It had been a few years since I had gathered youth for a retreat out in Hope, Alaska. I had done it a few years back in Girdwood, with upwards of 14 or 15 youth and a couple of adults. But, as my kids got older and it became a challenge to hold together a youth group when kids spent so much of their time in Anchorage in school, the trips kinds of stopped.
And, after getting into this ministry setting I wasn’t sure when it would happen again. As soon as I got here we had six youth graduate high school and head off to college. They were good kids. The kind of kids you could build a group around. And I wasn’t sure if we had enough momentum and involvement to consider tackling a retreat any time soon.
But this past weekend we made it happen. We had ten kids–all of them either members of the Seward church or connected to the church in some way. And, they were wonderful kids…really. I had the realization after getting back home that I didn’t have to tell them to stop doing anything ever. They were respectful. They were nice to each other. Nothing was broken in the retreat center. No one complained at the jobs they needed to do. They were all the things that some persons say we don’t see enough of in youth. They were good.
While there was fun and games, it wasn’t ALL fun and games. We talked about superheroes, using them as a way to talk about Christian themes. We watched “The Avengers” movie sprawled out on the floor. We kept watch for Northern Lights. In the morning, we played in the mud along the creek that runs through the small town. We played silly youth group games and sang songs and broke bread with each other and worshipped.
And, you know what, as tired as I was after the time with them, it lifted my spirits too. Being around young people can be a great gift to us clergy folk. It can be a gift to us all, but I think it puts some of the other work of ministry in perspective–the paperwork, the business meetings and pledge drives, the visioning and the more draining aspects, like counseling. It’s a breath of fresh air.
I’m not a young man anymore. While I’m not sure I’d call myself “old” at 45, being around the youth can make me feel (and act) a lot younger. For that, I’m grateful.