Over the years Faith Alive has gotten lots of requests from churches interested in leading a weekend retreat for their teens centered on the Heidelberg Catechism. They were looking for resources, but most studies of the HC for this age group include 51 or so lessons! How do you begin to address that much content in a weekend format? I had heard that Church of the Servant had a tradition of taking seniors in high school on a weekend retreat to study the catechism, so I asked the pastor, Jack Roeda what pattern they used for that event.
Jack said that he and his wife Carol have lead this retreat for 20 years, though in the past couple years there hasn't been a graduating class large enough to continue the tradition. According to Jack, "It consisted of a long weekend at a cottage with senior high students. We'd leave church at 6pm Friday and come back Sunday at 2pm. On the way to the cottage we'd treat them to a dinner at a nice restaurant. The format was extremely simple. I would give each student a Lord's Day. If there were a dozen students, I'd assign each a Lord's Day, and I would choose Lord's days that covered the major themes of the catechism. Each student would introduce for general discussion his or her LD by restating it in their own words, telling the group what they appreciated about the LD and sharing what questions or difficulties the LD raised for them. If the student said they thought that the LD was "pretty straight forward", I would usually prod a bit to show that it was anything but simple and straight forward."
"This simple format elicited wonderful discussions--no holds barred, no questions off-limit. This was a time to talk openly about their faith and doubt. At the very best of the sessions, students would challenge each other and wrestle together to wrap their heads around the claims of the faith. We would have 2 hours on Friday evening and a movie, 2.5 hours Saturday morning, 2 hours after lunch, and maybe 1.5 hours after dinner followed by another movie. Sunday morning we would start late, after breakfast around 10am, and have another 2 hours followed by some time for worship. Though each retreat differed because of the different students, I think they were richly rewarding for all involved."
I appreciated so many things about this pattern. The fact that youth take ownership of a particular Lord's Day and lead the discussion about it. The element of spontaneity that comes from a conversation that involves ones own experiences, questions, and doubts. The model it sets for young people to talk openly about faith with peers. And the opportunity for the youth to spend time talking with the pastor and his wife--people who have been important in their faith journey over the years--not long before setting out for college or a career and possibly moving on to a new location and church home. This model does depend on the skill of a pastor or another gifted teacher in the church who knows the ins and outs of the catechism and enjoys spending time in conversation with teenagers. I hope this pattern could be helpful in sparking ideas for those who are interested in trying an HC retreat. If your church offers catechism retreats please share your ideas in the comments section below!