanks, Esmeralda) in Youth Sunday by leading songs with gusto, chalice bearing, acolyting, ushering, greeting, imitating voices, playing instruments, announcing the Pilgrimage, and offering readings and prayers and sermons! Y’all rock!

Sermon audio here.  Text 2018-04-22 Sermon–Real vs Counterfeit pdf.

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9 To 99 Sunday School Class “Expressions of Faith” Workshop

Many thanks to all who attended the 9 to 99 Sunday School, where parishioners ages 9 and up participated, learning ways to express their faith.  Special thanks to all who facilitated a workshop: Sylvia Campbell for Communion Bread, Nancy Piechowiak and the Knit, Crochet & ray group for “Crochet and Pray”, Beth DiGiovanni and Janis Williams for Altar Flower Arranging, Sally Ulrey for Praying in Color, and Diane Eberhart for Easter Stories!  Everyone had a great time, and it was a chance to get to know each other across generations!


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April 22 was Youth Sunday–Check It Out!


April 22nd is Youth Sunday, where the Youth run the service, pick the music, help with the sermon, act as EMs, read the readings and lead the psalm.  It’s a great time to allow the youth to practice living into their ministries, and to offer their  services to the church  and to  God. And, even though  it may be a  little different,the energy and enthusiasm of our youth is refreshing and you might be surprised, but they have a lot to teach us older folks as well.  You can learn a lot from our youth!  Please come learn, worship and participate with us on Youth Sunday!

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Dismantling Racism Youth Retreat

Exploring the Damages caused by Racism, and Taking Steps toward Healing.

On Feb 16-18, 2018, our youth had the opportunity to take part in a retreat to begin a life-long process of learning how to dismantle racism.  They learned about the damages that racism has caused and is still causing in our society, and about steps we can take toward healing, the first of which is being willing to participate in uncomfortable conversations with an open mind and open heart, which they did with compassion and respect, an example for us all!

The Youth at St. Matthew’s are piloting this curriculum for the Diocese of Atlanta so that it can be released nationally in collaboration with the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing (formerly the Diocese of Atlanta’s Beloved Community: Commission on Dismantling Racism).


Here is what the participants had to say about their experience:


“On this weekend journey to dismantle racism, I’ve learned more about our nation’s history than at school.  But this experience wasn’t bad, nor negative.  We talked about racism in a transformative way, shining light on old wounds and finding different ways to heal them…I learned about so many different cultures and how they are all beautiful in their own way. But we were also informed about how deeply ingrained racism, oppression, and inequality is in our day to day society…This program will open up the doors to my and future generations of white children and children of color for a perfectly equal society, and knowing how to make a difference.”  ~Nadine


“This experience has really helped me realize what I can do to help this world grow and heal.  There is so much pain still in the world, and covering up our history will only prolong our sentence to that pain.  Racism is not a thing of the past, and the stories of young black girls, biased Google searches, and charted history lessons only accentuate this fact.  I now know how to respond to racism, and have the courage to confront everyday prejudice.  The entire world need to know about discriminatory messages sent to young kids that have not stopped.  We can no longer ignore our past, and I now have the tools to make my contribution to the world.  We are the generation that will change things.  We will see ALL of the beauty around us.” ~Murphy


“This weekend was very inspiring to me. I learned so many things that I didn’t even know before… There were so many instances where the brutality of the world just shocked me, and baffled me….What stuck with me the most was probably the fact that even some 3 year old girls/boys saw themselves as bad because of the subtle messages being absorbed by them from TV, and movies, and things like that.  Overall, this was one of the best experiences of my life, especially seeing love and compassion being shown through customs and traditions, and I love this group so much and I cannot wait for the next retreat.” ~Nadira


“The retreat was an eye opener. We tackled the complicated issue of racism.  Even though slavery and segregation have stopped, racism, as a whole, has not.  It does not affect me that much in everyday life, it was both interesting and devastating to realize how it affected people of different races.  Although I will never know exactly how it feels, I now realize how it really affects some people. What is one to do about it? Dedication and teamwork.  People need to work together to solve this problem, no matter what race.  Realization [that it’s an issue] is half the battle.  Without this retreat, I wouldn’t have known what I know now. I wouldn’t have made friends of people from all different cultures or backgrounds.  The retreat was amazing, and I will do all I can to fix this problem.” ~Liz


“This has been very transformative.  I learned that racism is still common today.  We need to bring these issues to the light.  Our community can’t turn a blind eye to the injustices around us.  I’ve learned that I need to look for the truth and stand up for what is right, even if it is “not my problem.” God made everyone in His image; discriminating against one race would be an insult to God.  We just need to love our neighbor as ourselves.”  ~Katie


“Over the course of this weekend, I experience so much learning, and I heard personal stories that were powerful and painful.  I also gained a lot of knowledge about systems that have been set up and maintained for decades to disadvantage people of color.  From now on, I will be able to recognize these systems and identify any personal prejudices I have myself.” ~CJ


“During this retreat I have learned how much racism still affects society today and that society is feeding us so many messages affecting us even if we don’t realize. I will try now to go against society and follow my own morals/beliefs. I also won’t give in to internalized oppression.” ~Nailah


“I came to, mostly, hang out with my friends, but I came out realizing how much a problem this actually is  According to a study we saw, about 72% of [young] black kids believe that being white is better.  Because I learned facts like these, I’m going to look for opportunities to educate/inform people about the severity of the situation and sharing my knowledge on how to deal with it!” ~Derek


