I just got back from a week in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the Synod Youth Workshop. It's hands-down the busiest week of my life, offering the least sleep, to boot. I have some cool video of stuff but I'm ready to get some sleep.
I did manage to find about 600 words that come close to describing the week. And I can show you a picture of a street sign the staff ran into on our tour to visit some of the 26 service projects. We spent about an hour trying unsuccessfully to cross Interstate 244. There were a billion detours due to construction and I really don't think it was possible to get there from here. When we saw this sign and were finally able to stop laughing we decided to just go eat lunch and go back to the campus.
I'll post some videos when I get a chance.
Friends know to be patient with me the week after I return from Synod because I tend to just babble. It has that effect on everyone who goes.
What is this phenomenon? The Presbyterian Church is divided into synods and the Synod of the Sun is made of churches in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. They started having a high school youth gathering about 30 or so years ago and called it a workshop. It has morphed a bit in structure but the same basic feel has endured. Many, including myself, call it a little sliced of heaven.
They take about 400 youth and sponsors and divide them into groups of 12 people who have never met each other before and may never see each other again. They are led by a small group leader whose instructions are to create a faith community out of these people and then turn leadership of the group over to the youth as the week goes on.
We have a covenant of confidentiality within these small groups that I’ve never known anyone to break. What happens in your small group stays there. You can tell your deepest secret, deepest longing and it will never be repeated. There is a lot of intimacy, raw pain and a lot of unconditional love at synod.
They set aside the weekend before for training of the small group leaders. I’m not sure there’s another youth event like this in the Presbyterian Church. I have seen teams of outsiders come to observe us in action but I’m not sure they learned anything except for being amazed. It’s one of those things that you can’t really explain to other people; just have to experience it to understand it. Let me give you just one example of what happened last week that I think describes it best.
About a week before we went to synod one of the most beloved members of our congregation in Garland died. Her grandson, Daniel, was with us in Tulsa. Everyone loved and missed her deeply. Joy was the lady I wrote about a couple of weeks ago when I talked about mentors.
I was walking back to the dorm after the variety show was over on Thursday night and spotted Daniel on the sidewalk with some of the youth of our church holding and hugging him. They were like a tangible little clump of love. I went over and grabbed onto the clump. It was a small group of people, maybe six or seven at most. I can’t remember everyone who was there but I think God had provided just the right people to be standing there at that moment to comfort Daniel. God is sneaky that way. The only other adult in the group had conveniently spent the last couple of years at seminary. After we cried and hugged for a bit Traci asked us if we would like to pray. She said she would start us out and then give us time to offer our own prayer then she would close the prayer.
We prayed our guts out, mostly telling God how much we loved and missed Joy and how much we loved Daniel. And it wasn’t just Joy. Our church had also lost another of our older members a couple of days before. His wife had taught piano to some of the kids in our circle. So we had a lot of grief in that group. We cried and prayed and held each in a small tight circle. When we were done Traci said ‘amen’ and lifted her head. The rest of the circle kept holding on to each other for a few second more until we heard Traci say in a soft voice, “Guys…look around you.”
When we raised our heads we found another group of Daniel’s friends standing there holding hands in a circle around us. I didn't recognize any of them. They had been surrounding us in silence while we prayed. Angels.
That’s what that week was all about. Thanks be to God.