By: Christa Meland
How are you uniquely called? What does it mean to commit your life to Christ? How do we grow in love of God and neighbor?
More than 200 United Methodist youth from across Minnesota explored those topics at two separate overnight retreats earlier this month—a Confirmation gathering at Koronis Ministries in Paynesville and a Southern Prairie District gathering at a camp near the Iowa border.
On March 2-3, more than 100 youth from 17 Minnesota churches came together to explore how they are uniquely gifted and what it might look like to live out their call in the world.
These youth, all of whom are in Confirmation, heard and acted out call stories from the Bible, discussed confirmation vows, and explored how they can use their gifts to serve the church. They played listening games that helped them think about how they might discern how God is calling them, and they went to different activity stations where they explored their call through five different lenses—StrengthsFinder, values, covenant discipleship, Confirmation promises, and how they describe themselves.
The youth also participated in two worship services—one of which invited them to write down on a slip of paper how they are being called and place it in a basket. Attendees then prayed over the basket.
“It was good to see kids really digging in and living into what they might be called to be,” said Rev. Erica Koser, who serves as pastor of discipleship and justice ministries at Centenary UMC in Mankato and led the retreat in her capacity as leader of the conference Youth Ministry Team. “I really hope that they realize that Confirmation is not graduation and they know how important their gifts and talents are and how much the church needs their voices and passion right now…God calls all kinds of people; we pray that they continue to hear that call.”
Rev. Tony Fink, who serves Fairmont UMC, has been bringing youth to the conference’s annual Confirmation retreat for at least 20 years.
Fink appreciated the opportunity for the four youth he brought to not only explore their call but to experience the power of the United Methodist connection.
“As a pastor, I find it very valuable to let our kids in Confirmation know that The United Methodist Church is more than just the local church in the little town we’re in,” he said.
Fink, who led a retreat session on the importance of having mentors as we journey with Jesus, said he appreciates that the gathering reinforced and added to what he teaches youth in Confirmation.
“It was a way to really take some time apart and think about who they are in relationship with Jesus,” he said. “They can build on this for the rest of their life.”
Southern Prairie District gathering
Rev. Russ Jacobsen, who serves Hope UMC in Blue Earth, has seen firsthand how beneficial the Walk to Emmaus is—and that was ultimately what inspired him to plan a March 16-17 Southern Prairie District retreat for seventh- to 12th-grade youth.
Jacobsen said he initially hoped for 40 participants. He was thrilled to end up with 105 from 10 churches across the district.
Jacobsen describes the gathering as a “basic, Christ-centered retreat focused on sharing the gospel and how to grow in Christ—in love of God and others.” The primary worship leader was Ashley Swoboda, associate pastor of youth and campus ministries at Hilltop UMC in Mankato.
Participants shared their faith journeys and talked about how they had encountered Christ, heard personal testimonies from Jacobsen and Swoboda, enjoyed quiet time, heard a compelling reflection on living in community, and discussed purity and living lives of holiness.
They also heard from Rev. Fred Vanderwerf, superintendent for the Southern Prairie District, who talked about how God makes each of us unique and does so in part so that we can honor God by fulfilling our mission.
Attendees also participated in a dodgeball tournament and had the opportunity to try a climbing wall, a zip line, and archery while enjoying the outdoors.
“It was a combination of substance and fellowship and fun,” said Jacobsen, who noted that participants are already talking about making the retreat annual.
The district is also now exploring the possibility of hosting a summer men’s retreat.
“We feel like we touched a nerve,” he said. “As we want to see our churches revitalized, including our rural churches, this seems pretty hopeful to me.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
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