Kellor just posted a picture from the most recent Confirm not Conform retreat, which looked fantastic. And it made me remember how important that experience was – and not always in the way I anticipated.
I don’t think there’s a bad time to have a confirmation retreat. However, I do think there are two times in particular that have a higher impact. The first is early in the confirmation program, which gives confirmands an opportunity to bond with each other. The other is near the end, allowing time to reflect on what has happened, and what confirmands want to do going forward.
For the CnC program, we encourage the first option, setting up the retreat relatively early in the process. Over and over again, what we’ve found is that youth leave the retreat with a new appreciation for and connection with one another. It makes the rest of the program so much deeper. In fact, we encourage youth who are thinking of leaving the program to wait until after the retreat. Most of the time, once they’ve become part of the group in a more profound way, the rest of the issues fade away. Feeling a part of something is so important. This doesn’t take away from the importance of what people are learning, but if you’re in a group where you feel awkward and unknown, it’s a much harder road to travel, even if what you’re learning is valuable.
I also suspect that a confirmation retreat as the confirmation program is coming to an end has a special role. I can imagine what this might mean to people who have spent a lot of time together, as they look back and realize all the work they have done, all they have learned, and how they have changed. It’s hard to see that when you’re taking one week at a time, but to have the whole experience laid out before you is like seeing a view from a mountain you’ve summited. Suddenly, all those small steps you took add up to something impressive.
Again, retreats can have a powerful impact at any time of year. But I think it’s worth considering how the scheduling of a retreat can have a pastoral role in the lives of confirmands, along with a pedagogical one.