One of the highlights of high school for many teens involved in youth ministry is a weekend retreat. These retreats allow teens to grow in community, go deeper spiritually, and have some fun.
While retreat weekends can be very rewarding for the teens, they require a lot of coordination and with that, a lot of potential for disaster. Here is a list of a few things that can go wrong on a retreat and how to handle them:
1. Drug or Alcohol Use
As a Youth Minister, I believed this would not happen on one of my retreats. My teens would never drink or do drugs on retreat. That was until I spent an afternoon with a teen in the hospital who had overdosed. I’m glad to say that he survived, and I would never be so naive again. The truth is that drugs are easily accessible to teens and are very tempting for a variety of reasons.
What to do: Be sure to establish firm rules on the registration form and right in the beginning of the retreat. While this can not completely prevent this behavior, it can help. Your diocese will have policies about what to do if you catch a teen with drugs or alcohol on a retreat. Regardless of what you do to discourage this behavior, be sure to have a plan in place with the Core Team or any chaperones so that they know what to do in the event of an emergency. Does that person have a car? Are his keys ready? Where is the closest hospital? These are important things to know.
2. A Storm is Comin’
You’ve planned everything out completely, and the retreat is amazing. You’ve got a great nature hike, a transformational prayer experience under the stars, and a bonfire to cap off a beautiful Saturday night. And then…it rains…all weekend.
What to do: It’s impossible to know what the weather will be like, but the seasonal weather in your region should be considered. If your retreat will be held high in the mountains in February, expect that it might snow and you won’t be able to get there. Could you host the retreat at your parish instead? Be sure to check the weather report as the retreat date approaches.
3. Did Anyone Bring the Monstrance?
It’s Saturday night, and everyone is ready for a powerful night of Eucharistic Adoration. Your priest is preparing, and you hear him call out, “Did anyone bring the monstrance?” Uh-oh.
What to do: The details are essential to any retreat. More than likely your retreat is a couple hours away from your parish, and it may not be easy to simply run out and get certain supplies, especially something like a monstrance. Be sure to make an extensive list of every supply you will need well in advance of the retreat, and check off everything as you load it. This will help you to avoid forgetting those little details like pens or paper, and bigger items like food and water.
4. Retreat Hookups
It is common for a teen to use a retreat as an opportunity to hook up with that person he or she has had their eye on. Afterall, it’s a weekend away with their peers and mom and dad aren’t around.
What to do: Be sure to establish firm rules on the registration form and at the beginning of the retreat. Make sure the Core Team and chaperones know what to do if they see two teens acting inappropriately.
5. The Wheels on the Bus Go…
Things are going so smoothly. Everyone was on time and the buses are loaded. You’re driving on the highway and…Psshhh…flat tire.
What to do: If you’re using your own transportation, be sure that any vehicle being used has received proper maintenance before departure and that you have a spare tire. If you’ve hired a bus company, you may not be able to prevent this sort of mishap. It’s always good to have some backup activities on hand that are simple to pull off in the event that you are stuck on a bus or the side of the road. Be creative.
6. Who Turned Out the Lights?
You’re in the middle of a session, and–all of a sudden–the power goes out. Chaos!
What to do: If it’s weather-related, there may be nothing you can do to prevent this, so be sure to have a backup plan for bad weather (see above). However, there are other things that can cause a power outage. Be sure to communicate with the director of the camp or retreat center ahead of time about anything you need to know in regard to electricity, water, or plumbing. Perhaps you can only run one hair dryer at a time, or maybe only toilet paper can be flushed down the toilet. You’ll be thankful you had these conversations when you’re not sitting in a dark room or filling the meeting space with air fresheners because of backed up toilets.
7. Ouch! I Think I Broke My…
Most retreats tend to feature some levels of physical activity. Any time there is physical activity, there is risk of injury.
What to do: Risk of injury should not be a reason to avoid fun activities, but it is important to take proper safety precautions beforehand. Be sure to have a plan in place in the event someone gets seriously injured or becomes ill, and if possible, try to have someone with medical experience (doctor, nurse, EMT) join you on the retreat.
8. I Didn’t Know We Needed a Sleeping Bag.
There always seems to be that one teen who didn’t get the memo: Bring a sleeping bag.
What to Do: Have a list of “What to Bring” and make sure the teens get it, in writing, before the retreat. (Post the list to your website as well.) Bring backup items like a sleeping bag, sweater, towel, or a raincoat.
Summary: Plan and Pray
Above all, make sure you pray and plan in preparation for any retreat or trip you may be taking with teens. Be sure to communicate ahead of time and have backup plans in place in the event something does go wrong. If you are attending the 2009 Life Teen Training Convention, we’ll be talking more about retreats. Come by our workshop, “The Best Weekend of Their Lives – Teen Retreats 09” to learn more these powerful weekend experiences.