Retreat Reflections: SOLID Youth Retreats (True Confessions of a Youth Minister)
November 6, 2018 / By Mike Mullin
My name is Mike Mullin, and I am the Minister for Youth and Discipleship at Asbury First United Methodist Church in Rochester, NY. I started at Asbury First about five years ago, and at that time, the senior high youth already had an established self-led January retreat at Casowasco Camp & Retreat Center. And as much as I like having full control over a retreat, I decided to see what pre-fab opportunities might be available for our middle school youth group.
Our 6th-8th grade youth group was in its first year of existence, and so we really had no idea what to expect for numbers or interest; when I found the SOLID Youth Retreat advertised on the Casowasco website, I thought, “let’s give this a shot.” It is targeted specifically for youth groups and churches that aren’t able to rent out a retreat center and host their own personal event. This was perfect for our new group. That year I brought about eight youth and they all had a blast. It probably didn’t hurt that we went undefeated in Stre-ball (it’s like deck-hockey with a kick-ball). But not only did the youth love the high energy activities you come to expect, they also loved the talks and our subsequent small group discussions.
SOLID is set up so that each church group has its own time to debrief throughout the weekend—this allows me as a leader to help ensure the content of the retreat fits the context of my particular youth. I will never forget after that first year a response from one of the youth, “I wish we had conversations like this every week!” I tried to explain that is exactly the point and purpose of Sunday school and youth group, but what this youth highlighted was something truly intangible.
Retreats have a way of impacting our youth in greater ways than any number of weekly Sunday school and youth group meetings can. By being removed from our regular environments for a weekend, we are able to set aside those things that hinder us and so easily entangle us, and we are able to grasp a more focused look at what it means to be a person of faith, to more fully consider what it means to follow Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
The SOLID Youth Retreat encapsulates these qualities and so much more: it encourages an atmosphere of acceptance and gracious vulnerability; the Casowasco staff is able to simultaneously bring a levity and gravitas as appropriate to each new engaging opportunity; the speakers each year have been fantastic and accessible for all Christians (United Methodist and otherwise). For each of these reasons, I have looked forward every year to continue to bring my youth back to this retreat. In fact, when we were having scheduling conflicts last year with our high school retreat, we made a last-minute decision to bring both our middle schoolers and our high schoolers to SOLID—the high schoolers that were able to come had a great time, and we are looking forward to having both groups attend again this year. And as I have been involved on both the District and Conference levels of youth ministry (DCYM and CCYM), I have been encouraging other churches that are looking for connections to try out SOLID. You will not be disappointed!