By Liz Graves
St. Saviour’s, Bar Harbor
“Who knows how the awareness of God’s love first hits people?” Frederick Buechner wrote. “Some moment happens in your life that you say yes, right to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen.”
When high school teens and adults from across Maine, and a few from New Hampshire, converged at Trinity Church in Portland in February for the annual diocesan “Teens Encounter Christ” (TEC) high school weekend retreat, there were a lot of those moments.
We gathered on a Friday night for music and the parish hall was packed. More than 30 high school participants and 11 teen staff were led by two co-“rectors” of the retreat, CJ Wallace of St. Ann’s, Windham, and Kate Rogers of Trinity.
Building a safe, close community to experience and share those “yes!” moments is what youth ministry is all about.
“I told [the teen staff] that we have to be a team during this weekend, all of us, and that part of being a team is watching out for each other and making sure we leave no one behind,” CJ said in an email after the retreat. “Then I just tried to lead by example. It wasn’t easy, because I’m not really as outgoing as I probably appeared, but I was the leader so it was my duty to show everyone where I wanted this weekend to go.”
More than 20 adults were mixed in, too—some had brought teens with them, some wanted to learn about the program and try to start another one elsewhere. As a member of Diocesan Council, I, too, wanted to learn more and offer support to youth ministry in the diocese.
As a former youth minister and Episcopal camp leader, I had heard that the “Teens Encounter Christ” retreat was similar to “Happening” retreats that draw inspiration from Cursillo. I didn’t know what to expect.
The core group of volunteers who developed this retreat in Maine and have shepherded it through its long life had an uphill climb this year following Diocesan staff restructuring.
Despite those challenges, I was blown away by the effectiveness of the retreat. Youth and young adult leaders leading worship and giving short talks spoke from deep conviction and experience. The structure of small group discussion builds towards a powerful healing prayer service Sunday morning.
“You get to meet a lot of people and some of them are incredibly intelligent and thoughtful when it comes to God,” CJ said. “These events are fun and provide a safe environment for everyone no matter your background. I hope the participants came away knowing that Jesus is that friend who will help you out anytime anywhere. That is incredibly important.”
Seriously, grown-ups: these kids can pray you under the table.