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  • Josh Anderson

Retreating At Home

We hosted our first-ever digital retreat for theHeart Youth Group on June 5-6. Through teaching videos, an online challenge, and Zoom calls, middle- and high-schoolers and their families spent time learning about some biblical prophets. Turns out the words and actions of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel all those centuries ago are just as timely and applicable for us today.

Our first-ever digital Youth Retreat included teaching videos, online challenges, and Zoom calls. Above all it was a commitment to being together regardless of our circumstances.

By Hannah Siegel, Youth Ministry Intern

Last spring, we piled into a large van and took theHeart Youth Group on a retreat for the first time ever. We ate way too much and slept way too little. It goes down as one of my favorite weekends ever, and I’m not even one of the kids.

When COVID-19 first began to start shutting things down in March of 2020, we quickly realized that venturing back to Bonclarken Conference Center for a retreat this year would be impossible.

We knew canceling outright was not an option something since something so sacred happened when we gathered together for a whole weekend last spring, devoting our time to being with one another and being with God. We could not shake the belief that backing away from a retreat was missing an opportunity.

In this season, perhaps more than ever, we needed to spend quality time together with God and one another.

This was the occasion to show the next generation of the Church that community is more than gathering around a campfire and staying up way too late on a sugar rush.

We wanted to demonstrate to our teens that community runs deeper than that; it's leaning into those around us, especially during seasons of anxiety and hardship.

Isn’t it more challenging when “those around us” are in little boxes on our computer screens? Absolutely. But we knew the pay-off would be worth the challenge if it meant that our youth would gain a wider perspective about the depths of community in the midst of trial.

With the help of an amazing volunteer team, we choreographed a weekend from start to finish with this vision in mind.

Learning from the Past

theHeart's Youth Ministry Team forged ahead to design a digital youth retreat. Pastor Josh suggested we look at the prophets and we were off. We put together three teaching videos from three different prophets who experienced hard times. These men—each of whom faced great hardship—spoke some of the most inspiring words of hope in the Bible.

It became our banner: Hope in the Dark. You can watch the full playlist of videos we created for the digital retreat on our YouTube channel.

From that deep well of thought, we put together group activities, trying to make the content come off the screen. Everything was designed to encourage, uplift, and embrace the opportunities of retreating at home with the whole family.

Challenge Within a Challenge

We wanted to simulate an entire retreat experience, one that pressed on even after our sessions together. We designed what came to be known as theChallenge: a series of, well, challenges, that the youth completed throughout the duration of the weekend with some help from their families.

When students completed each challenge, they submitted photo and video evidence to receive points. There was even a virtual escape room thrown in. No one escaped… but that didn’t crush our hope. What’s a youth retreat without shenanigans?

Needless to say, things got pretty competitive. Check out some of the submissions from our super-creative competitors.

Full of Hope

Never in a million years would I have guessed that I would be planning a digital youth retreat.

I love nothing more than spending time with our youth—so it was a huge bummer for me when I knew we wouldn’t be headed to Bonclarken, with all its van rides, campfires, and sugar rushes. We set out with the goal of showing our students that community outlasts disappointments, but in all honesty, I think this was a lesson that I needed as well.

Rather than seeing students frustrated by an abnormal “retreat” experience, I witnessed families rallying together to make this a special weekend, one that was filled with hope. I could not help but smile all weekend knowing that laughter was being spread in over a dozen homes around the High Country and that students were getting to experience firsthand how to be the Church and not simply go to church.

This is hopefully an experience our youth will not soon forget. I know I won’t.


godspeed. Hannah.

Hannah Siegel interned with theHeart for five semesters while attending AppState. Recently she graduated and accepted a job in Virginia Beach, VA. Hannah leaves Boone and takes a part of theHeart with her. And she leaves a part of herself with us. We only need to look into the faces of the middle- and high-school students in our Youth Group to see the incredible and kingdom-building impact she has made in the life of our church family. This isn't goodbye. This is simply looking forward to when we get to see you again. Thank you, Hannah. We love you.

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