Friday, December 01, 2006

Exploration 2006

"Dive in, Make waves!" was the theme of this year's Exploration event. Hundreds of high school seniors and college students gathered in Jacksonville, Florida (which was only marginally warmer than New Jersey) and descended upon the Hyatt Hotel to fellowship with each other and discern God's calling upon their lives. The hotel was beautifully located along a river, complete with palm trees. The hotel itself was wonderful; I don't think I have ever slept on beds that comfortable before. This was definitely a cushy place!

I have never attended an Exploration event, so unlike Beth Quick, I have no basis of comparison. I went, along with three other seminarians from Drew Theological School, to be small group leaders. The small group experience is an integral part of the Exploration weekend, as it (hopefully!) helps everyone (leaders included!) to process the Bible Studies, the talks, the worship experiences, and the workshops. I was blessed to have an amazing group of high school seniors, who were willing to "dive in" with each other right away to talk and share their lives with each other. It was so refreshing to see young people take their relationship with God so seriously, and to be open and vulnerable about their lives.

I have to be honest and say that I was disappointed by the lack of a strong New England presence, although I was encouraged that there were a few from my conference there. We had an annual conference breakfast where for the longest time is was just me and the BU admissions officer. We had a lovely conversation, but I would have loved the chance to really meet the passionate youth there from my conference.

This event gave me hope that although United Methodism is slowly dying in the Northeast, there are embers alive and there is a stronger denominational presence in other areas of the country. I was astounded at the number of young folks from the South and the Midwest! The one youth from my conference I did get to have a brief conversation with jokingly remarked that she couldn't escape from the southern accents.

As I belive I've mentioned before, the worship services were not to my tastes, but I realized that it was good that they had contemporary worship music. For some of these kids, all they've known is one way of worship: traditional hymns. Having contemporary worship allowed them to see that there were other ways out there to worship God, and that contemporary worship can be an authentic way of praising God. Alternatively, I wished that they had done many different styles of worship so that they could have been exposed to a greater wealth of songs, styles, and cultures.

All in all, it was an interesting experience - and an enriching one! It was wonderful to be able to talk with my fellow Drewids about the language, the music, and the workshops. Seeing it from the angle of a leader without having been before was interesting. I noted some things that I might do a bit differently - I know that while the leadership of the event said to us small group leaders that they weren't there to manipulate people into accepting a call to ministry, it seemed like the push of the entire weekend was for people to make that decision. I don't know. Perhaps having come from a place where I was resistant to the idea of odrained ministry gives me a different perspective on this, and makes me read things into the event that weren't there to begin with. I just wish that there was more space available for those in attendance to say "no, this isn't for me" or "no, I haven't experienced God this weekend." Contextualizing God's vocational calling as a calling for your life not just or only to ordained ministry helped with that...but what else should I have expected? After all, this event was about calling to ministry in the United Methodist Church.

I am very glad I went, and that I was able to both minister and be ministered to by my small group and the others I had conversations with. For me, fellowship and community was the strength of this event, and in many ways, it helped solidify my own call to ministry. In the end, it was a win all around. :-)

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