I realize it has been awhile since my last post. A lot of things happened in recent months: my senior organ recital, my last Gathering as a member of the worship team, graduation...there are many "lasts". (More on those events later)
However, these last two weeks have been a 'first' for me (and for many others!).
Last December, Hope College received a large grant from the Lilly Endowment to begin a high school summer gathering with the focus of raising up new leaders in the church through studies in theology, worship, liturgy, and the arts (Read the article to learn more!). This new grant opportunity was offered to all Christian higher education institutions in the US.
Thus, the program called 'Awakening' was born with the idea that high school students might be able to deepen their faith and broaden their perspective by understanding the intersection of each of those elements in a worship service. The week would be led by six trained interns supported by the director of Awakening.
When I learned of this new event, I recall thinking "This is going to be awesome! But...what exactly is it?" Not long after the announcement, the director approached me and asked if I would be interested in helping with Awakening. The vision of engaging the next generation of the church caught my attention and I knew I wanted to play a role in this new initiative.
After several months, reality set in. I was appointed to be an intern along with five other students(and friends) from Hope College and I began assisting the director with administrative tasks; meanwhile, as May rolled around, students began registering and submitting deposits. Whoa. Part of my job was to print off acceptance letters and send them to the students. I had no idea what these young adults would be like––many of my questions went something like this:
- Will they like us [the interns]?
- Are they going to be awkward?
- Will they fully participate throughout the week?
- Is the there too much in the curriculum?
I had no idea what was about to take place.
Jump forward with me to intern training week (June 6-10). I had spent much of my time before June 6 finishing up several tasks (i.e editing documents, making name tags, etc.) so that everything would be ready to go prior to the actual Awakening week. When Monday rolled around, the interns gathered in the lobby of the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts for a time greet one another and "break the ice". Lucky for us, no one was really a stranger because we had encountered each other at least once before in classes or extra-curricular activities. We started off with some fun (and weird) games––the kind where you have to "get over yourself" and just play despite the fact that you might look foolish.
After that, the week took off at double speed. We discussed the vision of Awakening, the activities that would shape these students, and our role as leaders of small groups. As described on the Awakening website, some of themes for the week included: story, church, renewal, discovery, worship, and the arts. The curriculum was developed by none other than a mentor of mine, Josh, who modeled for us what it would mean to guide these students as they listen, spend time alone, and discern what the Lord was saying to them. It was through our time together that we found Awakening to be formative for us as interns just as it would eventually be for the students.
Our daily routine went something like this:
- Morning solitude (at 8:00AM!) for an hour
- Gathering for prayer, teaching, and silence
- Afternoon teaching, listening, and reflection
- Learning from local artists about the arts in the worship
- Meeting with local church leaders to discuss the "next generation" in the church
- Planning our own intern worship for our students
Other opportunities included visiting Good Samaritan Ministries of Holland and the Holland Rescue Mission.
As interns, we spent time discerning where our story meets God's story. We listened to the one who calls us His beloved. We awakened to who we are meant to be as His chosen people.
Before we knew it, Sunday arrived and our first kids were dropped off by their parents. Each of us felt nervous, excited, and overwhelmed all at the same time. What was about to happen?
We did not need to worry. The Lord would be our guide.
The first ever Awakening participants jumped right into some classic icebreakers, worship, and group time all on the first night! My wonderful Team Z sat in the Pine Grove on that beautiful day and, though they did not know each other, they received one another. They entered into their liturgy––the work of the people––with open hearts. Each student, over the course of the week, embraced one another––"solitude grabbing onto solitude"(Nouwen)––to form a community rooted in our beloved Father.
We explored the history of the universal church at many local churches, both Protestant and Catholic(Thank you Jon Brown, CJ & Denise Kingdom-Grier, and Father Charlie Brown!). The group explored music through toolbox sessions ranging from dance to songwriting, piano to bass guitar. We even had the opportunity to worship in the Mulder Chapel at Western Theological Seminary! These experiences were pillars of creating a week that reflected the breadth and depth of worship.
To sum it up, the people of Awakening:
- Spent time in solitude with their creator
- Lived as a community, giving and receiving blessing from one another
- Gathered together as Christ to worship through song and dance
- Listened to God speak through scripture
- were Sent out to proclaim the truth of the gospel using their God-given gifts through ministry
We were not only learning the "how-to"; rather, we were "living" worship every single day.
By the end of our time together, no one wanted to let go. The experience of "rehearsing the real" with each other created bonds of friendship that, as many students referenced, went much deeper than friendships that have lasted years. There were many tears on Friday morning as we blessed each other, describing how we saw God's story in one another.
I am grateful for this "awakening" in my life. Currently, I am in a constant of limbo as I "graduated" with a victory lap in my near future at West Ottawa. I needed to give my ear to the Father in a time when so many voices are telling me where to go and what to do. I needed to be reminded that "through invocation we acknowledge the presence of the Spirit who is already more present in our midst than we are even to ourselves"(Joshua Banner).
Many of you know that the Synod of the Reformed Church of America met this past week. There were several outcomes, some good, others not so good (depending on who you talk to). It is hard not to lose hope in the church of Christ because of its division, regardless of where one stands.
However, I said this to the kids on Thursday evening as we relaxed around a campfire (thank you President Knapp!):
It's true. These talented students have bright futures ahead of them, whether they choose a path to ministry or not. They will be the next generation's leaders––as nurses, artists, athletes, teachers, or worship leaders. Thank you Lord for these students.
What was Awakening?
A time to create space for God to act in each of our lives.
I know in my soul that each student was meant to be here this week. I cannot explain why. Instead, I move forward trusting that the Lord will lead us into His story.
Soli Deo Gloria
Here are few pictures that might shed some light on our experience as the first ever Awakening community.
Recently, an article was published about Awakening in the Holland Sentinel.
Learn more about Awakening at hope.edu/awakening.