"Be the Bee" retreats ("BeeTreats") are on track to surpass over 1,000 total participants for the 2015-16 season. Though we only started the program two years ago, BeeTreats have already grown to an astounding level of popularity. Over 800 people in total have attended the first six BeeTreats of the year, and we're not done yet.
BeeTreats currently offer sessions for youth (6th-12th grades), parents, youth workers, and young adults. The two final BeeTreats of the season, hosted in Brooklyn and Baltimore, are each expected to draw at least 100 people each. Our most well-attended BeeTreat of the season was in Chicago in February, and drew 300 people. Cleveland and San Francisco also saw huge crowds of over 200 people. People often drive (and sometimes even fly) from hours away to join us.
What makes this astounding is not simply the numbers: it's the underlying reason people are flocking to these BeeTreats.
We don't simply offer youth participants games or activities. Instead, the BeeTreat begins with Matins and then transitions to four intense, heartfelt, soul-searching sessions before concluding with Vespers. The first session is a prayer workshop where participants simply sit in silence, wrestling with their minds and hearts,doing the difficult work of opening themselves to God. The last session is a service project designed to challenge participants to begin living the lessons they've learned, to allow their relationship with Christ to begin shaping every interaction with every person they encounter.
Adult participants are similarly pushed rather than simply entertained. After celebrating Matins together with the youth, four sessions challenge participants to rethink the motivations behind ministry, and to work through the ways Christ can be made manifest in our homes and parishes. And of course, the day ends as it begins: in prayer, with the celebration of Vespers.
Every BeeTreat also offers an Orthodoxy on Tap for young adults, a chance to come together and wrestle with difficult questions of vocation, exploring how one lives into the likeness of Christ not simply by being (or being married to) an ordained minister, but as a full-time minister to and for the world. A short introductory talk paves the way for lively discussion of the way participants understand themselves and their place in the Church. It's a way to see that, no matter who we are or what role we're called to play, our story as the Church is centered on nothing less than the person of Jesus Christ. It's a way to reaffirm that our lives are meant to reveal the love of God to all we encounter and to bring the light of Christ into even the darkest corners of the world.
As a Church, we often appear afraid of ministry. We worry that young people need pastimes and activities, that we need to make sure that youth groups aren't "too religious.” We worry that adults need to be affirmed rather than challenged, that the rigorous demands of the Gospel will push people away rather inspire them.
But such ministry is not the ministry of Jesus Christ.
We profess a love of the Church yet also communicate a deep discomfort with it, an unease that is only resolved when God is carefully limited to Sunday mornings and, at best, a few prayers and remarks during Church programs.
Yet our experience with BeeTreats has shown us how thirsty people are for the Gospel, how hungry they are to taste of the Kingdom and experience, not mere words and programs, but God Himself. They've shown that the athletic and cultural programs that we pawn off as “ministry” have left our people malnourished, desperately seeking Christ, yet unsure of where to find Him.
So we will continue to minister in a way that defies the conventional wisdom. We will continue to put our trust, not in programs or a cynical bait-and-switch, but in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
And, if we don't see you in our remaining BeeTreats of the season, we hope to see you next year.
Steve is the Director of Y2AM. Perhaps best known as the host of "Be the Bee," he's a graduate of Yale University, Fordham University School of Law, and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. You can follow him on Twitter here.