UU Church Today, Spirituality & Theology, Practice & Voice

Senior Spirit Quest Like Never Before

The Senior Spirit Quest is a rite of passage for our high school seniors. As originally constructed by Kate Starr and carried out through more than a decade, it is a several days of white-knuckle experiences, solo soul-searching, and group processing. This Fall, like so much else, it was different.

Corey Smith, our impressive Youth Director who had only led one of these previously, set about turning a carefully crafted 4-day event into a 24-hour intensive that would set our seniors up to mark their final year as Youth at All Souls and successfully lead their classmates in planning and pulling off a first-ever virtual Youth Sunday this Spring.

Spirit Quest in the Before Time

Rather than departing from the church parking lot at sunrise after a ceremonial cutting of the of the apron strings with parents and driving for hours to an idyllic ranch in Northwest Arkansas, our youth were dropped 25 minutes from here at a much more civilized hour at the Osage Forest of Peace in Sand Springs. The Forest of Peace was begun by a Benedictine nun from Oklahoma who was inspired to search for the basic truths at the core of all religions. The vision for this 40+ acre sacred place of prayer and meditation is to “cultivate peace, healing and renewal, in a contemplative, interspiritual environment.”

To Be Together

I was worried about not being able to provide the high adventure for which the Senior Spirit Quest had become known. While the Forest of Peace has much to offer with its contemplative spaces, hiking trail, Zen garden and labyrinth, it did not have wide-open, high adventure feel of past Spirit Quests with ziplines and horseback riding. It did not have miles of pitch-black, tight-squeeze caves and rock climbing with death-defying drops – all safe, but thrill-ride scary, none-the-less. But, as it turns out, the Forest of Peace had the two things that each one of us desperately needed: to be calm and to be together.

During SpiritQUUest, I enjoyed having the opportunity to take a break. Going to the Osage Forest of Peace at first made me think that it would be difficult to reconnect with people. However, we found time to have fun as a group and have an enriching personal experience as well.  

­–Neal Franklin

All six of the youth who attended this year’s Spirit Quest are going to school virtually – that means that spend their days at home on a computer – and Corey and I have hardly seen any of these kids in person since Spring.

We had individual, monastic cabins that we could retreat to when we wanted to take off our masks, but for the vast majority of the time, we chose to be together. We ate our meals appropriately distanced but together at picnic tables outside, lingering until our next activity was called.

We told our three-part story of Nachiketa who sought to face death and received three boons for his efforts. We journaled alone as instructed but then regrouped as soon as we could just to have conversations.

We stayed at the campfire for hours telling stories, brainstorming songs and themes for Youth Sunday and posing “would you rather” scenarios until the staff at Osage made us go to bed.

This was one of the best experiences I have had in a while. Getting away from normal daily activities was a welcome change. Given everything that is going on right now, I am very thankful that we were able to do this at all. 

–Caroline McGilvray

In our closing circle Corey and I asked, “What could we do to make this experience better?” The only request was to make it longer. That’s all a Religious Educator wants to hear.

Shannon Boston is the Executive Director of Lifespan Religious Education. She joined Corey as a chaperone on this year’s Senior Spirit Quest. Last year, in the before time, Justin Allen took on the adventure with our Youth.

Shannon leads our families each Sunday in online Family Chapel (9 a.m.) and Sunday School (9:30 a.m.) on our Facebook page. Explore our growing catalog of videos to help you be your children’s religious educator in the time of COVID-19. For adults, you can join us in Services on Sundays and connect with others during our Wednesday Community Connections (weekly at 6 pm) – free programs led by All Souls members and friends!

Corey Smith, our Youth Director offers middle school through high school kids fun ways to connect and develop their own credos and understandings of our world. On Saturdays at 1 p.m., join in on our Dungeons and Dragons adventure – “The Splinterlands” is an apocalyptic afterworld we’ve created where courage and faith are needed for survival. All skill levels are encouraged and welcome to play. Our final session of 2020 for ‘The Bible for Cynics, Skeptics, and Heretics’ led by Riley Kern will be on December 13 at 1 p.m. This youth led discussion is open to families and adults as Riley takes on various themes in the Bible through a Unitarian lens. The open debate and discussion makes for a lively way to discuss these themes in the Bible and in our lives today.

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