March 23, 2012. That is a date that is etched into my head and has been for almost one year. The mention of that date fills my heart with anticipation, but at the same time fills my mind with anxiety. What is March 23, 2012? That is the date of the annual St. Mark’s Passion Retreat.
For those of you who don’t know, the Passion retreat is an annual retreat that takes place at Sandy Cove Conference Center in a town called North East, Maryland. We have been doing this retreat for several years, but if you were around in the late 90’s when it started, you’d hardly recognize what it has become today.
The retreat started as a small, intimate gathering for the young adult ministry at St. Mark’s – it actually used to be small enough that we’d combine it with the college ministry and still wouldn’t get to more than 50 or 60 people. The focus was to help our young adults prepare for time of Lent and Holy Week.
But something happened a few years ago. People started coming from different parts of the country, asking to attend the retreat. We said OK. Then more people started coming – friends were telling their friends about it. We said OK. Then eventually buses started coming from cities in Canada and flights started coming from Europe. And at every step we continued to say OK OK OK.
The net result of all those OK’s was that last year we had more than 850 participants at the retreat and we are expecting even more this year (as of this morning, we had close to 750 people signed up and we’re still a month away!!!). And all that is without ever doing any advertising at all – just word of mouth invitations and people telling people.
It’s great that God is blessing and people are coming. That is fantastic and makes my heart rejoice. But how would you feel if you were trying to prepare a retreat for what might end up being more than 1,000 people? How would you if people were flying from all over the world and paying hundreds of dollars and expecting to hear God’s message through you?
The very thought of it makes me want to fake an illness and call in sick that day (don’t worry, I get that thought every year and haven’t actually done it yet J).
Most people don’t believe me when I tell them how nervous I get. Don’t be fooled by my relaxed look up there while I’m speaking. On the inside, I'm a nervous wreck – just like you’d be if you had to speak in front of 1,000 people. My knees shake, my palms sweat and my stomach feels like it’s doing somersaults inside me! Let’s just say it’s not a “happy thought” for me to think about.
But to be honest, as much as I cringe at the thought, a piece of me actually gets excited at the opportunity. Not the opportunity to speak – believe me, I’d gladly give that one up – but rather the opportunity to gather with people from all over the world who love the LORD and seek to live for His glory.
You see, when the Passion retreat first started, it was focused primarily on the passion/suffering of the Lord Jesus during Holy Week. It used to take place one week before Holy Week and was the perfect preparation for it. But as our numbers grew, we had less control over the time and venue of the retreat. So it wasn’t always possible to connect it to Holy Week any more.
So now, the Passion retreat is less about the passion OF the Lord, and instead about passion FOR the Lord.
The underlying idea that has connected all of the Passion retreats in past years has been that we have a passionate God – One who passionately pursues each of His children until they know just how passionately He loves them all. And because we have such a passionate God who has gone to such great lengths to express His love for us, we must in turn live passionately for Him and for His Kingdom.
So what’s the theme of this year’s retreat? I don’t know. God knows and I will continue seeking God until He reveals it. That will come in due time. But what is the goal of this year’s retreat? That's easy.
- To INSPIRE you to live passionately for God
- To EQUIP you to passionately pursue God’s perfect plan/will for your life
- To ENCOURAGE you and help you rekindle that passion for God that used to burn so brightly.
When I think about what I need to do for the retreat, I get scared. But when I think about what God is going to do at the retreat, I get EXCITED! I get excited because I know that God will be in our midst – as He promised in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
There’s nothing greater than when young people from all over the world gather together in one place with one purpose – to glorify God and to seek Him passionately. It is for that reason that I am excited about this year’s Passion Retreat.
And I hope you are too!
For Discussion: What do you love about Passion Retreat? What can you share about your experience there?