On September 12-14, 2019, 325 students and 21 faculty and staff members, along with their spouses and children, retreated to upstate New York to breathe fresh air, unite in worship, and grapple with this year’s spiritual life theme, Endurance.
Retreat was located at the Iroquois Springs campground in Rock Hill, N.Y., for the seventh consecutive year. As in years past, King’s students, staff, and faculty arrived at Iroquois Springs on coach busses on Thursday evening, dropped their pillows, blankets, and duffle bags in their cabins, and walked to the lit basketball courts or to the open-seating outdoor space in front of the dining hall. Throughout the three-day retreat, these open areas were filled with friendly games of pick-up basketball, eager contests of “spoons,” and lots of laughter.
The schedule changed slightly this year as the first plenary session was moved from Thursday evening to Friday morning. This gave students more time to settle in to camp on Thursday night before gathering in the mess hall to hear from Student Body President Koby Jackson about the weekend ahead. Jackson first introduced his Cabinet, made up of director of spiritual life Isaac Coston (PPE ’20), director of communications Ava Grossmann (HUM ’20), director of student events Rebekah Lambdin (HUM ’20), director of finance Marisol Santana (FIN ’21), and director of student organizations Madelynn Kaufmann (RTS ’21). To welcome students to retreat, the Cabinet performed a dance number to the song “Jingle Bells,” while in full Monsters, Inc. costumes.
Jackson then introduced the theme of Endurance, saying, “The Cabinet had a conversation with Student Development about the theme we wanted for this year’s Fall Retreat. We decided on Endurance because it is a word every student at King’s learns to know well. As Christians, it is important we recognize that we are not only enduring life in New York City, but we are tasked with enduring many hardships for the sake of following Christ.”
After the Cabinet’s brief introduction of retreat, students were released to gather in Iroquois Arena to pelt each other with dodgeballs for an hour, an annual Thursday night tradition.
Friday morning brought the first plenary lecture on the theme of Endurance. After breakfast, students heard from Christian formation coordinator Kylie Willis who shared about the depths of hardship, and the need for endurance as Christians. She said, “For endurance to take place we must, like Christ, commit ourselves to a clear cause (although not necessary, my hope is that it would also be a worthy one). We must commit to that which transcends the hardship and suffering we will go through along the path. In order to do so, we must let go of our expectations and false sense of control, align ourselves with the truth, and take ownership of the only things within our control; our behavior, our perspective, and who we trust.”
After Willis’s plenary session in the morning, students attended their choice of two breakout sessions, led by staff and faculty. Twelve breakout sessions were offered, including Service, Study, Meditation, Confession, Solitude, Guidance, Worship, Fasting, Celebration, Prayer, Simplicity, and Submission. Breakout sessions allow students to focus on one aspect of their Christian walk and be mentored by a staff or faculty member in how to pursue that virtue. Daniel Fuenzalida (PPE ’20) said of Professor of Religious Studies Dr. Anthony Bradley’s session on Study, “It was nice to be reminded that we should rejoice through trials because God disciplines the ones that he loves.”
Dr. Dru Johnson, associate professor of biblical and theological studies, was the speaker for the plenary session on Friday night. Johnson’s characterization of endurance, rooted in the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman in John 4, helped to better frame the meaning of the word. Johnson said, “A man who spent a decade in prison for murder taught me about the most surprising insight of Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4): investing in others at our greatest moments of exhaustion sustains us and teaches us what God is up to. Jesus taught an entirely different economy of endurance that doesn’t rely upon cost-benefit analysis—whether something is life-giving or life-draining. True endurance comes from the Holy Spirit; it’s eternal, and it’s not funded by any knowledge, skills, abilities, or energies that we bring to the table.”
After Johnson’s plenary session, all ten student Houses performed in the annual Drama Competition, one of several competitions throughout the year which contribute points to the year-long contest for House Cup, awarded after Interregnum in April. Ten different versions of endurance were performed on the stage on Saturday night. Student Body President Koby Jackson was moved by the performances from each House. He said, “It was especially evident to me during the Drama Competition that everyone has different ways of enduring, but the message stayed the same in each one, ‘everyone will be asked to endure through something, and this brings hardship and trial, but also blessings.’” The House of Sojourner Truth took first place in Drama Comp, while Susan B. Anthony took second, and Churchill took third.
On Saturday, before everyone left Iroquois Springs to head back to the city, President Tim Gibson gave the final plenary session on Endurance. He told stories of training for the Iron Man race and instructing cadets how to fly combat fighter jets. President Gibson’s session on Endurance was focused on the word belonging, and how his vision for students is that they could find a better sense of belonging at King’s among their peers, in their academics, and as members of the institution of The King’s College. President Gibson challenged every student to think and pray about how they can pursue belonging in these three areas in their lives.
After spending a weekend exploring Endurance, students came away with a deeper understanding of how we find the strength to persevere. Endurance is not only about strengthening our resolve in order to better fight our battles. It is about one’s willingness to let God intercede when hardship becomes too much to handle on one’s own. In Johnson’s words, “Only in our exhaustion and weakness, when we’ve run out of options and steam, can we clearly distinguish the power of God at work through us from our own grit and determination.”