Youth, sponsors, and pastors from 15 area congregations gathered recently for the annual Youth Leadership Retreat at Spruce Lake Retreat Center. Participants came from the Franconia, Eastern District, and Atlantic Coast conferences, as well as Christopher Dock High School. The theme of the weekend was “Leading with Heart, Soul, and Mind: Exploring the Practice of Discernment” and was led by Mennonite Mission Network Service Adventure leader Curt Weaver.
The retreat was planned by Curt; Marlene Frankenfield, Franconia Conference Youth Minister; Scott Benner, Eastern District Youth Minister; and a team of local youth pastors and sponsors. The planning committee found inspiration for the theme of dirscenment for the weekend from David F. White’s recent book, “Practicing Discernment With Youth: A Transformative Youth Ministry Approach,” realizing that with all the choices in life, discernment would be a great topic for the leadership weekend.
Curt noted that his challenge for the weekend was to emphasize “the art of discernment without laying out a specific way of discerning.” Using Matthew 22:37, Curt encouraged the youth to think about “what it means for [them] to be loving enough to discern.” One of his goals was to “uncover the Christian impulse to be loving and affirming of differing view points.”
Curt opened the gathering with a call to create an intentional community for the time spent at Spruce Lake. He acknowledged that youth, with their curiosity and tough questions, have the ability to challenge adults to recommit to their faith. During the weekend, Curt used a spiritual type tool published by the Alban Institute entitled “Discover Your Spiritual Type.” It was followed by a case study that revolved around challenging leadership decisions in congregations. The case study involved discerning a request from Britney Spears to be baptized and become a member in one of the group’s congregations. This exercise helped youth better understand the messy side of leadership because of differences that exist in personal and spiritual lives, as well as in youth groups and churches. The youth were asked to think about what it means to lead a group of people with such diverse outlooks on life and faith.
Brittany Kiser, who is a member of Rockhill Mennonite Church and a student at Christopher Dock High School, really appreciated the spiritual type tool because it helped her “see that there is a place for everyone in the church.”
During the closing session, Curt encouraged everyone to practice Christian traditions and rituals that will shape future acts of “Christ-infused” love. Youth groups ended their time writing a blessing or image on each other hands as a way to remind each other to imitate Jesus with all their hearts, minds, souls and to love others as they love themselves.
Participants enjoyed different aspects of the weekend. Emma Nafziger, of Vincent Mennonite Church and a student at Christopher Dock High School, appreciated the time to reflect, worship, and “recover from a stressful week.” Kate Bender, of Rockhill Mennonite Church, is a student at Souderton High School and was concerned that it would be hard to relate to the youth from other schools but she was pleasantly surprised at how friendly and welcoming everyone was.
The weekend included worship led by Nate Stucky, who is currently a student at Princeton Theological Seminary. There were also workshops for youth and sponsors, with topics such as leading worship, choices after high school, discerning God’s will on the “long- haul journey,” recognizing that life is a puzzle and spirituality can be messy, and acknowledging that when it comes to intercultural leadership and communication there is “no right way to fry a chicken.”
Emma, Kate, and Brittany attended two workshops together. They said the workshops were relevant, more interesting than anticipated, and that they had been challenged to think differently about the issues addressed in each session.
The workshop for sponsors was on mentoring youth. Mike Ford, a youth pastor at Franconia Mennonite Church, facilitated a time of sharing mentoring ideas and resources. The sponsors’ forum on Saturday afternoon centered around paying attention to youth transitions, from junior high to high school to post-high school.
This was Marlene Frankenfield’s tenth Youth Leadership Retreat. She enjoys seeing the relationships between youth pastors and sponsors and student leaders strengthened during the gathering, which is a very important part of the retreat for her. She also appreciates the expertise youth sponsors and pastors bring from their different congregational experiences, which they share with each other. Overall, Marlene enjoys the “informal connection and networking around the edges.”