Two teams of confirmands set out into Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness last week with three canoes, one change of clothing, enough food for five nights in the wilderness, and enough bug spray to last until kingdom come. We left behind cell phones and social media, showers and flush toilets. We met bald eagles and snowshoe hares, turtles and our fair share of mosquitoes. We paddled and hiked forty miles at least, and carried everything we needed on our shoulders, canoes included.
Without access to the radio, we sang the songs we knew by heart, like Bohemian Rhapsody and Frosty the Snowman, at the top of our lungs instead. We listened to loons sing and wolves howl. Two guys caught fish. One person lost a shoe under three feet of mud. Everyone got bug bites and enough bumps and bruises to make us feel proud of our hard work.
Yet, the wilderness experience was more than hiking and paddling, more than setting up tents and blowing up air mattresses, more than cooking over the campfire, more than smelling the sweetness of pine tree groves and drinking water from clear spring fed lakes. The wilderness confirmation program was about welcoming youth into the broad, deep theological conversation, developing their own theological voice, and giving them the tools to shape the voice of Christianity for the next century.
We read the bible in the morning and evening, and by the end of the week our fourteen-year-olds wanted to read more. They read wide portions of the Gospels aloud, and were fascinated about why Jesus was born in Bethlehem, how many people Jesus healed, and who cheered when Pilot sent Jesus to be crucified. They pondered big questions, like why there is suffering in the world, or how God’s love is expressed in the incarnation. Together, they became theologians, people who take seriously the spiritual dimension of life. They became biblical scholars, comparing the stories in each Gospel to one another, exploring the ways that the Old and New Testaments describe the Holy Spirit, or discovering the many names for God in scripture. They became people of faith, bathed in God’s presence and renewed in their commitment to prayer.
Confirmation, whether in the wilderness or on Sunday mornings, exposes our youth to the challenge and comfort of faith, but admittedly there is something intangibly powerful about traveling in the wilderness to learn about and experience God. Youth Director Silvi Pirn and myself both take seriously the work of nurturing faith in young adults. This trip, without a doubt, strengthened our sense that God is at work in the lives of our confirmands, and it renewed our hope that traveling with young people in the wilderness is a deeply impactful way to experience the presence of God. Stay tuned for more opportunities to adventure with us.
In God’s Peace,
Rev. Katie Snipes Lancaster
Associate Minister for Youth and Children