St Albans Church

Diocesan youth listen for ‘voice in the wilderness'

"Crosstalk" March 2013

By Zack Ingles

Participants of the retreat took part in many outdoor activities, including snowshoeing, skating and tobogganing.

Voice in the Wilderness, a weekend youth retreat planned by the OMG network of parish youth leaders, was all about escaping the noise of our lives.

After an initial delay due to inclement weather, over 20 young people and leaders descended on Christ Church Cathedral’s parking lot early on the morning of Feb. 9 to begin our journey in search of God’s “voice” in the wilderness.

This was not meant to be some flight of fancy searching for mythical creatures or listening for audible voices “from the heavens” amid the beautiful wooded backdrop of Val des Monts, Que. Over the course of the weekend those who attended weren’t listening for something tangible or earthly. In fact, we were doing quite the opposite.

The overarching purpose of the retreat was simple: to escape the noise that we are constantly bombarded with in our busy lives and learn to listen to how God voice speaks to us in spite of it. This “listening” manifested itself in different ways for each of us. For some, it was the lack of cell phone service. For others, it was a chance to develop new friendships with young people from across our Diocese. For others still, it was as simple as finding a quiet place in the woods and soaking in the beauty of nature.

We reflected on the passage in 1 Kings 19, where Elijah goes on top of a mountain in search of God’s voice, only to find after fire, wind, and earthquakes, that God was to be found in the silence. It was a powerful lesson, especially in the 21st century.

Alan Earwaker, an outdoor education consultant with the Western Quebec School Board, was our adventure facilitator for the weekend. He took us through a number of teambuilding games, many of which taught us about the ecosystem of the Gatineau Hills. Though these games were a lot of fun, most of the participants agreed that the highlight of our first day was a two-kilometre snowshoe trek through the forest. Most of the teens and even some of the leaders had never snowshoed before.

Six of the young people on the retreat were new Canadians hailing from Burundi and Nepal, so the beginning of our trek reminded me of the shenanigans in those old National Lampoon movies. Nonetheless, we all managed to get suited up for our trek. The night before almost a foot of fresh snow had fallen in the area. This meant that the leaders of the pack, who were most often the teens, got to trudge through knee-deep snow for most of the hike. Along the way, Alan stopped to teach us about the wildlife that lived in the forest we were exploring. We saw a cave where a porcupine had created a den, deer tracks, two hundred year old trees, and several shelters that had been built by campers in the summer time.

The most meaningful time of the whole snowshoe excursion lasted less than five minutes. Our group came to a clearing at the top of a large cliff overlooking the lake and our cabin below. After listening to a reading from scripture, Alan asked each of us to go off by ourselves to just sit and be present in the moment. Afterwards, we each shared briefly what impacted us during that time. The stories shared were some of the most authentic and genuine expressions of interaction with creation that I’ve ever had the privilege of listening to.

The final component of our retreat, and perhaps the most exciting, was creating the liturgy for our closing Eucharist. It is not very often that a teen is asked to help to help write a collect or the prayers of the people, or help select the Eucharistic prayer and the music for a service. Each leader was assigned a component of our Sunday worship and worked with a group of teens to plan the service.

It was an incredible scene to see played out in our log cabin. In one corner, the music group was remixing Coldplay and Justin Beiber, and in another corner a group struggling to find a way to put into words their experiences from the retreat for the prayers. When it came time to experience the fruits of our labour on Sunday morning, the anticipation was beyond bearable. As the leaders set up the worship space, I grabbed my guitar and began singing some Leonard Cohen. As our worship space began to take form,the resounding chorus of Hallelujah echoed through the cabin. The table was set and the people were ready. Each group shared their piece of our worship puzzle, and our priest for the weekend, the Rev. Beth Bretzlaff, led us in communion, where we administered the sacrament to each other. It was an inspiring sight seeing teens from all walks of life – including six who had arrived in Canada as refugees – share in the body and blood of Christ, surrounded by the natural beauty of winter.

It was truly an extraordinary end to an extraordinary weekend. As we headed back to the noises of the city and of our busy lives, my prayer was that we would all remember that, to hear the Voice we’re all searching for, sometimes all it takes is a little silence.

Our embedded reporter for Crosstalk, Zack Ingles, also doubled as our musician for the weekend.