I must admit - I love being around young people and basking in their enthusiasm and fresh perspectives on Christian commitment. As one of the diocesan clergy group available to support our teens and twenty-somethings in their spiritual journeys, I’m grateful, as a somewhat battle scarred educator, to have the opportunity to work with Anglican young people.
This year’s annual February diocesan youth retreat was shortened because of Coquihalla highway delays forced by inclement weather, but the eventual trip to Sorrento Centre was without incident, and we arrived an hour ahead of our revised schedule. The bus trip in itself is entertaining and becomes part of the retreat experience. Community building for the weekend starts on the bus. Enthusiastic singing is one of the main orders of the day - everything from “I have the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart” to fun camp songs, to singing through most of “The Lion King” as well as a host of other musicals. Music to our Anglican youth is a means of celebration of being together.
And then there’s Sorrento Centre. Many of our youth have had the privilege to have had many visits to Sorrento. They love the place as a focus of worship, fun, study and good food. The bus was warmly greeted by Executive Director of the Centre the Reverend Louise Peters and Associate Director, Melissa Green. Room assignments were handled quickly, and everyone settled in for a Harry Potter themed adventure.
And what an adventure! Theme leader for the weekend was Shalome McNeill Cooper, a native of Atlantic Canada who has served at the Iona Centre in Scotland and is about to launch into ministry with the Methodist Church in England. Shalome engaged participants with her humour, wit and deep understanding of the human condition and her knowledge of the relationship between theological understanding and the Harry Potter saga. Shalome covered a number of topics relating Christian praxis to economic, social and spiritual issues raised in the Harry Potter books. What I enjoyed most was the knowledge the youth brought to the discussion not only of the Harry Potter books, but of the story’s relationship to Scripture and spiritual journeying. Shalome was a real gift to our up and coming Anglican generation. I wish many more of them could have experienced the learning community she created during the weekend.
Also present to lead various kinds of workshops over the weekend were Judy Steers, known for her youth work with the National Church and presently serving at Christ Church Cathedral; Kimberly Blair, St. Mary’s, Kerrisdale; Lauren and Jonathan Pinkney of St. Albans, Burnaby; Heather Robertson of St. Timothy’s, Burnaby. There were also sessions on improvisation led by Ashley Blair of Victoria. The music jamming and worship band under the leadership of Rev. Clare Morgan of St. Phillip was more than inspiring. Bradley Gustafsen organized a great outdoor game and there was a rather “cool” labyrinth walk. Chief organizer and coordinator for the event was Caitlin Reilly Beck, our diocesan Children’s and Youth Ministry Coordinator who put together an effective team of organizers. Young people came from around the diocese as well as from Kamloops, Kelowna and Golden.
So what are we left with here? The main reality is that we have invested in and are continuing to invest in our younger Anglicans as they grow to adulthood and we hope will remain part of the institutional church. We know the drop-out rate is significant, but we’re making a real effort to stem the flow. I was involved in developing a plan a few years back to establish dedicated diocesan and parish funds to subsidize youth so that they could get to major youth events from all parts of BC and the Yukon. Unfortunately this has never become a reality.
Through my lens as a deacon in the diocese I believe that youth weekends and focused youth spiritual encounter times must be a priority as we support younger Anglicans and potential Christians and Anglicans in ways that reflect my own diaconal vows to “bring the concerns of the world to the church, and make the power and love of Jesus Christ a living reality for our youth” (my own liturgical paraphrase). Youth from parishes where they find themselves without many peers are strengthened and encouraged by finding each other at diocesan and multi-parish youth events.
The other reality to grasp here is the challenge to all of us not just deacons to engage our parishes in supporting youth by finding ways of getting more of them to first class events like this “Wizard’s Retreat”. As youth explored their own experience through being Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, Ravensclaws and Slytherins for the weekend, they came to new insights of what it means to act Christianly in the world.
Thanks be to God for organizations like our Diocesan Youth Movement and the BC and Yukon Anglican Youth Movement and for those who lead them. Let’s give them all the support we can.
PHOTOS and CUTLINES: Caitlin Reilley Beck