I hadn't planned to attend this year's retreat because I felt like I "aged out" of the Young Adult group. Officially, the Community of Christ considers Young Adults to be 18-35ish. I'm well into the "ish" part! A couple years ago, when the President of the church was in Portland, I had asked him at what age were we officially not a "young" adult. His response was that if you have children who are teenagers, it was time to face the facts that you're well into middle age! Well, that's fine and good for those who are married and with children, but what about people like me, who is floundering in life...a whole decade in search of a career that has not materialized, with no indication in the near future that marriage and parenthood is even a remote possibility?
I've made the mistake in 1996 to attend the church's "Single Adult" program. As I quickly learned, it was made up of mostly over-4o year old women who were BITTER about their marriage experience. I only went hoping to meet a young, single (never married) lady who was a member of the church. A day or so after that event, I actually did meet Young Adults and learned that I had attended the wrong group. This was at our church's World Conference in Independence, Missouri.
What caused me to change my mind this year was that I had told a friend on Facebook that if he came to the retreat, I would. He actually decided to come, so I couldn't back out! His name is Richard and we "met" online in the church's chatroom back in 1999. He's a British church member who is related to a lady that my family knows from our time in Germany. Of course, I also know quite a few people he knows quite well because my family spent about 3 days at the British Isles RLDS reunion during our 1987 vacation. It was great to finally meet him in person. He considers himself a Conservative Party voter, but that doesn't mean much in our country. I asked him to correlate with our politics, and was stunned that he said the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom would actually be to the left of the Democratic Party. And the Republican Party? He actually said that they would be considered "The Fascist Party" in the United Kingdom! Conservative Brits don't have a problem with the Universal Health Care system and don't understand why conservatives in America are so adamantly opposed to it. Gotta love the Brits! If I remember correctly, though Richard works for the church in the USA and is married to an American lady, he won't give up his British citizenship in part because of the National Health Insurance program. I know plenty of Europeans and Canadians who find our health care system to be scary (the idea of having a health crisis that causes one to file for bankruptcy because of the exorbitant costs).
Above is the photograph taken at 2009's Young Adult Retreat at Samish Island. The founders of Orphans Africa were the guest ministers. Unfortunately, a lot of people fell ill at the last minute, so the retreat was one of the smaller ones that was held. I was a little disappointed, because I was looking forward to seeing a few people. However, on a positive note, I did meet a couple new people, which is always nice. Also, I learned more about Orphans Africa and the work this charitable organization does for villages in Tanzania (building schools and wells). One of the most heartbreaking stories I learned was that a human albino has to be extremely cautious because in African tribal culture, killing one is supposed to give one special powers or something strange like that. There was one such albino lady in the village that the guest ministers actually met.
Another tidbit I learned was that a goat was killed for the special visitors of the village. Normally, the Africans eat grains. Eating meat is considered a special feast. Since I've had contact with foreign cultures, I know from personal experience that it is considered an insult if you do not accept what someone gives you. This would make it quite difficult to abide by my non-land meat diet. If I traveled to an African village and they killed a goat for a feast on my behalf, I'd just have to eat it. But, it wouldn't be that big a deal, since my whole point in banning land-based meat from my diet is to not participate in our factory farming industry. At least the African goats are a sustainable enterprise.
In 2008, the guest minister of the Young Adult Retreat was Erica, who is the official Young Adult coordinator for the Community of Christ. It was great to meet her and hear her story. She worked for quite a few years at a special community center that our church operates near the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. This is considered one of our church's most successful outreach programs. While I'm pleased to hear that, I'm also confused about why Michigan of all places? Too bad we don't have the kind of resources or manpower to operate one in several other university towns.
She presented information about the differences in how members of Generation X (1965-1979)and the Millennial Generation (1980-2000) view spirituality versus the older (Baby Boomers) generations. None of that surprised me, actually. I know plenty of people our age who feel that church is too stuffy, static, and boring. Not that we think it should be entertaining. However, its not just me who loves using a secular pop song with a powerful message in a worship setting. Some might find this sacrilegious, but I think it actually enhances the worship experience.
The 2007 Young Adult Retreat was probably the best one, as a two car caravan from Portland drove up for it. This retreat was the one where I made one of the worst mistakes of my life. Christine (seen above with her arm around me) had asked if I wanted to walk the grounds with her. For reasons I don't recall, but stupid nonetheless, I said no. She asked Tim (the guy laying down on the right side of the photo), and he said no. Then she asked Erik, the Dutch guy (who is sitting on the left side of the photo), and it became "a walk to remember." In fact, I learned a year or so ago that Erik considers that day to be their true anniversary date. Some kind of magic happened on that walk. It was meant to be, I suppose. I accept that view.
What made this retreat super special, besides the large group from Portland, was the amazing coincidence I experienced. The guest minister was Christian, who knew some friends of mine at Graceland College in the late 1990s. Because he was the minister for this retreat, a lady he knew from church growing up in Arizona attended the retreat. This lady was the sister of a lady I had dated briefly in 1999 (the one who angered me when she required that I sign a liability waver for our young adult trip to Las Vegas, which I considered a violation of friendship). The lady had joined the Mormon church and attended BYU while I was there. The amazing coincidence was that her husband was in my Comparative Politics class in the summer of 1998! He remembered me and refreshed my memory. It was awesome to reflect back on our experiences at BYU and "compare notes" (like me, he also thought the Comparative Politics instructor was a real pushover).
Finally, 2006 was the first Young Adult Retreat I attended. I was just a few months to Portland and excited to meet other young adults in the church. In fact, when I attended the Portland congregation, I saw flyers on the bulletin board advertising for BOTH the Single Adults retreat and the Young Adult retreat. I almost sent in a registration form for the Single Adult retreat! I'm so glad that I had asked a church member which one was better. Well, one was better while the other was just bitter.
I took the train up to Seattle. Had an awesome lunch at Pike Place Market and caught another train to Everett, where a church member I had never met before had indicated in an email that he would pick me up and take me to the campsite, located near Burlington. This was a leap of faith. But in my church, the level of trust is higher than it normally is because it feels like an extension of family. We share many of the same experiences, no matter what part of the country we grew up. This point was made clear to me during campfire and communion service, when we sang the same songs I grew up on ("Pass it On" and "We Are One in the Spirit", for example).
We had the best communion service I ever participated in! The basement of the main building had hundreds of candles to illuminate the dark, with various stations to stop and meditate or pray. The final room had a table where we ate our meal and shared testimonies. I had never met any of these people before, but with a few of them, I learned that we knew people in common. This retreat really touched me in ways that still affect me today. For several years, I had wanted to be a part of a young adult group with my church. I tried in 2003 to start one in Atlanta, but it failed miserably.
By the end of 2006, I turned 35, the magic age when I'm supposed to "move on." If I was married with children, I most likely would move on, but I still cling to the "ish" in 35ish. This November, a member of the First Presidency of the church will visit Portland for a dialogue about our generations wants, needs, and visions for the church. Next year's retreat already has a guest minister scheduled: the head guy of Outreach International (a church affiliated nonprofit organization that is like a mix of Amnesty International and the Red Cross). At Bend Institute this year, I signed up to contribute monthly to Outreach International's Haiti relief effort (one of the most reputable charities operating in that country, due to our church's established history with Haiti). So, I'm planning to go next year. Then that will be it for me. At the end of next year, I'll reach the big 4-0h!
Hopefully, in the meantime, I will finally land my career. Thanks to this year's theme, I am taking a bold step out of the sinking boat I've been stuck in for four years now. I hope that Operation Voltaire will be just the thing I needed to do to get me out of the hell I've been working in for four years now.