I am excited about my retreat, and I leave for it in about two and a half hours. I have been packing lackadaisically because in the last few months I have learned that I more than taken care of if I just have my blue under armor shorts, ExOfficio underwear, and one of my three favorite t-shirts (red Antonian basketball, baby-blue ACP S.A.Q., black Gravedigger). I have to pack for three, maybe four days, but my duffel is light and my conscience is clear!
I realized last night after hot-tubbing with Luke and Fitz, just exactly how excited I am for the retreat. I was telling them the kind of things we do, which is technically not allowed, but don’t worry–I didn’t divulge any critical Catholic information that could jeopardize our faith. As I told Luke and Fitz about what we did last year and how it changed me, I realized that A.C.T.S. retreats are engineered to work on retreatents on a raw emotion level. The way we schedule events to crescendo into a state of high emotion is no accident. The creators of the whole retreat know that in order to work metal, the metal has to be hot. When blacksmiths wanted to reshape a piece of metal, they first had to heat it in the furnace so that it could be worked with for reshaping. It is the same way with the retreatents. We have a lot of fun and do a lot of prayer, Bible reading, swimming, skits, Masses, and Big Booty during the day, but then at night we try and somber the attitude. At night there is an activity or ceremony that is designed to get the retreatents into a sober state of mind, and force them to focus on why they are at the retreat.
Then, after we have their minds in the right state, we begin to try and subtly reshape them. And please, do not give yourself the luxury of thinking that what we do is at all akin to brainwashing. I do not know of a single retreatent at last year’s A.C.T.S. retreat who was unhappy with the change he or she went through. The reason that they do not feel unhappy is because the change and the recognition that something important happened at the retreat, all comes from themselves. We tell them stories, and perform powerful skits, and give them alone time, but any and all change is self-initiated. You get what you want from the retreat. And everyone wants a lot.
You have to understand the tiers of volunteers in order to understand exactly what kind of experience we are trying to create for the retreatents. There are around thirty retreatents this year, which is actually a lot. I didn’t think it was because I am used to a different kind of church retreat. I am used to a retreat where kids from grades six to grades twelve show up, twenty at least to a grade, and the staff is mostly adults. The difference between that retreat and the A.C.T.S. retreat is that on an A.C.T.S. retreat, as a retreatent, the experience is undeniably centered around you. At a typical retreat, you are there with your friends going through scheduled events, but there are simply too many people to tailor the event to one group. You kind of have to create your own experience. In fact, if you didn’t bring your own friends, you would have a hard time meeting any because the whole retreat was pre-segregated by pre-existing friendships. Not so at A.C.T.S. Every clique is broken down. You do not request bunk-mates, you are randomly assigned them. At meals, every meal you sit where your nametag is, and it is always with a completely new group than it was last time. But in addition to the camaraderie with other retreatents, it is the team members who make the experience special.
As I said, there are about thirty retreatents. There are about fifty team-members. The team members are composed of anyone who has been on a retreat once, and wants to help the next year. You have to be in high school, and because you can only go on the retreat once, but you’re in high school for four years, often there are way more team members than retreatents. Which is great. It plays into the whole servant-leader experience. Team members carry the retreatents luggage, literally feed them during meals, walk them everywhere, answer all the questions they are allowed to answer, wake them up, put them to bed, write them letters, make them bracelets, arrange their nametags, lead their group discussions, and generally foster an environment of service. It is our aim to make the retreatents understand that this weekend is for them. It is their weekend to grow. They have a fleet of ready and willing volunteers who would go to the ends of the Earth to help the retreatents in any way they want.
But I’m not technically a team member. I am a YAM. YAMS are people who want to help with the retreat but are in college, but there is a very small allotment of people who are allowed to be YAMS. I do not know why I was selected, except for that I have friends who have been involved with SEAS A.C.T.S. and are YAMS, and because I was on the retreat last year and can provide insight no one else can. YAM stands for Young Adult Minister. What is peculiar about my situation is that like I said, most retreatents are young in high school, often freshmen. They then return and be team members for two to three years. Because I was not a member of SEAS Church last summer, I had never been invited on a retreat, plus I wasn’t Catholic. So, last year I went on retreat as a senior in high school, which is rare. Because I went as a senior, the following summer (this summer), the only position from which I could help was as a YAM. I never got to be on team! It is odd because most YAMS have more experience than anyone else on retreat, but several team members (people younger than me), have a much better clue of what is happening. But, I do provide feedback to YAMS that is not common, and that is because I was a retreatent last year. They never have that. As we plan, they now can ask me: what did you think of that last year? And can get helpful feedback from someone who has the experience fresh in his memory.
Speaking of fresh memory, I also realized last night that I can’t recall what happened last year as well as I’d like. It was a year ago, in my defense. Still, I look forward to telling my friends all about it and telling you guys all about it when I come back Sunday. Until then, if you can, please pray that God’s will happens on the retreat, whatever that is. Pray that the retreatents have an experience that will change them for the better permanently, and pray that everyone involved with running the retreat is blessed from it and takes something good away from it.