Winter Retreat 2019

PhLY Winter Retreat

Friday Feb 17-20

Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran

Flagstaff, AZ

Mission: Empowering the youth of today to be the spirit filled leaders in their communities.

Vision: Through four days of Christ centered activities, personal testimonies, and community building youth will have a positive self-worth and understanding of their gifts and how to serve their community to the glory of God.

These are my personal reflections about the PhLY Winter Retreat. The kids will be receiving an email to share their experiences. Once we have those results I will share them with everyone.


The PhLY Winter Retreat was attended by 26 high school youth from 10 different congregations, including three youth from Shepherd of the Hills. We had 9 adult leaders (3 cooks, 5 small group leaders, and Casey.) Three of the five group leaders were given talks to share during the weekend to help give the youth someone else to listen to other than Casey. Pastor David Sivecz joined us Saturday afternoon through dinner.

The small groups were broken up as two male groups and three female groups. The small groups sat together during talks to share in reflective discussion about what they had heard, ate most meals together, and participated in the community service clean-up.


Shepherd of the Hills was an amazing location as they have a full working kitchen, 2 working showers, seven bathrooms, and separate sleeping areas for youth males, youth females, adult males, and adult females. There is room to grow into if we were to use the space again with more people.

We did have the youth pack up and clean up all of their belongings and move out of their sleeping areas on Sunday morning to make the rooms available for normal Sunday morning use by Shepherd of the Hills. On Monday all of the youth helped clean Shepherd of the Hills and return it to normal working order. We were able to accomplish the restoration by reviewing pictures we had taken of the facility before we started to move stuff as well as Allie, Shepherd of the Hills youth director, and their three youth helping direct the cleaning project. Before leaving we did a final walk through with Allie and she was pleased with how we did in cleaning and restoring the facility to normal operating condition.

Shepherd of the Hills is located within a 10-15 minute walk of Buffalo Park. Buffalo Park is not like a city park with a playground, but a natural open space. We walked to the park on both Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. The youth found a large open space with just enough snow to play in as well as patches of ice to slide across. Snowball fights were enjoyed with the expectation of no face shots. Many of the youth commented in the ending session as Buffalo Park being a favorite part of the weekend as it allowed them to play in snow, relax, and be in the forest instead of the desert that surrounds Phoenix.

Weekend schedule

The schedule for the weekend included 10 meditations, 2 church services, 1 service project, group activities, games, breaks. Breaks consisted of the options to play table games, rest in sleeping areas, and take showers. We were able to stay on, or close to, schedule throughout the weekend.

The Meditations

Each meditation built on top of each other and lead into the next meditation. In every meditation youth were told they are important, they are chosen, they matter, they are loved.

The first mediation youth were given a white sheet of paper with a black dot in the middle. They were asked to write about what they see on the paper. The youth shared how the black dot ruined the pureness of the paper, others shared how it reminds them that some problems are really only as big as that dot but they focus on that little problem instead of the big picture. The youth were then told to remain in silence as they went to bed. Once they were in bed Casey read to the boys and Lita read to the girls a guided meditation to help them relax and focus on the white around the black dot. They were encouraged to think about their ideals, their passions, what motivates them , what they love. The youth were then told they are chosen, they are important, they are loved.

In the morning the youth remained in silence as they entered into the chapel. Once there they were given a piece of colored paper and a marker to write what they saw as they thought about their ideals, their motivations, their love, their passions. Once they were done they taped them around a mason jar with a lit candle. We then broke the silence with singing and then ate breakfast.

After breakfast the youth cut and pasted images to notebooks to express who they think they are. Once done they heard the next meditation called Impressions given by small group leader Allison Stokes from Grace. Allison asked the kids to tell her their first impressions of her, the youth were all very nice in their comments saying she looked nice and easy to talk with. The intent was they would guess wrong about her profession, marital status, whether or not she was an animal person, etc. Allison then shared about a person she met through her work and the first impression she had of them.

The youth then went outside and participated in a race to Casey, but before Casey said ‘go’ he read off a number of statements to which if they applied everyone took a step forward or backwards. The statements help the youth understand that not everyone is starting off the race in the same place in life because of decisions made by others. As statements were read youth were asked to “notice who’s in front, notice who’s beside you, notice who’s behind you, notice what you feel.” At the end the youth were very spread out in where they had started. Casey then told the youth they would be going back into the sanctuary to discuss what they had learned. Casey then said “go” as the youth went into the sanctuary only 2 youth finished the race to Casey. Once inside Casey processed the activity with the youth. Youth who were further up in the activity said they felt privileged yet guilty for taking their life experiences for granted especially seeing how some youth were further back from where we had originally started. One of the youth who was in the back kept dancing. Casey pointed this out and asked what others saw when this person was dancing. Some said they saw the dancing as funny or happy. Casey asked the youth who was dancing why they were dancing and they said they were dancing because they were sad and didn’t want to cry. Casey then pointed out how easily distracted everyone was when they were told they would be going inside, they lost focus on the initial goal which was to race to Casey. Through this activity the youth learned that not all of our first impressions are accurate and how some of the things learned through this activity may have never been shared.

Allison came up and finished her talk by sharing how the first impression she had of the person she had talked about before was wrong and how that person has impacted her life in such a positive way because she was able to really get to know the person better. After the talk the youth were given sheets of paper to help illustrate what they had learned during this talk and the activity.

