A week ago today, I left home with a backpack stuffed with the warmest clothes that I own, my sleeping bag rolled up tightly and tied with a red and white striped shoelace, and my pillow. (well, to be honest, it was two pillows.)
I was about to “happen.”
For the indoctrinated, you know what I mean. For others, this weird use of a verb (“I have happened”) translates to having attended a particular type of youth retreat called “A Happening” and to have experienced all that the program has to offer in its spiritual, community-building, Jesus-loving kind of way.
Those who “have happened” have been in attendance at this kind of retreat and have had the opportunity to deepen their relationship with the Sacred One on a personal level and in the formation of relationships with peers, older mentors and caring adults.
The Happening format includes the stuff of many youth retreats: ice breaker games, the sharing of personal stories and opportunities for connection, familiar Christian camp music, camp food, and housing in A-frame bunk houses with squeaky screen doors on spring hinges.
The Happening format also includes some extraordinary components that impressed me greatly: fabulous shared leadership by a team of high schoolers who have already “happened,” support from behind the scenes from young adult Happening Alumni who are even further removed their own Happening experience but committed enough to gather in a separate part of the camp for the weekend and to work behind the scenes doing much of the “grunt work” (including carrying luggage!) and keeping the Happeners in prayer, a series of personalized “talks” given by youth on topics like faith, forgiveness, Jesus, etc., and an amazing structure of support offered to the youth by a team of experienced adults- many of whom have been a part of each diocesan Happening since the beginning. (Ours was Happening #9)
There are things that take place at a Happening that are “surprises.” And so, I wouldn’t want to wreck it for anyone who has yet to “Happen” by spilling the beans, here. And, to be honest, this was a part of the programming that, in this good age of Safe Church and transparency and keeping things above board, made me a bit uncomfortable. But, having “happened,” I can say that these “surprises”, as they were revealed to me, are hardly the fraternity-type hazing/pledging activities that they might suggest, but, are instead, additional programmatic activities and caring gestures that are safe and appropriate. It’s just more fun to let them unfold in due time.
While this could turn out to be a diocesan review of our Happening Program , that’s not what I intend, here. Instead, I want to comment, briefly on something that I noticed as Chief Pastor of the diocese and, as a child of God, still in formation as a disciple of Jesus: we all need this.
We all need this.
The most meaningful part of my Happening experience was when, after each “talk,” we broke into small groups to discuss the theme of the presentation. There were activities to help us ease into these discussions ( story prompts, art activities, etc) but the meat of the discussions was wonderful. My small group was made up of the adult Happening staff and other adult participants ( there were 3 of us, I think, who were first-time adult Happeners) and we got to talk, in a leisurely and thoughtful way about sin, forgiveness, joy, Jesus, faith, Church, parenting, responsibility, loss, anger, release, and any number of other subjects that surfaced in our time of reflection. This ardent group worked in a safe space to express themselves, to listen deeply to each other and to sand down some of the rough edges of their own theological understanding of how we live as Christians. It was extraordinary.
And so, I wonder. Adults: when was the last time you had this kind of honest conversation with another person, working out your own truth in community?
Oh, introverts, I know that this makes your toes curl. But with care, this is the kind of work that can be offered to even the most committed introvert with good results.
Anyone interested? Let’s talk.
PS I say that I have “half-happened.” It’s because I had to leave late on Saturday afternoon and missed the rest of the retreat. But then, we’re all works-in-progress, so until I can complete my happening and achieve full “Happener” status, Jesus will have to take me as I am.