I have to give special credit to Jessica Karlinski, one of the staff, who took some of these pictures. I took the ones of my small group and she took the really good ones of the large group gatherings.
Our smallish contingent of kids stopped on the way to Tulsa for breakfast: We had a lock-in at the church the night before so parents didn't have to wake up early enough to get the kids to a meeting point by 5 a.m.. Having a lock-in also gave me a good opportunity to get my "Go With the Flow" attitude firmly screwed into my mind.
Here's the girls from my church when we stopped for breakfast.
The week is always anchored by a daily keynote from one of the best preachers in our area. I don't have photos of the keynotes. Oops. But I can tell you what Brent Barry from Northpark Presbyterian said:
"No matter how confusing it gets, how hard it gets, how much it hurts, there is no moment in the road ahead that will not be touched by the grace of God in some way."
I also don't take pictures of small group because this can be an intensely private time at Synod. I told you we have more small group time than other retreats-- nine small groups that total 16 hours spent in a safe environment where kids can ask any question and make any statement that will not be repeated outside the group. Inside this block of time there are games and discussion of the keynote as well as all sorts of issues facing teenagers today. It's not totally serious the whole time. This is the place where I learned that gerbils will explode if you give them Dr Pepper to drink and that hair spray is flammable.
Years ago someone gave me the purpose of the small group leader: Our job was to "build a community of faith from 12 people who had never met each other." Every activity is geared toward that end. Even the stuff that just sounds like fun. Town Night is an opportunity for the group to learn how to make decisions together. Each group decides how they will spend their time off campus from 3 to 9 that night. Most go to dinner but there are a variety of places to choose for dinner. Then they will do some kind of fun activity--but what kind? And we pool our money like most families do and together decide how we spend it.
The first decision we make is the group's offering for our final worship service. Most groups just take ten percent off the top and set it aside. And through the abundance of God, these groups usually have money left over that they also kick in for the offering. Don't tell me kids aren't generous.
Our group went to Brownies for dinner. This is a small mom & pop diner that has great food at a reasonable price. They also make their own root beer. We filled the counter. Linner, who was born in Nigeria, had never had a root beer before.
Then most groups came back to campus for one of the largest shaving cream fights you'll ever see. I always love the walk to breakfast the next morning because that part of the campus still smells like menthol.
I have no idea who these people are. I'll bet their own mothers wouldn't recognize them.
Each small group also does a service project. The whole city of Tulsa plans for the week we're there. Every agency in town saves work for our week because they now understand when we tell them to plan more than they think the kids can do in five hours then plan something for them to do when they finish that. It is one of the kids' favorite activities. Our group served food at a soup kitchen run by the Episcopal church. When we got there at 8:30 a.m. there was already a line down the block waiting. Most of our kids manned the serving line while a few of us organized the food pantry and a mailing of letters to all the doctors in Tulsa. 750 of them to be exact. That's a lot of letters.
I didn't take pictures of the people coming through the line. But we fed 450 people. There was an interesting transition around 11 o'clock when they switched from breakfast to lunch with not a pause in the serving line. The whole operation was seamless. When I asked the kids how they could tell the people had been homeless and living on the streets one answer was their fingernails. Seldom do we take the time to really understand what living on the streets is like. But being able to wash your hands and trim your fingernails is one of the luxuries the homeless can't afford.
That night we had a Variety Show.
The wonderful thing about the Variety Show is that it's not a TALENT Show. This opens the door to kids who worry that they aren't good enough and it also open the door to some really unique experiences. One of my favorites years ago was when two girls took small penlight flashlights, stuck them up their noses and flashed them on and off in time to "Dueling Banjos". It was hilarious to watch their noses light up pink then go off. It's the goofy stuff like that that is always the most popular acts.
This year will go down in Synod folklore as the year of Group 7 and the Tron act. You will hear a startled audience laugh at first then break out in applause and bursts of glee at what marvels sheer imagination can create. The clue that the audience saw at the beginning was when the group walked out with glow sticks scotch-taped to themselves. This turned them into magnificient stick figures once the lights went out. It was almost impossible to film. My camera didn't register the pink colors at all. What you also can't see is that they had two other group members in the boxes above either side of the stage. Watch a little over half-way for when they threw out dozens of glow stick into the audience. That also didn't record very well. My group had seats on the fourth row and caught some of them.
One of the other most popular ones was a song performed in sign language by Sycada Cheek. It shows the power of sign language to show emotion.She had the audience in the palm of her hand.
Then after all that we took it down a few thousand notches and had vespers outside.
It all ends with a moving Communion service.
Each group has a chance to walk the labyrinth. The staff lays out three huge labyrinths on the floor of the great hall. The kids take off their shoes and spend an hour slowing walk, thinking and praying. Then they each took a strip of fabric and wrote a prayer and left it on the cross.
In the end, this is what it was all about.