Youth ministries directors’ retreat recharges the spirit

SEABROOK ISLAND — Youth ministries directors from across the state relaxed and recharged at Camp St. Christopher on Seabrook Island during a retreat May 15-17.

Mike Patin, a nationally renowned speaker from Lafayette, La., was the retreat leader. He said he was under orders to keep the workload to a minimum so participants could let go of outside interference and simply commune with God.

Patin set up two group sessions each day with one in the morning and one at night. The only other assignment was to set aside an hour or more and cease. Cease the busyness of life and just be.

It turned out to be the toughest assignment of all.

Each member of the group related their struggle to let go of work and other worries for even one hour.

Matthew Lageman, from St. Andrew Church in Myrtle Beach, said he went on a beach walk and battled to clear his brain and focus on his surroundings. For a little while, he succeeded and noticed how relaxed and leisurely his pace had become. Then, work thoughts slowly crept back in and he started walking faster, until he was practically running again.

Patin noted that Lageman’s experience brought home the message of “The Amazing Race” session, which touched on the reasons youth leaders lose enthusiasm for their jobs and ways they can reduce stress.

The suggestions were as simple as going to bed on time and laughing.

Patin, a former youth director, said it is important for his peers to realize that even though they are doing the work of God, the busy part of their lives isn’t always about religion. They need to take time for their families and themselves just like anyone else.

Other sessions of the retreat, which made light of reality TV, were “Whose Line is it Anyway,” “Dancing with the Stars” and “Extreme Makeover.”

In the first discussion, youth directors talked about whose expectations they were trying to live up to and then focused on meeting their own personal expectations.

“Dancing with the Stars” was a lighthearted analogy between a dog’s “happy dance” and how people should show their joy in the Lord. Just as importantly, they need to allow God to rejoice in them by paying special, undivided attention to him.

Lastly, “Extreme Makeover” discussed ways to make successful changes. Patin said the two most important steps are to focus on one change at a time and to bring in a partner for accountability purposes.

Jerry White, the youth and religious education office coordinator, organizes the retreat each year so his fellow directors can recharge, meet new people, renew old acquaintances and share in the joys and struggles of their profession.

Several youth directors spoke about how important it is to meet with their peers for fellowship and to discuss current issues and possible solutions.

One of their biggest challenges is how Sunday has devolved into just another day of the week, said John Waters, youth leader at St. Joseph Church in Columbia. He said they now have a myriad of events competing for the Sunday afternoon time-slot that used to be the sole domain of the church.

Craig Brown, of St. Philip Neri Church in Fort Mill, said he tries to stay connected with his students by attending their events like basketball games, recitals or plays.

But Brown said he does his best to leave work behind when he attends a retreat.

“This is a place for peace of mind,” he said. “A place to come and not to worry; to be with friends and relax.”

Norma Stokes agreed. The youth ministry director of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg, Stokes said the retreat at Camp St. Christopher fills her with enough positive energy to last the rest of the year.