By R. Wesley Arning
Young adults don’t attend church retreats as many previous generations did. Life is too busy, with too many demands, to give up an entire weekend. Yes, they may disconnect from the world while on vacation at some Instagram-worthy cabin in the Rockies, but surely they won’t pay money to do that with their church.
Yet there we were, gathered at a common table for an outdoor dinner, 70 young adults from four parishes in Texas (St. John the Divine, Christ Church Cathedral, and St. Martin’s, Houston, and Church of the Incarnation, Dallas) for a weekend retreat in September.
After the Radical Vocation Conference in 2021, young-adult leaders at these four churches began to discuss what a conference would look like for those who are called to vocations as lay persons.
It quickly morphed into a retreat to help young adults see their place within the Church. It needed to be a retreat for our age demographic and would speak to a widespread longing. What does it mean to have a seat at the table, that the Church is not just for our parents, but for us as well? We named it the Nourish Retreat, and invited the 20-and-30-somethings of our parishes to join us for a week at Camp Allen.
This was not your typical parish retreat. The first talk didn’t begin until 10 a.m., and the last event on the schedule (pajama Compline) started at 10 p.m. The Rev. Matt Marino led four talks that challenged participants to live as followers of the risen Jesus. We used the image of a redwood tree, which has shallow but interconnected roots, to represent our call to be connected to God and each other.
We hoped to start small and see where this could lead in the years ahead. It was evident that participants longed for a place to talk with peers about faith, and the opportunities and challenges of young adulthood. As we discern how we might offer this retreat again, we are excited about expanding it. Young adults are not only being nourished but also empowered to live into their baptismal calling.
The Rev. R. Wesley Arning is an associate priest for young adult and small group ministry at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.