“Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
For the past few years I have spent the short days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve at the Cathedral Domain leading music at “A New Year in the Spirit,” our annual winter retreat for junior and senior high students. This was an event I attended as a teenager in the late 90’s and it has been a joy to revisit it as an adult. Since returning as a volunteer, however, I’ve noticed a reoccurring trend: college students keep showing up. While some are serving as chaperones or dropping off younger siblings, others appear to be simply holding to a schedule they have kept since junior high. They come to the mountain during the holidays because that is what they’ve always done.
This unfilled spiritual need provided the initial inspiration for Solstice, an Advent retreat for young adults the Rev. Dana Lockhart and I have hosted at the Cathedral Domain for the past two years. Recognizing that for college students, this holy season can get lost in the rush of final exams, travel, parties, and family obligations, Solstice was designed to provide a sacred space for young adults amidst the chaos of the holiday season. To ensure a restful and relaxing experience, the schedule is deliberately kept light and loose. Meals are prepared and eaten together family-style and participants are invited to choose between chapel services, meditation sessions, yoga classes, and small group discussions.
Since the theme for Solstice is cultivating adult spirituality these discussions generally revolve around how we move beyond an adolescent faith rooted in emotional experiences and spiritual highs toward one defined by commitment and discipleship. At Solstice 2016, held in late December, guest speaker Allison Duvall tackled this topic and also discussed how faith informed her calling to work with Episcopal Migration Ministries. The thoughtful conversation that followed ranged from civic religion to the meaning of discipleship to a debate over worship styles and left everyone with something to ponder that evening.
The young people who gathered together last month for Solstice, all aged 18-25, are at a critical moment in their personal, professional, and spiritual development. Everyday they are being exposed to new people, new experiences and new ideas that will inform the life-long decisions they are in the process of making. And yet these are years when the Episcopal Church has the least to offer them. As we move into the season of Epiphany, a season when we commemorate Jesus’ baptism by John and his calling to ministry, let us take a moment to reflect on who we were at eighteen and on the people God brought into our lives that helped us find our way.
by The Rev. Justin Gabbard
Missioner for Young Adult Ministries, Commonwealth Communities