Fall Retreat Centers King’s Community on Sabbath
Over 350 students and 27 faculty and staff members, along with their families, retreated to upstate New York for a focused time of community-building, discipleship, and worship, with an emphasis on Sabbath rest.
On September 6-8, 2018, over 350 students and 27 faculty and staff members, along with their families, retreated to upstate New York for a focused time of community-building, discipleship, and worship, with an emphasis on this year’s spiritual life theme, Sabbath rest.
Student Body President Brandon Smith (PPE ’19) said, “In a rigorous academic community, in one of the world’s largest cities, it can be easy to forget that rest is required. If we fail to rest, we will exhaust ourselves and will fail to give certain areas of life the energy they require. A Sabbath requires faith that God will sustain you when you take the time to rest in Him.”
For the sixth consecutive year, the retreat took place at Iroquois Springs in Rock Hill, N.Y. The retreat’s first session kicked off late in the evening of Thursday, September 6, once all students had arrived on buses. Students participated in worship led by the Refuge band and then heard a plenary talk by Joey Willis, one of two new Christian formation coordinators at the College. Willis encouraged students to think of Sabbath as a “slow and intentional” time to refocus on God. Instead of just using Sabbath as an opportunity to sleep all day, Willis advised that students “do something that makes you come alive,” like painting or journaling.
Friday featured more opportunities for corporate worship and two more plenary sessions, one by Dr. Joshua Kinlaw, assistant professor of history and humanities, and the other by Danise Stokeld, director of academic advising. Drawing from early church history, Kinlaw explained that Sabbath has always been countercultural. For first century Christians, a typical Sabbath involved gathering in someone’s home to sing together and share a meal. Roman authorities saw this withdrawal from society as suspicious and used Sabbath observance to single out Christians for persecution. Kinlaw argued that we still face cultural pressure to be ceaselessly productive: “There’s nothing Sabbath about New York.” Yet “not doing that assignment” on Sunday, and instead caring for the health of your soul, turns out to be freeing, Kinlaw said.
Stokeld used the New Testament example of Mary and Martha to discuss why, if we’re honest, we may realize we don’t want to practice Sabbath at all. “Being busy makes us feel important,” Stokeld said. “Do we want to be Mary in Luke 10? Do we want people judging us that we’re sitting there, doing nothing? Mary made a choice to be misunderstood and judged. Jesus isn’t about being lazy, but Mary in this instance is choosing to do the one thing that really matters for eternity.” She urged students to support one another in their pursuit of Sabbath. “Don’t judge people when they rest.”
Also on Friday, students attended breakout sessions on the classic spiritual disciplines like Fasting, Confession, Simplicity, and Service. Faculty and staff taught a total of 14 breakout sessions, and students could choose to attend two. Jackson Fordyce (Business ’20) attended Joey Willis’s workshop on Scripture memorization and meditation. “Joey taught us how to rest in the Lord’s strength by teaching us a breathing exercise focused around prayer,” Fordyce says. “You would inhale and say ‘Lord Jesus, my Savior,’ and exhale and say ‘have mercy on me, a sinner.’ It was humbling to remind myself how strong He is and how weak I am, but, He is made strong through my weakness.”
Later that day, students enjoyed a free afternoon to complete homework, rest in hammocks, and bond with classmates. With temperatures in the upper 60s, camp staff opened up the lake for canoeing and kayaking, and even brought out an inflatable water slide. On Friday evening, students competed in the annual Drama Competition, illustrating the theme of Sabbath with a mixture of serious and humorous original skits. The House of Queen Elizabeth I took first place, with House of C.S. Lewis in second and the Houses of Ronald Reagan and Corrie ten Boom tied for third. Closing out the day, students roasted s’mores at a bonfire.
President Tim Gibson delivered the final plenary session of the retreat on Saturday morning. He showed a video of a failed air show demonstration in which a pilot miscalculated his altitude and crashed the plane. At a crucial moment, the pilot ejected from the plane to safety. Just as a pilot must be prepared to eject before he steps foot into his plane, Gibson urged students to see their Sabbaths as the time to form convictions. “We don’t make decisions well in the heat of the moment,” Gibson said. Instead, during moments of quiet and objectivity, we must determine how we will act. “Where are your priorities going to be? How are you going to interact with someone with whom you are romantically interested? What are you going to do to make space for Sabbath?” Gibson dismissed students to House time, the final piece of the retreat, which allowed students to reflect on these questions with their fellow House members and process the insights they gained during the retreat.
Micah Long (HUM ’20) says, “When I met with my House after President Gibson’s final talk, we were able to build community around sharing our experiences and problems with each other, and I feel closer to the other guys in Lewis as a result.”
As one of the largest events in the College’s calendar, Fall Retreat requires extensive collaboration between Student Development staff and The King’s Cabinet. The 2018-19 King’s Cabinet consists of Brandon Smith as student body president, Julia Briggs (MCA ’19) as director of student events, Anna Wood (ENG ’19) as director of student organizations, May Overmyer (PPE ’19) as director of spiritual life, Matthew Meyer (FIN ’19) as director of finance, and Haley Davidson (MCA ’19) as director of communications.
“This year, we focused not so much on hitting a certain number of attendees, but on making Fall Retreat an enjoyable experience for those who came,” says Davidson. “Because the theme was Sabbath, we wanted to make it a restful weekend. We’ve done about five debriefs now with everyone from Dean of Students David Leedy and Associate Dean of Students Shelli Cline and Prof. Brian Brenberg to the presidents of the Houses, and the feedback has been that the theme really came through.”