When my teenager returned from his confirmation retreat, I wondered if I could create a similar experience for my younger students on a smaller scale. Then I realized I already had one—almost. I had all the pieces; I just needed to put them together: the prayer service with contemporary music we did a few months prior and the sacrament of reconciliation service one of our parish priests offers every year. By combining them, we were able to provide a mini reconciliation retreat during our 90-minute class time. Students and teachers loved it! Here’s how you can create a memorable retreat for your students.
Start with a theme
What do you want your students to remember? Think prayerfully about the rest of the school year. During Lent, for instance, you might offer a refresher on reconciliation. Maybe you’d like to teach the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, or develop devotion to Mary during May. Once you know your theme, make a list of things you’d like to do. If you find yourself with too many activities, decide which ones might be better done at a class that leads up to, or follows your retreat.
Is there a parishioner or another teacher with a passion for a particular topic who might speak to your students? Don’t overlook your parish youth group-many teens are happy to share with younger students. (Be sure to screen any speakers before class.)
Your parish priests are probably more than willing to help, too, but most are stretched thin, so plan well in advance. If a priest will offer confession or the Eucharist, block out some time for him to talk to your class about it first.
Location, location, location
You don’t have to go “off campus”, but try to locate your retreat somewhere other than your usual meeting space. Even if it’s just another classroom, the change of scenery emphasizes the significance of the event.
Also, be sure to set aside some time in church for prayer and adoration. (Check in with your parish office to make sure another event isn’t going on at that time.)
Bring the bling and the bread
A component of most adult retreats are t-shirts emblazoned with the retreat theme. Most of us don’t have that kind of budget, so plan on something everyone can wear to remember the day—plastic wristbands printed with your theme, for example. Or maybe students can make a craft to take home.
Offer healthy snacks, too. Even if they’re as simple as pretzels and juice boxes, the hospitality can help make the day special. Of course, you’ll need to keep food allergies in mind, too.
Spread the word
Build anticipation for your retreat several weeks in advance by announcing it each week to your class. Send notes home to keep parents in the loop, and to recruit volunteers.
On the day of the retreat, try to remember that it’s a learning, prayerful experience for you, too. So relax, and let God guide you through everything.
Connie Clark is a catechist at Saint Kilian Catholic Church in Mission Viejo, California. Her latest book is 50 Prayer Services for Middle Schoolers: For Every Season of the Church Year and More. (Twenty-Third Publications). Her website is connieclark.org.
This article was originally published in RTJ’s creative catechist January 2013.
Image: Klimkin, pixabay