It’s possible that all your church retreats were held in lovely fields of flowers. After making friendship bracelets with your best friends you had a big tickle fight with baby deer and bunny rabbits before eating smores around the amber glow of a bonfire.
My retreats were different.
Especially the ones that were held at Cape Cod Sea Camps. During the fall this otherwise full camp, pressed hard against the ocean, was empty. And we must have received a good deal on it, because for a few years running that was where my youth group went. Until the whole “demon possession” thing.
Walt Mueller was the guest speaker and in typical Saturday night retreat fashion, he had told us to go off alone to think about what we had heard that night. I wasn’t thrilled. Cape Cod Sea Camps is a series of concrete bunker type buildings hidden in the dunes and sea scrubbed forests of New England. Steps from any door you are swallowed by darkness and ocean air and sand.
After a few minutes in solitary thought, we were supposed to return to the basement entrance of the building we were meeting in. When I came back there was a single candle lit in the middle of a circle of chairs. (I need to post about youth group “special effects.”) When we all finally came back we realized that someone was missing. That’s when we started hearing the screaming. It got louder and louder and louder, slowly circling the building. Youth leaders scattered like my grandma at the opening scene of the movie American Beauty.
In the only window in the basement I saw Karen, a dog groomer by day, lean back and slap a girl in the forehead. She passed out. They drove her home. We all went and had ice cream and pretended nothing had happened.
Turns out it was a nervous breakdown. She was fine. We talk about it to this day. And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you had the field of flowers experience, but I have to believe that somewhere down the road your youth minister saved the church some money by booking your retreat in the most terrifying place in your state.