“On Friday, we made a covenant to God which is basically a promise.  In our covenant, we thought up ways to show love to God, others, and ourselves.  Making this covenant has helped me learn more about the people around me and myself. I have learned that not everything is my fault and it’s ok to mess up as long as you have good intentions.  I will no longer put so much pressure on myself.” ~Neema


“My experience of this weekend was full of friendship, laughs and learning. At the start of this weekend, I was hesitant about how it would go; after all, this is as sensitive topic.  As the first day progressed, I learned about how people of color had been cheated since the beginning, and how stereotyping has not helped their case.  This has convinced me to try to be open and accepting of everyone, and ignoring initial assumptions, and try to get to know them.  At the close of this weekend, I feel I have a better sense of myself and the world, and what I need to do to help.” ~Andrew


“This weekend I was a part of a Dismantling Racism Youth Retreat. We sat and talked about some really hard/ painful topics such as internalized oppression, white privilege, systematic oppression, what it means to be white in America, what it means to be a person of color in America (just to name a few). We looked at how the church has often been on the wrong side of this issue and how as the church of today we are to be a part of the Beloved Community! We created a safe place to share and be heard, it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever been a part of. Everyone spoke to each other with dignity and respect. We laughed, cried, hugged each other a little tighter than usual, and we left empowered! I feel hopeful for our future, because we have young ambassadors going out into the world informed and ready to right the wrongs of a broken history. We choose to walk in compassion and not fear. We choose to love as Jesus loves and fight for social justice. We choose to be kind to everyone, no matter the consequences. We choose to walk in the Truth and do it in the name of Love. I am grateful we serve a God who is a reconciler and calls us all to be reconcilers wherever we go. So, take notes from these inspiring middle and high schoolers willing to have these conversations, so that we can be the change. Thank you Sally for creating an awesome curriculum that I fully believe will change the world.” ~Crystal (Leader)

The chains represented all the damages caused by racism, but our youth took steps to break chains. “A little child will lead them”

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The Fall Youth Retreat–“Wholly Devoted”

We took 25 people, more than 10 bins of food and supplies, 5 vehicles and lots of SPIRIT on the Fall Youth Retreat to Camp Tugalo in Toccoa on Aug 11-13th for a weekend of laughing and learning.

The theme of the retreat was “Wholly Devoted.” Through exploring the Levitical sacrifices, we learned about God’s sacrificial love for us, and how we can sacrificially love God and others.  Youth enjoyed Team Building events, spent time bonding with each other, and spent some time with God, too. There were small groups, sports, games, s’mores, singing and more!

We also went hiking at “Little Falls” at Toccoa Falls College, and enjoyed a visit to the historic Toccoa Falls (pictured below).


On the retreat, we welcomed a several newcomers to the Youth Program as well! We all had a blast!






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Youth Service Retreat–“Seek and Serve”

June 15-18 was our youth service retreat, fulfilling our Baptismal vows to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our (local) neighbors as ourselves”. We sought to see Christ in all people from all different walks of life. We responded to three major issues: hunger, refugees, and homelessness.

Youth Service Retreat “Seek & Serve”


The first day, we learned about hunger, both globally and in our local area, then responded by serving at the Southeast Gwinnett Food Cooperative ministry. Some of our youth served in the pantry, filling orders and loading up clients’ cars. Some of our youth played outside with the children of clients while they got their food. Our youth experienced so much joy playing there!


Next, we focused on refugees. We headed down to Clarkston to learn about several ministries with refugees, including Intertwined Candles, which provides jobs to mothers who need to work from home so they can also care for their children. We attended a rally at Refuge Coffee Company (which helps provide job skills to refugees by training them as servers and baristas). The rally was in celebration of World Refugee Day, where many different nations were represented. We heard the stories of resettlement of two refugees, one from Syria and one from Congo. Our youth were inspired with ideas for how we can serve the needs of refugees in our own area.


Finally, we learned about the issue of homelessness. On Sunday, we were joined by another youth group from St. Mark’s in Jacksonville (their youth minister is a childhood friend of our youth minister). Together, our youth groups packed lunches for the Church of the Common Ground, an Episcopal community which worships in Woodruff Park, largely attended by the homeless in that area. Thanks to the generosity of St. Matthew’s, we were also able to provide them with TONS of socks for their foot care clinic.


Each day, we reflected on how we had seen Christ in each person. The youth saw Christ in so many ways…in the delight of the children playing with bubbles or hula hoops, in the delight of their parents watching them play, in the creativity of a street performer at the Refugee Day rally, in the bright blue eyes of a soft-spoken man we met on the street, who attended church with us, in all our brothers and sisters in Christ that we met for the first time, and when we passed the peace, and the barriers seemed to come down. It was an incredible and amazing experience! If you get a chance, ask one of the youth to tell you what was meaningful to them! They will have so much to say, and they’d be happy to share!


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Vacation Bible School July 10-14

A special thank you to the church and all the lovely volunteers for their help during this summer’s Hero Central VBS. We had around 100 kids on campus and they had a blast! From Charmaine helping me with the color printer to ensure the perfect name tags to Oscar, Sylvia and the youth moving the Fellowship Hall dividers to the sanctuary to create our “cityscape”, VBS has truly been a work of love. Through this week, I’ve watched the volunteers holding hands and comfort crying kids as well as helping them create art and explore what it means to be a true hero in God. For me, it was easy to see what a hero was because any group of people who give up time–our most important non-renewable resource–to help foster God’s love in our youth are heroes in the truest sense of the word. A heartfelt thank you to all of you, especially the center leads who spent many hours preparing their center – VBS would be nothing without you. You are all heroes!

Kira Coats

VBS Director



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