By KATHLEEN CARR
DANIEL ISLAND — “I AM A C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N!” was the battle cry of more than 75 spirit-filled people one recent Friday afternoon. It’s not every day that a group of young people get together to praise God and spread the message of the Gospel to their peers. However, the Bishop England Retreat Team lives by this evangelical mission. They are a group who come together to live in and through the Word and to minister to God’s people.
The BE Retreat Team is made up of four smaller teams of 20 people each. The students involved do not have to be Catholic; they come from many different faith communities and backgrounds. All high-schoolers are welcome, regardless of their grade level or previous work experience. They are only required to possess one attribute: the desire to exemplify a true Christian attitude and lifestyle to their peers.
“We are called to spread the Gospel in our school,” says Leigh Garrison, “but true ministry goes beyond that.” This is why more than 80 high school students have given their time and effort to making their community a more spiritual place.
Leading the group are a number of dedicated believers. Mary Durst, a religion teacher at Bishop England, is “an inspiration to the whole team” according to Niki Gaeta, a senior. Her hours of work behind the scenes are greatly appreciated by all. Also involved is Tim Forbes, youth minister at Christ Our King Parish in Mount Pleasant. Barbara Parker says that “the retreat team wouldn’t have been possible without his support.”
Gaeta and Parker are part of a group of 10 juniors and seniors who lead the retreat team. Garrison says that being a leader is “awesome because it gives me a bigger ministry opportunity.” The leaders of the retreat team are responsible for organizing preparatory meetings for their teams.
Recognizing the importance of a tightly knit group, the leaders are dedicated to forming a retreat team with a unified front. Gaeta says that at the beginning of the year her team was full of “little cliques.” But “the Holy Spirit brought us together as one team and worked through us as we ministered to the eighth-graders.” She feels that her team was inspired to share its feeling of community with others.
During the course of the school year, the retreat team facilitates 10 retreats for eighth-graders at Catholic schools in the Charleston area. The response has exceeded anything that the team members could have hoped for.
Garrison, a junior, recalls the Christ Our King retreat: “The coolest thing was that we saw God working in a girl’s heart, and she became a Christian that day.”
Students involved in the retreat team feel that the most amazing thing about the group’s ability to be effective is that it is composed of such a diverse selection of BE Bishops. Protestants and Catholics alike are involved in the ministry, coming together with a unified belief in Christ and a willingness to share their faith with others. Carmela Orsini, a sophomore, describes this as the celebration of “one universal theme.”
The retreat team is “more than just ministering to the community; it has a lot to do with personal growth,” says Orsini. Each person on the team realizes the importance of faith from an individual perspective and wishes to spread the loving message of God to others. Eliza Hoffman, a sophomore, remembers that before she joined the team she was “at a dead end. God wasn’t totally in my life.” She says that as she grew in her faith, she formed a “special bond” with the other members of her team and became very spiritually close to them.
As the retreat team’s year comes to a close, members plan get-togethers and summer activities so that they can keep in touch. Their end-of-the-year meetings centralize around making the team better for next year. They make suggestions and comment on the success stories that they have experienced.