Thanks in part to a group of youths and young adults from Rhode Island, the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut now has its own Happening ministry. Happening is a retreat weekend planned by teens to give other teenagers the chance to encounter Christ, explore their faith, and strengthen their relationship with God. The Rhode Island Happeners provided expertise as part of the staff for the first Connecticut Happening weekend, March 24 – 26 at Camp Washington, Connecticut’s version of Rhode Island’s Episcopal Conference Center (ECC).
by Dave Seifert
Twelve youths from Connecticut experienced the weekend. The staff consisted of nine youths and young adults from Rhode Island as well as 13 from Connecticut — who all had participated in Rhode Island Happening weekends to help them prepare to launch their own.
“The Rhode Island staff members provided significant help in the planning and execution of the weekend,” said Patrick Ryan, a Connecticut high school senior who served as “rector” (teen leader) for the weekend.
“They understood the program well and the commitment needed to keep everything running smoothly,” he added. “They wrote notes to participants, offered to help however needed, and endlessly served to ensure Happening’s atmosphere remained accepting and full of love. Without them, we surely would have been lost in this experience.”
He particularly complimented Faith Bessette, who attends Church of the Beloved, Pascoag, and is a former ECC counselor and part of the RI Happening leadership team.
“Faith helped create a binder for the weekend’s leadership team with all necessary information, provided input on my draft schedule and inventory and used her own personal checklists to make sure everything was ready to go,” Ryan said. “More than that, Faith was always ready during the weekend, checking to make sure we had everything for the next activity, answering questions, and serving with such grace and appreciation for what we were doing there.”
The Rhode Island Happening partnership with Connecticut had its genesis with three active ECC alumni who now live in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and attend St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ridgefield. They sent their kids to camp in Rhode Island for several years, those kids brought friends and eventually it led to the creation of Happening in Connecticut.
The Rev. Whitney Altopp, rector of St. Stephen’s, and the Rev. Adam Thomas, rector of St. Mark’s, Mystic, worked closely with a team of adults to plan the weekend, including Matt Cornish, Camp Washington camp director; the Rev. George Roberts, rector, St. James, Farmington; and Bart Gessinger, Camp Washington executive director.
“This was a great way for the Connecticut youths who have been attending our camp and Happening to plug into youth ministry in Connecticut, and it gave our kids a chance to see what’s happening there,” said the Rev. Meaghan Brower, director, ECC. “A year ago, we started incorporating Connecticut adults and youths in our Happening weekends so they could learn the ropes and bring it to their diocese.”
Laying the groundwork for this new ministry was in large part successful because of the willingness of Rhode Island youths to share their time and experience with their peers in Connecticut. When Brower asked if Rhode Island Happeners would be willing to help, they responded enthusiastically. Ryan, then attending his fourth Happening in Rhode Island, realized he met the requirements to apply to be a rector (senior in high school and previous staff experience).
“I knew I had to apply,” Ryan said. “My schedule was busy, but all of that ceased to matter. It was an opportunity to share a ministry that was based completely on love and acceptance, and that was enough for me.”
Altopp noted that “Happening, by its design, builds upon past transformational experiences. The spiritual transformation that has taken place in the lives of young people in the Diocese of Rhode Island through this weekend retreat was like yeast in dough. They were essential to growing the spiritual transformation of young people in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. And grow they did! It was glorious to witness the consistency with which Happening conveys the abundant love that God has for all of us.”
Ryan had a transformation of his own during the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, the group spends some time having fun and getting to know one another better. “When we arrived in Kenyon Hall, light seemed to shine from everyone’s faces. People were dancing, talking to strangers and we all appeared as if little parts of one body. It was at this moment I realized Happening is not dependent on a specific location. It is a feeling that you can carry with you wherever you go. People had so smoothly created a community in only less than a day.”
Rhode Island Happening hosts two weekends of its own each year. Next up is the spring Happening weekend May 5 – 7; the fall Happening is October 13 – 15.