[Published on the Redbud Post on 4/1/17]
Last weekend, I had eleven 12-year-old boys in my basement for a youth retreat. It was chaotic, gross, and perfect. We heard unhindered laughing, chasing, yelling, and body noises through two floors and closed doors. The leaders talked straight about God and good choices. Our doorbell rang at all hours, announcing the arrival of more volunteer drivers, youth mentors, and meal makers from the church.
My son glowed with testosterone and belonging.
On Sunday afternoon, I pulled on a hazmat suit and headed down the basement stairs to survey the damage. I picked up Slim Jim® wrappers, vacuumed millions of chip crumbs and rainbow Nerds candy, and looked away gagging when it came time to clean the toilet. But the entire time I smiled to myself and thanked God.
This retreat was so much better than the last one.
* * *
When we moved to a new state a couple years ago, we knew we needed to find a church right away. We were deeply invested in the charismatic liturgical Anglican one we left behind. Her rhythms and traditions were thickly braided into our family’s social and spiritual life.
We soon discovered there was nothing like our former home in our new town. We visited many new places, and every one made at least one of us cry on the ride home. We sighed a lot. We took a lot of Sundays off.
One church was always recommended. It was by far the most popular church in the area, especially for middle school and high school kids. We were constantly warned, “If you go there be ready to stay because your kids will never want to leave.”
They were right. At first.
The morning we visited that church my sixth-grade twins were welcomed with unlimited soda and donuts in a hipster lounge complete with pallet board walls, minimalist furniture, and flat screen TVs. The staff smiled broadly in their matching shirts. Our kids begged us to get out and not embarrass them.
We took our youngest up to the elementary school section. It was a brightly painted carnival with cheery music and cuddly volunteers. They gave out free candy when she checked in. Our daughter hugged us tightly when she said goodbye, cheeks full of Starbursts®.
My husband and I then found a seat in the back of the dark balcony. It was so much like the megachurch from my childhood, where my parents found Jesus. I felt like a 90-year-old crank. The music was too loud, the fog machine was thick, the flashing lights were bright, and the singers’ names, and twitter handles were posted on the screens. The sermon was a video projected life size onto the stage. It was entertaining, and I wished I had popcorn and some of the sweets my kids were given.
On the ride home our son, amped up on more sugar than he’d had in weeks, led our debrief: “Is this really a church? I’m not sure it’s really a church. It’s more like a concert or something? The music was so loud! And there were lights. I don’t remember anything about God. And there was smoke! I couldn’t figure out the smoke. Wait! Is it like in the Bible?! Like when they laid their offerings on the altar for the Lord? So the smoke machine is supposed to remind us to make sacrifices?!”
Our former church, with her sacraments and incense on high holy days, would have been so proud. How dear that this boy assumed that the fog machine was a nod to ancient worship practices. We burst out laughing.
But we went back. More soda, donuts, and Starbursts®. More lights and fog. More exuberant entertainment. It still didn’t feel church, but our tweens in their formative years didn’t complain, so we kept going back.
They begged to go on the big youth retreat. We prayed hard and released them onto one of the ten buses that would carry them off to zany adventure and promised encounters with Jesus. I gave the leaders my cell and begged them to text/call if they needed anything.
They looked wrung out when I picked them up two days later. They told me the weekend was “fine.” I assumed they just needed long naps, lots of water, and some protein. Desperate for details, I asked my son later if he learned anything new during the weekend. He fought back tears and answered, continue reading at the Redbud Post…
- Church is Like the Gym – I keep going to church (and the gym) because I need it.
- Don’t Touch My Face (Ash Wednesday) – I found grace in the Ash Wednesday liturgy.
- The Redbud Writer’s Guild – Rethinking the Church in April 2017.
©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.