Encounter 2008: All Generations Gathered As One Family

This is a vision for church members, congregations, pastoral networks and denominational ministries to embrace new people in new places, new cultures, and within new (emerging) generations. Generations Ministries (GenMin) promotes and resources intergenerational ministry within congregations and families through camps, mission trips, training seminars and retreats.

GenMin recently announced a new event for people of all ages — an intergenerational retreat named Encounter. We asked Ted Johnston, GenMin national director, to tell us more.

GenMin is known for its camps. Where does Encounter fit in?

Encounter is a retreat experience that church members of all ages can share together. It’s an opportunity to leave behind our day-to-day frenetic activities to gather as a family and enjoy activities of all kinds together. Encounter is not a camp, we hasten to say, because not all people, especially seniors, would consider a camp experience to be their choice for a retreat. But imagine the best experiences we’ve enjoyed in the past through our camps, conventions and district weekends; mix all these together with our vision and our Christ-centered theology, and you have Encounter.

Our camp ministry experience and successes have taught us much about fostering intergenerational relationships within local congregations. God has blessed our camps, and we’ve learned a great deal as we’ve grown over the last six years from one national camp (in Orr, Minnesota) to 16 regional camps. And now our vision is for at least 24. We desire that all USA congregations will be able to use our camps as the starting place for deepening relationships in our families—relationships that will continue back home and that will help develop new generations of leaders for our congregations and families.

Camps have taught us how to bridge generations through the worship, discussions, learning, games and fun that campers and adult staff share together. Now, we’re going to take what we’ve learned at camp and transfer it to a retreat setting that is attractive to all ages.

You use the word intergenerational a lot. Tell us more.

The love and life of Jesus transcends all boundaries. All genders, cultures, races and generations are brought together and "made one" in him. We want to express that beautiful relational oneness that comes through Christ to us by being a church family that is truly one in heart and mind. So what I mean by intergenerational is all generations — children, teens, young adults and older adults — gathered as one family — working, playing, talking, learning as one. This intergenerational emphasis is increasingly important as our Western society continues to fragment and segregate the generations. So we’re finding ways to make our camps, seminars and retreats more intergenerational. For example, at some of our camps this year we offered a one day Grace-Based Parenting seminar to visiting adults. And we plan on doing more to embrace all age-groups within our camps. But because camps tend to be fairly rustic, we also need other places to bring the generations together.

So we’re launching Encounter. It’s a retreat, not a camp.

What will happen at Encounter?

The retreat will provide an encounter with the love and life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that is ours in Jesus. We want this encounter to be accessible and meaningful for whole families, for couples and for singles; no matter what their ages might be. There will be times of inter-generational and inter-cultural worship, meals with leisurely table fellowship, and lots of time to play. We’ll also learn together through informal gatherings that focus discussion on participating with Jesus as he loves and lives within our homes, congregations, work places and schools.

In short, Encounter is about sharing together in the love and life of a real God in real-life situations that are fulfilling and joyous. It’s a celebration; a transforming experience. It will be fun, refreshing and renewing for people of all ages, all genders and cultural backgrounds.

When and where will it happen?

The first Encounter retreat — called Encounter 2008 — will be held October 9-12, 2008 (the Columbus Day weekend, from Thursday evening through Sunday noon). It will be held at Higher Ground Conference and Retreat Center near West Harrison, Indiana (just west of Cincinnati, Ohio). This facility is ideal for our intergenerational retreat. It’s secluded but very nice. It has a variety of lodging types —including motel-like rooms with private baths, and dormitory type rooms with bunk beds (that may be shared by families to keep costs low). There are also commercial motels nearby. We’ll have leisurely group meals in Higher Ground’s beautiful dining hall (where the food is excellent). We’ll enjoy their beautiful Family Life Center for our worship services and utilize their outstanding recreational facilities (including a state of the art football/soccer field, and an air-conditioned barn where we’ll hold what we’re calling The Great Dance). You can view the Higher Ground facilities online at www.hgcrc.org/.

Who’s running Encounter 2008, who’s invited?

Encounter 2008 is a joint venture of GenMin and the district pastoral network encompassing parts of Ohio and Indiana. Church members with their families and friends from around the United States (and beyond) are invited. Encounter is designed for whole families, single adults, couples—the whole church family. And non-churched spouses, relatives and friends will also feel welcome and find activities they enjoy. We’ll have special arrangements for children (including nursery and children’s church), teens and adults of all ages, including seniors. All generations will be able to gather as one family to worship, enjoy meals, share discussion and play together.

What’s the cost?

We’re working to make Encounter 2008 family-friendly by keeping costs low (with special group pricing for families). We’ll announce our price structure soon. I’m confident that everyone will find the retreat to be an outstanding value.

How can we find out more?

Watch for Encounter 2008 updates and registration information here in Christian Odyssey, in Together, and on the events calendar at the website (www.gci.org/events). In the meantime, you can email any questions or comments to ted.johnston@gci.org

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