CLYDE — The River ran through Clyde Sept. 25, and more than 30 teens and pre-teens swam in it.
The River is a six-hour retreat — sponsored by the Diocese of Rochester’s Department of Evangelization and Catechesis — for students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Sue Versluys, diocesan youth-ministry specialist, traveled to St. John the Evangelist School in Clyde to lead the retreat, which seeks to help young people address the physical, social, relational, emotional and spiritual changes they face at this age.
After looking at the developmental tasks of young people, diocesan youth-ministry officials developed the retreat three years ago, Versluys said.
“This retreat deals with change — change in social structure and family structure and in their faith life,” Versluys said, noting that she attempts to help participants understand that Jesus faced similar problems. “We base it on Jesus in the temple, when Mary and Joseph have left him there and he’s about his father’s business. We look at Jesus as a (teen), and he suffered some of the same things that they go through.”
The retreat starts and ends with prayer, and witness talks, small-group discussions, a guided meditation and community-building games and activities are sandwiched in between. Beth Markowski, 13, and Jessica Sarver, 12, said they especially enjoyed spending time in their small groups. Both girls belong to Church of the Epiphany in Sodus. Twelve-year-old Anna Interlichia, of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Wolcott, said she enjoyed the closing activity, in which participants wrote down their worries, challenges and hopes.
“It helped me think about myself,” Anna said.
Eric Thompson, 13, and Phillip Jenkins, 10, also belong to St. Margaret Mary Parish. Their favorite part of the retreat was a game in which two people were tied together at the wrists and had to figure out how to free themselves. Their struggle to free themselves reflected a struggle for independence, they said.
“That’s kind of like the same as it is at home with your parents,” Eric said.
The retreat is offered several times throughout the year in various locations around the diocese, Versluys said. The Sept. 25 retreat attracted young people from Auburn, Wolcott, Sodus, Lyons, Clyde, Savannah and Newark, said Sister Catherine Gibbons, faith-formation coordinator at St. John’s Parish in Clyde, St. Patrick’s Parish in Savannah and St. Michael’s Parish in Lyons.
Many middle-schoolers feel that traditional faith-formation programs are for little kids, so original programs specifically tailored to their age group — like The River — are appealing to them, said Sister Gibbons, who helped with the retreat.
“So much of their life is a lot of peer pressure, and dealing with a lot of issues,” Sister Gibbons said. “They come out with some really profound concepts and really deep sharing, and I don’t think they even know it. I think it helps them to meet other kids and be part of a group and see that it will work.”
The retreat also provides an environment where young people feel safe thinking and talking about themselves and the changes they’re facing.
“You get to explore. You could let out all your other stuff you couldn’t let out at home. You just don’t want to tell anyone else,” said 11-year-old Jacob Hall of St. Margaret Mary’s.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The River retreat will be held at three more locations during the 2004-05 school year. It will be held from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 5 at Blessed Trinity Parish in Owego; Feb. 12 at Our Mother of Sorrows Parish in Greece; and April 2 at St. Vincent DePaul Parish in Churchville. The cost of each retreat is $20. For more information, contact your youth minister or the diocesan youth-ministry office at 585/328-3228, ext. 1279.