Dylan Walker, Grace Calvary
This past weekend Tommy and myself had gone to Happening 73 in the Diocese of East Tennessee. It was a truly incredible experience and we both got a lot out of it. Within the Happening community we often talk about how big it is even beyond our Diocese and how much love is in the program. I was really able to see that this weekend when I was immediately accepted into a new environment and treated just like I was one of their friends that they'd grown up with.
The Happening Community really is huge and we only went another state away but this movement is going on around the world. Getting to know all the awesome people who put on the program up there was a blessing. I feel like I learned a lot from the things that they did differently and was excited as ever to take part in all the usual Happening traditions that I love. But no matter how many warm fuzzies are being passed around or how many songs we sang while doing silly dances it's still the people that make the weekend a special time.
Driving the three and half hours it takes to get there is no cost for the relationships that I was able to form. I extremely encourage the youth in our Diocese to branch and make the opportunities to cherish in Christ's fellowship outside of our Diocese. The friends and relationships are priceless and it's so valuable to serve in Christ's love alongside new people.
Tommy Coutu, St. Columba's
This past weekend, I was blessed with an amazing opportunity to serve on Happening #73 team for the Diocese of East Tennessee with one of my best friends, Dylan Walker. Dylan was the Rector of Happening #66 in our diocese and I aspire to be Rector in the future. So we both have a strong love for the Happening movement. We had been discussing opportunities to visit Happening in another diocese for the better part of 2016 and seeing that Dylan graduates high school this Spring we decided to do so when we could serve together. We looked at our options and finally arrived at the Diocese of East Tennessee because of the drive and also our interest in Grace Point because neither of us had been there before. So we submitted our applications the day before the deadline, talked with their Diocesan Youth Missioner, Alex, and we were able to come onto their Happening on team with me being a Family Group Leader and Dylan being a Deacon (their version of a Gopher). This all led to a life changing experience for the both of us.
We attended their overnight team training in Knoxville last month and immediately started making friends in such a loving community just like at home. That night I really felt as if we had made an awesome and rewarding decision to further serve the Happening community. Their Rector, Lala, is an extremely passionate girl from Knoxville and she was the first one to greet us when we walked into the Diocesan House. She ran an amazing Happening, is a great leader, and has such a great love for Happening and I'm glad we could work under her. We also had about a two hour conversation with Isaac, the youth leader for Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Tennessee. Being a graduate of Sewanee, University of the South, we had plenty to talk about and he turned out to be my prayer partner for the weekend. Isaac has a passion for youth ministry and I'm glad I had the honor of getting to know him. Lastly, we met the Diocesan Youth Minister, Alex, for the first time in person. Alex is an extremely compassionate man with a heart for ministry. He handled all the music for the weekend and although I love playing, I let him handle it because he's an insanely good guitar player, much better than me. I very much appreciate how he worships through music considering it's just thoroughly beautiful how he plays. When we left Knoxville the next day, Dylan and I were both very excited about their Happening the next month. We met some amazing people and we both were super pumped to get to know them better and to serve God with them.
Fast forward to last weekend. We arrived at Grace Point Thursday night with the rest of team to set up for the weekend. I was really getting excited for the weekend to start and we immediately got even closer to the Happening family we were now apart of. The next night, their 16 or so candidates arrived and everyone was very hype for that, despite us all being exhausted from the day’s work. When we were blindfolded with our family groups, I was really anxious to finally meet who I had been praying for and preparing to meet for the past month. We finally got to go into our family group rooms and get to know our groups. My group consisted of me, three Happeners, and my other family group leader, Ellon (Lala’s little sister). The Diocese of East Tennessee’s Happening is different from ours in a few ways so I was somewhat just as confused as the candidates in some ways, but one thing they do very differently is that their Family Group Leaders aren’t a secret. So, I was able to talk about our Happening and share my experiences as the candidates were having theirs which was pretty cool to discuss the differences. At first, my family group was kind of quiet, but that’s quite normal on the first night. By the end of the weekend, however, we were very close and I’ll never forget the experiences we shared. In family groups and outside of them I met awesome people all around that I enjoyed talking to and we still all talk in their Happening #73 Groupme daily. Their Happening was probably about a third of the size of ours which was pretty different, but I enjoyed it so much because you could develop friendships with so many more people over the course of just a weekend. Not to say I don’t feel blessed by our large Happening, I love how much youth involvement we have, but the smaller group was a cool experience.