The next meditation was given by an adult small group leader, Jeff Schultz from Trinity. Jeff’s talk was “Who Are You?” In his talk he referred to the story of the six blind men who felt different parts of an elephant and thought they were only touching a pillar, a wall, a spear, a snake then a man with sight came in and told them all it was an elephant. Jeff used the end clip of Breakfast Club that explains we are not just the one thing people may see and try to label us as but we are in every way a brain, a rebel, a jock, a princess, an outcast. Casey then had the small groups look up different stories in the BIble where Jesus saw people for more than what they appeared and reminded the youth they are more than what we see on the outside or what they allow others to know of them.

AFter lunch the youth took Spiritual Gift assessment test and learned how God has given them each a gift that they can use to help others in their home, family, and community. Pastor David shared his thoughts on each gift and was able to give them examples on how they can use their gifts.

Before dinner the youth heard a talk given by an adult small group leader, Sam Perez from Faith. Sam shared with the youth the fruits of the spirit and how he has seen those fruits in his own life, including his mission trip to Senegal. The youth then shared how the fruits of the spirit have been shown to them in their own life.

After dinner the youth came into the dimly sanctuary. Around the altar and communion rail the mason jars with a small votive candle lit brought their bright colored papers to life. The youth were told to look at the colors, the rainbow of promise their ideals were shining. The youth were told because of sin it is near impossible to reach ideals alone. They were then instructed to take their ideals off of their mason jar and to blow out the candles. The youth were told to truly reach towards ideals and strive for our best we need to be able to confess our sin. The youth then went to different stations, at each station they were to reflect on part of the confession said in church on Sundays “Most Merciful God we confess we are in bondage to sin and can not free ourselves we have sinned against you in though…” “....we have sinned against you in deed…” “we have sinned against in by what we have done….” “....we have sinned against you by what we have left undone…” As they reflected on each part of the confession they were to rip their colored sheet with ideals, passions, and love as a reminder of the brokenness of this world and the brokenness of each of us. Once done with each station the youth came back to the seat. The ripped pieces were gather and put into a bigger bowl. The bowl was passed around and the youth were encouraged to run their fingers through the scraps and to rip any of the bigger piece of paper into smaller pieces. Once done Casey showed them the bowl of scraps then gave it to one of the leaders to get rid of it.

The youth sat in silence looking at the now empty jars. They were told to think of the people in their life who’s jars are empty, have no light, no ideals, no passion and to each take an empty jar and go somewhere in the sanctuary and pray for those people. Once done, they lined up with their empty jar and as they walked by the baptismal font they were to remind themselves that through the waters of baptism they were chosen children of God. As they left the sanctuary they were stopped in a dark hall and reminded that this is what sin does in our lives it leaves us in the dark, scared of the unknown, with no hope. As they continued through the darkened hall they came into a large room where the scraps of their ideals had been laid out in the shape of a cross reminding us that through the cross we have our hope, our passion, our ideals, and we are loved. They then took the scrap pieces and glued them to the outside of their jars. They came back in the sanctuary and stood around the communion rail and the altar. Casey then went around and lit a brand new bigger brighter candle telling each one by name that they are the light of the world. Once all the candles were lit Casey explained to them that through our brokenness Christ’s light still shines and shines bright. Casey then had them hold hands and listen to the song “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper and told them to listen to the words as if God was saying them. Once the song was over Casey encouraged them to look around and notice how their mason jars are shining and showing all the colors of each other’s ideals. Many of the youth shared this meditation as the highlight of the weekend.

Sunday the youth heard about what it means to live a Christian Life of prayer, study, and action. They gave examples of how Christians are portrayed in society and pop culture and shared who in their life has been a positive Christian Role Model.. They participated in Bible trivia, learned that for every style of music they listen to their is a Christian alternative and to at least give it a chance to hear something with a different message than mainstream music. They explored the different aspects of prayer and participated in prayer stations.

They then learned about how we respond to our faith through action as they participated by helping clean the street leading to the Flagstaff Shelter Service. The youth filled several bags of trash and were touched when one man thanked them for cleaning up his home. Several youth commented they take for granted what they have

Monday morning for morning meditation they reflected on the weekend and their feelings during different activities and meditations.

Visiting church services

Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran

Sunday morning all the youth and leaders participated in the Shepherd of the Hills 9 AM Contemporary service. Many of them sat in front during the children’s message which brought smiles to the congregants of Shepherd of the Hills. The message Pastor Adam shared tied right in with what the youth had been experiencing throughout the retreat, this was not planned. The youth were fully engaged and were very excited to sing the closing song “Lifehouse” as it was a favorite from last summer’s Campformation. After service the youth were engaged in meeting people during fellowship hour and listening to their faith stories. Several youth shared with Casey the conversations they had with the people they met.

Canterbury Episcopal/ELCA NAU Campus Ministry

Sunday night we attended the Canterbury NAU student ministry. The building is from 1890 and it the only all wooden chapel left standing in Flagstaff as the others have burned down. The space was not filled with conventional pews or chairs, but with bean bags, living room furniture, pillows, etc. The college students were very welcoming. The message from Chaplain Brad also fit into the overall theme of the retreat. After the service we provided a meal for everyone and as we were eating two of the students shared with us the importance of being involved in a campus ministry as well as answered several questions asked by youth. This experience was well received by both the PhLY youth and college students.

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