The annual Children’s Ministry fall retreat for 3rd-6th graders for the North Georgia Annual Conference takes over two weekends at the beautiful Camp Glisson in Dahlonega, Georgia. Accepting a new position so soon before the scheduled weekends made it impossible for me to meet, greet, promote, and secure all the details to bring students from my new local church, yet I was invited by Rev. Debby Fox, the generous colleague who coordinates this fabulous event, to come and help. I jumped at the invitation with a resounding YES!
Even with atrocious traffic issues due to heavy hurricane evacuations from neighboring states, every driver approached the registration stop on campus with a smile and anxious anticipation of what the weekend would hold. The energy was contagious and carried into the first worship service after claiming bunks and cabins.
The ALIVE Retreat was planned to teach the liturgical worship calendar, introduce students to worship vocabulary, visual elements, various audio elements, and entirely developmentally appropriate. The incredibly gifted Chuck Bell prepared four worship experiences with 3rd-6th graders in mind and invites his very talented daughters to serve in leadership roles. It is impossible to explain the impact of their roles in the eyes and hearts of their peers. Overhearing a student say, “Hey! I could do that, too,” starts dreams and hopes early.
“If Sunday School was the place where people were built up in the faith, then camp was where they made their decisions about following the Lord.” Henrietta Mears
A District Superintendent was the teaching pastor for the first ALIVE weekend who took puppetry to a whole new level with this age group. The District Superintendent of the Atlanta-Marietta District has liturgical puppets and he had the students and adults riveted to the antics of his puppet friends. He was SO good! His teaching was SO good! He was SO funny! Overhearing a student share, “I saw His lips move, but he let that puppet roast him,” means this creative DS hit the mark.
- The students did not linger in the back, but were in the front ready to experience the teaching and worship completely.
- The food was fabulous and this year’s participants ate all of it. They probably didn’t need the gallon-sized Ziploc bags that were handed out to ‘save the chicken strips’ for later.
- The artwork and camper guide was beautiful and personally engaging. The drawstring backpack was perfect to carry essentials all over camp.
- The cooler weather did not make it too cold to swim.
- Some adults realized jumping from the platform would have gotten them further than trying to zip line into the water. Age is a crazy thing!
- The students learned to communicate with our great God with breath prayers…and were all-in every time I saw them pass the prayer nets.
- The students sang the songs, rang the bells, and participated fully.
- The Children’s Leaders were gracious to one another and loved on each other’s kids.
- The young adult leaders, ELI and RELI (Experiential Leadership Institute) student leaders rallied the students to play well, to play with, and to enjoy a sense of belonging that only ‘play’ can offer.
Something special takes place within us that firms up our understanding of how we are a connected body of believers when we participate in a fall retreat at a location that is part of and equips us to pass on our heritage of faith. Sharing sacred moments in sacred spaces makes for a faith that is deeply memorable and incredibly sticky. You can read about the previous retreats here and here.
“Camping programs are high yield. Taking people away from their regular life for a few days, and offering them a season of activity, intense focus without distractions, peer-to-peer interaction and Bible influence is perhaps one of the greatest investments in people’s lives.” Henrietta Mears
I did get to love on students of years’ past who remembered me and students from my previous local church. I about squeezed and hugged them until their eyes popped out of their heads. One young man was experiencing an away retreat for the first time after hearing his brother come home the last two years with stories. His fabulous Dad was a chaperone. Oh to be a fly on the wall when the younger brother and Dad returned home to share their stories with the older brother. Oh the stories…the testimonies…the memories.
“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” Psalm 107:2