Saturday went pretty similar to our Happening. The candidates were so happy about caritas and so surprised and that just made my heart happy. Getting caritas from this Happening just like I did at my Happening two years ago brought back great memories and even made me pull out my brother’s caritas to me from my Happening (I admit that made me tear up. It’s been in my wallet ever since then and it means the world to me). Just seeing the surprise on these high schoolers faces from notes written to them by team, family, and friends was amazing. Finally, we got to their nighttime schedule. They do most of their activities as centers that you do just with your family group and your Deacon. Some highlights of that were definitely a center where you could watch your hands of your sins such as lust, anger, and envy. There was another center at their outdoor fireplace. Earlier that day, we had written notes to ourselves that we thought would be mailed to us. The notes consisted of what we feel is separating us from God. When we got to the fireplace, however, one of their spiritual directors, Deacon Chris, and also Isaac, had our notes. They told us that nothing, nothing at all could separate us from God’s love and handed us our notes. Then, when we were ready, we could let go of those things and throw them in the fire. It was a very powerful and liberating experience. The last center I’ll mention is one where we could speak to the priest of the weekend and ask him questions. The awesome part of this is that their spiritual director for the weekend was actually the Bishop of The Diocese of East Tennessee, George Young. He happened in the Diocese of Florida and I got plenty of time to talk to him all weekend which I very much enjoyed.
The final event of the night was the most powerful in my opinion. After completing all the centers, everyone at camp met in the chapel (which I might add is on the lake and is super cool complete with a cross hanging above the altar made completely out of origami paper cranes). We sat in the pews while Alex played music and then we began their healing service. When the time for healing came, there was 4 chairs at the front of the chapel. They had two stations where you could heal at so two chairs faced each other at both stations. Bishop George sat in one at one station and Lala sat at the other station. When you’re being healed you sit at the chair facing the one healing and like we do, everyone lays hands on you while you’re being healed. However, unlike our Happening, where you heal with just your small groups and prayer team, the entire community lays hands on you. It was an amazing healing service. At that moment, in that chapel, we all became one family. Alex was still playing music and it was definitely how we say, a “thin place.” I chose to be healed by the Bishop over my recent struggles balancing a very busy schedule, trying to get into Vanderbilt University and spend my college career there, and still maintaining a strong relationship with God that I had. In that moment, all the friendships I had made and the deep conversations I had over the course of the weekend came together. Although there was only so much room for hands to be laid on me, I felt the entire congregation with me. I felt spiritually renewed and it was a very graceful experience. By the end everyone was filled with tears and love for one another. I don’t think a single person in the church could hold back tears. Even I managed to shed some and it takes a lot for me to cry. Not because I’m not emotional, I just don’t cry all that much. However, that night those tears were over not only sorrow, but joy. I felt so close to a community, a family, that I had just met that weekend. That service brought everyone together in such an amazing way. I felt blessed to have made the decision to come up there and I was glad God’s plan for me had this Happening in it.
The next day consisted of things much similar to our Happening. At closing Eucharist, all the candidates and family group leaders entered blindfolded like on Friday night to singing and their parents there all to celebrate their Happening which was really cool. I even had people there who I was surprised to see. Jody Davis, a Grace Point staffer who was in my cabin at Work Camp this past summer at Camp Mikell, and Parker Jones, the son of Brad Jones the Camp Director of Grace Point, who I’m pretty close to were both there and I was really happy to see them. At their closing Eucharist, the family group leaders give their Happeners their crosses before they say their favorite part of the weekend which I enjoyed getting to do. After all the Happeners all got their crosses however, even Dylan and I were surprised. Lala called us up and gave us crosses, thanked us for coming and we got to talk about our experience. We just mentioned our love for Happening and how it called us to come up. After that, because East Tennessee doesn’t have an Observing Rector, Lala called up the Rector for the next Happening and passed on the Rector’s cross to her which was pretty cool. Haley, who will be rector, chosen by Lala, Alex, Deacon Chris, Bishop George, and the other adults, came up and accepted the position. I think her Happening in the fall will be a great one and I’m very proud of her. I might even have to come back for that because I loved this Happening so much. I’m also very proud of Lala for running such an amazing Happening that I, along with all the Happeners, got so much out of. I admire her leadership skills and I also admire the entire team up there. They all love each other and the movement so much and worked really hard for it to go as well as it did. If any of you East Tennessee folk are reading this, I love all y’all and I hope to be back. I’m truly blessed to be apart of not one, but two Happening families now.
Overall, this weekend really showed me how amazing Happening really is. I’ve always loved it, but after this, I have a whole new appreciation for the program. We have one of the largest Happenings worldwide in our diocese that we should feel blessed for, however, every Happening, no matter how big or small makes an impact on young Christian lives. We’re able to make such a big difference in people's’ lives through this amazing program. What this Happening did for me is not only feel spiritually renewed, but it gave me an even bigger burning desire to serve. I saw a community a third of the size of ours do amazing things. This proves it’s not about size. It’s about the program and the people. I cannot stress enough how blessed I feel by this new community and now all I want is to do more. East Tennessee, all y’all will always be in my heart and I love all y’all in so many different ways. I already miss it. Dio Atl, y’all are the foundation of my faith and I hope I can be apart of this movement forever. I love our Happening and our diocese and I hope we can continue to change lives. We all have special qualities that allow us to do so and let’s continue to serve the Lord and bring Him and His word to others. Thank you all for what you’ve done for my faith. I’m tearing up writing this honestly. I may be involved in two dioceses, but what matters is one Happening. One movement that changes lives. I love y’all and God bless all of you!