When I worked as a DRE in a parish at St. James in Concord, NC, I would put together a Reconciliation retreat every year. This was a decent sized parish with typically about 80 kids who would receive the sacrament for the first time. The first order of business was probably the most bold, as I would ask parents whose kids were receiving the sacraments to put two retreats together- Reconciliation and Eucharistic retreats respectively (more on that later). We made a bid deal about the kids receiving Reconciliation for the first time, as we believe it would set the tone for the rest of their lives. It may look slightly different than receiving the sacrament but waiting until later to have a more festive celebration, as is custom in some of our parishes in Nebraska. Overall the retreat would typically take place on a Saturday and would take roughly 3 hours.
At first, asking parents to put together a retreat gets the typically responses such as initial concerns and feelings of uncertainty. The initial reaction of parents is understandable. However, if the retreats are done well they have proven to be very rewarding for parents. Some may think that parents should just receive, and not have to work for the sacramental year of their kids. There is truth to that as the sacrament is a grace freely given. However, there is also the idea that working in preparation for the sacraments can be liturgical in nature. That is, all of us are invited to participate in the work of God.
Before I go into the details of the retreat I also would like to mention of what I learned from several years of asking parents to organize the retreats. It is a lesson that parents taught me themselves. That is I learned from parents of the importance of having the basic outline for the retreats already planned out. All they would have to do is to decide who would take up the respective responsibilities, and when and how many times they needed to meet to prepare, which normally took place while their kids were in class. Another note is that the retreat takes into consideration that the students may have already had a mock confession. They may also would have covered most of the materials for Confession, and therefore the goal is not to teach them new things but to offer a deeper preparation for the sacrament.
To help begin painting the picture of the retreat, lets start from how preparations are made, to how the parents are informed, and how they choose responsibilities.
Before classes begin in September I would work on the schedule and choose a date for the retreat. The first Reconciliation retreat would normally take place mid to late January. This would give us enough time to prepare, and adequate time to follow up with preparation for a Communion retreat in April. I would choose a budget for the retreat that was charged out to parents at the beginning of the registration (scholarships would be available upon request). The cost would come out to $25 per retreat for every participant. The funds would be used for materials, which would primarily include a gift. This budget can change based on parish needs and abilities.
During the initial parent meeting which took place during the first day of classes, in addition to all pertinent information for the year I would ask sacramental parents to raise their hands. I would share with them as part of their kids sacramental preparation they would be putting together a retreat with the help of my guidance. The first meeting would take place the following week during the kids class time.
At the followings week- This typically is the role of a DRE who is on staff (or volunteer), who helps to oversee that everything is being planned accordingly. They also arrange the prie who will offer confession at the end of the retreat. board and ask them to consider choosing what works best for them. The roles includeds:
Master of Ceremony (MC)- This person is a host who welcomes everyone and keeps the retreat flowing. They are responsible for the transitions between activities and introducing the leaders, and closing out the retreat.
Communicator- This person would be responsible for the communication within and outside the group. This helps to prevent things being overlooked and keeping everyone on the same page. Any questions from the group to the director goes through the communicator.
Gift buyer- This person is responsible for looking for gift options to share with the group, buying the gifts (re-reimbursed by the parish), and preparing them for the retreat.
Activity leader- These individuals are responsible for the variety of stations there are at the retreat. The stations will be listed below.
The good news is that even if we have sinned or hurt our relationship with God, He always welcomes us back. He always extends His hands out to us. He has gi he gift of the sacrament of confession, where he takes our brokenness and makes something beautiful out of it. of it. it. it. it. t. .
4. Once the roles are described and assigned, the parents are encouraged to meet as often as they need to get everything organized. Typically this can be as many as 3-5 times. They would have approximately 3 months getting everything prepared.
After the welcoming and introduction, the first station begins with a talk about the love that God has for us. Sometimes we fall out of God's love by our own doing. It is like God is holding our hands, but we choose to let go God's hands through our own actions.
A sheet of paper mache is given to the students and we ask them to begin tearing it into smaller pieces. This symbolizes what sin does in our lives, in our relationship with God- it severs it.
2. The second station continues in helping the kids see the effect of sin and the power and grace of Jesus to remove all sin. This talk begins talking about how sin can have an effect on our souls and it is illustrated by the three cups. The The Th Ts something beautiful out of it.
At this point we ask the students to decorative their votive candles to symbolize how God puts us back together through Reconciliation. These candles will be used again at the end of the retreat.
2. The second station continues in helping the kids see the effect of sin and the power and grace of Jesus to remove all sin. This talk begins talking about how sin can have an effect on our souls and it is illustrated by the three cups. Sin is dark and can stain us, but Jesus makes the satin of sin clean agai
(Mixing in the ingredients of bleach or iodine helps change the liquids color)
3. The third station is a talk about our conscience, given by Dr. Conscience who dresses up in a white lab coat with black rim glasses. The talk begins by describing what our conscience are not like. Cartoons have often depicted our conscience as a good or bad angel on our shoulders. This is not an accurate description of our conscience as for one it is not a separate person from us. Secondarily, our conscience does not tell us to choose bad things, but rather it tells us to avoid bad things.
The next part of the talk is about describing what are conscience is like. When our conscience are well informed and we listen to our conscience and follow it, we are capable of amazing things. When we avoid our conscience and don't listen to it, we do not live up to our capability and we fail to listen to how God is leading us. This is illustrated by a gyroscope on a string. We encourage two kids to hold a long piece of yarn or string at each end and place a spinning gyroscope in the middle. The amazing ability of the gyroscope to stay suspended on the string represents our well informed conscience at work. But when we lose momentum we to can lose our stability just as the gyroscope does when it looses its momentum.
4. At the last station we offer the kids the opportunity to do an examination of conscience. For this we choose a kid friendly examination which goes over the 10 Commandments and how they would relate to that age group. We read these out to them and ask them to write down any that stands out for them. We provide a sheet or an aide that they can take with them to Confession, which helps them through the sacrament. We play light instrumental music in the background and give them a few minutes to examine their conscience.
5. At this point of the retreat we move into the Church for the kids to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. The flow of this will depend on how many kids are there and how many priest are available for Confession.
6. Once the students have completed their confession, they are escorted to a quiet place to offer the penitential prayers. Ideally this would be a smaller room that has the lights turned off and is lit by the votive candles the kids finished earlier. Once they are done with their prayer they can grab their candle and leave the room. On their way out they are given their gift to take home.
These stations have worked well for a Reconciliation retreat. Even if parents are not the ones to put such a retreat together, several volunteers can do the same. From my experience, parents watching their kids go through this process has been very rewarding for them. I remember one parent sharing with me that when he went to Confession for the first time as a child he remembers how afraid a lot of the kids where. Yet what they witnessed was a different side of what Reconciliation could look like. The students expressed genuine joy and were excited to go to Confession.
Hopefully, this helps to stir some new ideas of what a Reconciliation retreat could look like that involve parents,which can be a great spiritual moment for them and their kids.