Not Your Ordinary Senior High Youth Retreat
Written by Ann Hanson
December 1, 2011
The weekend of October 21- 23 found me at Pilgrim Point Camp, outside Alexandria, MN, surrounded by about 75 senior high age youth, camp staff and adult chaperons. I had been asked to lead this camp with the theme: Sexuality and Our Faith. For eleven years, I have been in the national setting of the UCC, doing ministry in the area of sexuality education and justice, so this was nothing new for me and I was delighted with the invitation.
As I began working on the five sessions I would be leading (along with my excellent co-facilitator, Rev. T. Michael Rock of Robbinsdale UCC), I struggled to pick five
lessons from the Our Whole Lives resource that would make the largest impact on the youth. All youth receive sexuality education – however, most of what they receive is not based on values of self-worth, responsibility, sexual health and justice. Our youth want accurate information on sexuality and relationships. And, they need to be surrounded by adults who care enough to provide it.
Because of the Our Whole Lives commitment of many in the Minnesota Conference, there were at least 12 adults at the retreat who had been trained as Our Whole Lives facilitators and I knew they would be safe people to work with the six smaller groups we formed. As we began our first session on sexual messages we receive and what exactly is sexuality, I knew this retreat was special. Youth and adults alike participated, and when we asked for questions in our ‘questions box,’ we received over forty – after our first session! Yes, youth want this information.
As we journeyed through the weekend, time was spent talking about sexual values, healthy and unhealthy relationships, self worth and body image – and, yes, condoms and safer sex. We used art, clips from the Internet, and personal stories to facilitate our experiential learning. And, we celebrated our humanness, our shared experience, and all forty questions were answered.
During our closing lesson, I asked all the groups to write a letter to the church about their weekend’s experience. And they did. Each and every person signed their names. Here are a few excerpts:
“We would rather learn about sex through our church rather than through the inaccurate media.”
“Thanks for this opportunity to learn real, valid information regarding sex education. We feel it's been beneficial to our emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.”
“They gave us the benefit of the doubt that we are mature and responsible to handle knowledge about sex. We are now able to make informed decisions about being sexually active.”
“The church should walk with us on this journey and help us involve our families.”
“We wish every church could have this opportunity to experience the feeling of being Children of God. Thank you so much for trusting us and challenging our ideas/values about our faith and sexuality.”
“A lot of us learned how to use condoms and why to use them. We appreciate that our church cares enough about us that they would give us this information.”
Read the letters in their entirety.
This article originally appeared in issue 47 of the JWM Insider.