It was 9:15 p.m. on Saturday night with the fire circle ablaze at Lazy W Ranch. There were 111 confirmands and adult leaders from 13 churches and five districts eagerly awaiting the message from Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño. The music – a three-part mash-up round of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “This Train is Bound for Glory” – had everyone’s spirits high. The theme was renewal of baptism and being a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. And then it rained.
These are moments that spiritual leaders live for: to let the real experience fuel the meaning. Some were nervous about getting wet or if the bishop was OK preaching in the rain. Yet the Holy Spirit came down and a life-changing memory was etched in our hearts.
“It felt like my hands were tingly as the drops falling from the heavens caught my skin,” wrote Todd Potter (15), a 10th grade confirmand from First UMC Redondo Beach. “Originally, they were going to use the water pitcher to re-baptize people, but when the rain began to fall before Bishop Carcaño started her sermon, they decided to use the rain instead. That was how we reaffirmed our baptisms with the water falling from the stars.”
This was the first annual Bishop’s Confirmation Retreat held March 4-6 at Lazy W. The theme was our conference vision – “Inspiring the World”. Worship, small group discussions and activities centered around the three concepts of INSPIRATION, PASSIONATE FOLLOWING OF JESUS, and SHARING GOD’S LIFE-GIVING LOVE WITH ALL. And that happened!
“Maybe it was the lack of Wi-Fi or the fact we were put into groups with people we would never have met had we not gone on this retreat,” wrote Potter, “but I felt myself and the people around me see God clearer through the people we met along the way.”
The program model involved putting the confirmands in eight small groups of similar age for discussion and activities, mixing them with folk from different churches. Then on Sunday, the church groups gathered together to share personal mission statements and create a poster to visualize how they will go back to their communities and live the vision.
Potter wrote, “I really liked how accepting everyone was and that the sense of unity between the different churches was infectious. Constant handshakes paired with an exchange of names. A smile and laughter as people got to know each other just an iota better. Then the occasional hug, saying the things words can’t begin to describe.”
Bishop Carcaño’s concluding message on Sunday morning powerfully emphasized God’s call to share love with all. One-by-one church confirmation classes shared their covenants to go back home and live out the vision that they had come to know at the retreat.
“After the final worship together, we passed the peace of Christ,” Potter reported. “The newfound urgency of hugs, once people realized they were leaving the friends they made that weekend, was breathtaking. I saw the swapping of phone numbers and words of encouragement being exchanged, but then as quickly as it began we were driving out of the wilderness to spread God’s life-giving love to the world.”
By Rev. David Berkey, Director of Camp and Retreat Operations and Ministries