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The Opportunity to Say, “Yes!”

It is 5 AM and 36 degrees outside, and 22 teenagers are tenaciously hiking a hill in the dark. The trail is covered in icy snow, and they spend precious moments making sure no one is left behind–reaching out hands to steady friends who are slipping on the ice. If you saw them from a distance, you might think that someone made them do it, it was a requirement of some program, or that adults had decided that it was character building. 

It isn’t any of those things. 

The Sunrise Hike at the end of the Epiphany Retreat at Camp Stevens is an optional event. An opportunity to say no or to say yes. Participants decide on Saturday night if they are going to brave the cold and the dark to watch the sunrise from Upper Meadow. I don’t market it or cajole people into participating. For those that say yes, alarm clocks are handed out, and plans are made to make sure that everyone is awake and ready in the morning. I greet them at 5:15 AM on the lawn in front of the Dining Hall. By 6, we are at Upper Meadow in time to watch the sky turn rose gold as the sun peaks over the mountains, announcing the arrival of a new day. 

The Epiphany Retreat is an annual Episcopal Diocese of San Diego gathering for young people in grades 6-12. It began with six students nestled in one lodge 12 years ago. This year, it hosted 62 students and 10 chaperones and covered Camp Stevens. The Epiphany Retreat is an opportunity to see that there are more teens in the Episcopal Church than those in your congregation. Participants worship, pray, and meet goats and chickens. Bishop Susan joined our Juniors and Seniors on Saturday morning for a conversation about where God is calling them in their lives and encouraged them to create space for connection through openness and prayer. 

There was snow too, and with snow the opportunity to throw snowballs – some seeing snow for the first time in their lives. Gatherings around the fireplaces in the lodges were the perfect location for silly conversations about friends and school and deep conversations about what it means to be loved by God, in all of their beautiful, imperfect, teenaged humanity.  

Loved by God just as they are and because of who God made them to be.  

As part of the sermon on Saturday evening, participants wrote letters to themselves from God. Love notes – filled with kindness, encouragement, compassion, and even a smattering of accountability. Stuffed in colorful envelopes we carried them to the altar at the offertory. They were Blessed by Mother Hannah, and I took them home to stamp and mail.  They should be arriving to houses, as you are reading this article. 

How wonderful to be reminded of our belovedness in our own words. 

But back to the Sunrise Hike – What began as a group of five or six students over the years has grown to a large group of 20. They encourage each other to participate, sharing, “It is my favorite part of the retreat.” But why? Why would something that is cold, and dark, and takes place at a time when they could be sleeping, be a favorite thing? 

Perhaps it is all of those things that make it special, or that in the quiet of the morning it is easier to listen for God naming your belovedness. 

Perhaps it is special because they said yes. 

To learn more about Youth programming in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, email Director of Formation Charlette Preslar at cpreslar@edsd.org 


Category: #Worship & Formation, #Youth, Children, & Families

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3 replies to “The Opportunity to Say, “Yes!”

  1. Kelly Carr | on March 6, 2024

    What a blessing! I had no idea that this was happening!

  2. Albert Salmon | on March 6, 2024

    Wonderful. I remember my first weekend at Camp Stevens attending a counsellors workshop Cold and snow. We ate and slept in the old dinning hall by the parking lot. 54′ I think It was in May First year for campers at the camp. Gathering of Love and togetherness.

  3. Philip Adams | on March 8, 2024

    Makes me so proud to be Episcopalian. Not just a Christian but a proud member of THIS Church…

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