Junior Christian Leadership Institute combines spirituality and joy

LEESVILLE – Daily rain was the rule at this year’s Junior Christian Leadership Institute at Camp Kinard, but the weather actually boosted the success of the annual event.

“It rained every day, but not during our outside times, and the cooler mornings have been good for us,” said Jerry White, director of the sponsoring diocesan Youth and Young Adults Ministry Office.

About 70 Catholic middle schoolers attended the weeklong institute that began June 16.

The Junior CLI and its big brother for high school students are designed as intensive experiences that bring Catholic youth together from across South Carolina to increase their spirituality and teach them practices to take home to their parish youth groups and Sunday School classes. According to some first-time participants, it did all that and more.

“It has exceeded my expectations,” said Regina Brown, 14, of St. Mary in Greenville. “A big part is the counselors; they encourage you to get closer to God and they make you feel good about yourself.”

Getting closer to God was a main goal of Grace Grindstaff, 12, also a St. Mary parishioner. She and Matt Brown, 14, of Jesus Our Risen Savior in Spartanburg, came because they had heard about the institute from previous attendees in their home parishes. She never expected to enjoy herself so much.

“I’ve never had this much fun in my life. It has been awesome. Everything I wanted has come out of this. I even liked the food. I don’t want to leave,” Grace said.

What the students wanted from the CLI experience was to learn to talk to God, to meet and interact with other young Catholics and to increase their faith. They learned to do all of those things in an environment with no down time.

Camp counselors, who are high school students on the diocesan Evangelization Team, and adult advisors plan for every waking moment. And the moments are orchestrated to increase their value to middle school kids.

Prayer services, for instance, may start with the driving sounds of Wannabe Stephen, a Christian rock band, that have the participants up on their feet dancing and singing and clapping.

After such a high-energy event, the group may go into contemplative prayer, then offer intentions out loud to the accompaniment of a quiet guitar in the background.

Next might be a skit with a moral. (Each day at the CLI camp has a theme. On the day The Miscellany visited, salvation in Christ was the theme.) All the skits, according to our interviewees, were “hilarious.”

Then the kids will head outside for ball games and adventures in the forested Lutheran camp leased for the occasion.

In the heat of the day, they go swimming in a huge pool. Meals are festive occasions, with groups of students in teams named after New Testament books vying with one another in displays of spirit and knowledge.

Besides learning things like Biblical messages and prayers, students also learned different ways to pray.

Matt Brown said he never prayed so much in his life, and he realized the truth of what the vocalist of Wannabe Stephen, Joe Burgess, said. “Sometimes I get caught up in praying for other people and forget to pray for myself. We can’t forget ourselves.”

Gina Brown said that singing prayers to rock music is a different way to pray that she learned at CLI.

“The band gives you another way to worship God, a cool way,” she said.

The only thing missing for these youngsters in their Junior CLI week? Television.

Matt Brown was one who would admit to missing TV, but he didn’t miss it too much.

“I’m planning on coming to the high school CLI next year,” he said.