I have only just returned from the Celebrate conference in Ilfracombe. As a team, we were mainly involved as leaders of the 'cross purposes' stream. This is for year 8 and 9(12 to 14). Now, Celebrate is great in that it really does provide for all ages by seperating into various streams, however, this makes it such a tiring week. As a stream, we had responsibility for the young people from 9 to 1, 4 to 5:15 and then 7 to 9pm. So most of the day with a break for lunch and dinner. In effect we offer an almost seperate conference for the two year groups simultanious to the main conference with the adults. So unlike in a normal retreat/festival where you might be involved some days, or only part of days, in a role as leader - here it is full on for the whole time. So quite an intense week!
The theme of the whole conference comes from the book of Esther (4:14), for just such a time as this, and after praying and reading the book the theme of heroes became clear so this was the theme of our stream. We also wanted to be more grounded than in past years, so built on the 4 pillars of the catechism. Monday - our faith - dare to believe
Tuesday - the sacraments -dare to celebrate
Thursday - life in Christ - dare to live
Friday - prayer - dare to pray
I mentioned sometime ago about a conference spirituality that is to be avoided, whereby individuals have profound experiences of God and worship in wonderful ways..but then return home and fade back to 'normality' until the next retreat. We hoped that by being grounded in the Church the young people would be better equiped to live out the life of Christ after the week.
For me, having no experience of Celebrate, I didn't know what to expect. I had charge of a small group - something scary but a great place to build relationship and share on a more personal level. Without doubt, my small group were for me a great blessing. By Tuesday I was feeling disheartened - I'd given some unprepared input on holy orders and struggled with technology issues (where my main responsibility was) - but, as I reflected on my small group, the fact that I'd been told by one mother that her son liked me, how they all knew me and talked to me filled me with strength to go on.
Thursday we learnt that some exercises are not suited to all people. We attempted an activity the team had experienced through release involving giving words and images to unknown people after praying for them; a lack of explaination and prior formation caused issues of unsuccess and even potentually made it dangerious for the young people. God never gives words to cast us down or cause fear (perfect love casts out all fear), so when someone suggested death by shakeboarding we can see this is probably simply human imagination...but the receiver could be unduely distressed - fortunantly well handled by small group leader so no issue.
I am compelled by conscience to share the joy of Thursday night. We prayed. We had an evening of praise and worship, with various creative prayer activities as well as prayer ministry. It was this prayer ministry where people met God visibly (although one lad encountered Jesus while drawing at one of the prayer stations in that he saw a man approach and 'knew' it was Jesus). We laid hands on the young people, thanked God for them and asked for the Holy Spirit to come anew. I was still backstage projecting words of songs onto the screen when Leanne asked me to come out as they have lots of boys waiting for prayer. She said not to worry about words as they are all in prayer and not paying attention to it anyway. As I prayed for those not prayed with, I shared encouragement and images as they came. After this one of my small group asked to pray, and told me he just wanted to pray and praise purely and like he did before. So we prayed for a while. We called for a new baptism in the Holy Spirit, healing for past wounds in praising God and removal of any forces of evil drawing the person away from God. Through tears, he said: I promise you, that was the best experience of my life.
Another boy, as I prayed I was aware that God was so at work I had nothing to say - just blessed God's work and moved on. Later he called me back, and asked how he can live for God more. We talked about prayer and reading Scripture and then prayed again. He spoke to me the next day and said he just felt so different and happy. This guy was doing fine,living for God and not fighting him but was despirate for more. I was reminded of the rich man who asked how to enter the kingdom, jesus told him to live the commandments. But the rich man was already doing this..he wanted more...Jesus told him to sell up and give to poor. To live radically for God and leave all earthly things behind. Simple prayers, but profound encounters for these people to fall back on in hard times.
Forgive my length, but I actually really wanted to tell you about Friday afternoon. We were in our small groups after some teaching on how God speaks to us in thoughts, emotions, physical manifestation and imagination. In turn we prayed over each member of the group (9 of them). We then shared anything we felt called to. The first time people didn't have much to say so I was concerned this might flop again. By the second, several people gave images or simply a single word in their minds. One person had an image of words in front of him then was aware of a particular bible reference which we looked up. Another had an image of stained glass windows and preaching and the person receiving confirmed that he really liked stain glass. And we ran over so I was sending them back when one of the young people (who, I might say, seemed least accepting of the whole God thing earlier in week) insisted they pray for me. Now, I wanted them to go back as we were doing a group encouragment activity together next, but knew that actually I needed prayer too and that this is a great way for them to step out and practice praying for others. I wasn't leading, so each in turn spoke a prayer out loud. And maybe I should have refused (jokes) because their prayers and words were all tyo do with staying faithful, and asking God to bless my work in Sion and one said God was making me into a great youth worker..now they didn't know I'd already decided I probably wouldn't stay another year in Sion...unless God makes it clear he has plans for me there. These young people had practiced listening to God and then spoke these words over me. And about 3 gave images of darkness and light entering in, or spring time images, and this resounates with where I'd been recently. I had been down a lot for no particular reason and felt rather like no good fruit was coming from my work - just had been told in prayer recently, confirmed by experience at celebrate, that winter has past and spring is coming. Now I must discern God's plan for me anew! Oh well! Spoke to the youth ministry co-ordinator (or in dry language, line-leader) today explaining my state and we agreed to wait, pray and think through it more...even though we were meant to decide for Easter!
I'd love to tell you about my weird hero outfit for Friday's party, or even the outfit worn by Nathan in 'praise aerobics' but I fear the scars might be too great...in all a great week, very tiring, but very much all to God's Glory.