Aldersgate Emmaus revives retreats for young people
Editor's note: This story was updated 8/25/15 to make the following corrections: a misspelling of Clermont, the year of Candy Ogden's participation in Walk to Emmaus and an incorrect name for Ryan Kellogg. FLUMC.org regrets the errors.
CLERMONT – A lifelong member of The United Methodist Church, 17-year-old Tricia Moles said she’s always felt a close relationship with God.
However, she said that relationship grew far beyond her expectations the weekend of June 5-7, when she attended a Chrysalis Flight retreat in West Palm Beach.
“It was a life-changing experience,” said the Clermont teen. “I left feeling closer to God and feeling like I’m here for a reason, that God has a plan for me.”
Moles’ experience is typical of the teens who commit to participating in this spiritual three-day journey, said Candy Ogden, an assistant lay director for the Florida Aldersgate Chrysalis retreats, an offshoot of the 35-year-old Florida Aldersgate Emmaus walks.
The Chrysalis Flights are modeled after the interdenominational Walk to Emmaus retreats held throughout the world, but with one notable difference: Chrysalis is geared toward young adults, ages 15 to 18.
“It’s described as a three-day short course in Christianity,” Ogden said. “But it’s so much more. The participants experience powerful emotional connections and undergo a spiritual transformation.”
Florida Aldersgate Emmaus encompasses an 11-county area in central Florida and is one of the largest Emmaus organizations in the Southeast. It began offering Chrysalis retreats 10 years ago in the hopes of starting Christians on their paths with God at an earlier age. However, a lack of leadership and funds prompted Aldersgate to disband its youth weekends.
“But now we feel a calling to start it back up,” Ogden said. “We started meeting and planning two years ago and now we’re ready to launch our first [renewed] flight.”
The Aldersgate Chrysalis Flight for girls is scheduled for Nov. 6-8 at Crystal River UMC. The boys’ retreat will take place Nov. 13-15 at the same church.
In preparation for those events, Aldersgate sent five teens to a Chrysalis retreat In West Palm Beach so they would be prepared to serve as teen leaders for the Aldersgate Chrysalis.
Although Moles has attended religious retreats in the past, she said her experience with Chrysalis was unlike any previous retreat.
“It was overwhelming at first, being assigned to groups of people you never met before,” she said. “But, once I got to know people, it was really eye-opening. You definitely feel God’s presence there.”
During the weekend, the teens listened to the frank and emotionally charged testimonials of 15 speakers, including a young Christian, a married Christian couple, five young people who had previously experienced Chrysalis and five pastors.
“I left feeling closer to God and feeling like I’m here for a reason, that God has a plan for me.”
– Tricia Moles, 17, of Clermont
“It got to the point where you felt you were hearing God’s words through the speakers,” Moles said.
In the Chrysalis program, teens are encouraged to ask questions of the speakers and discuss issues in small groups, where they also create posters and skits.
“You get to know the girls in your group quickly and form a tight bond as you share hardships and journey,” said Moles. “In fact, we still talk and text one another.”
Between the planned sessions, the teens, who must remain in the host church the entire weekend without their cell phones, enjoy meals prepared by volunteers, candlelight devotions, games and contemporary Christian music.
“We try to keep the weekend lively, totally youth-oriented,” Ogden said. “And we have some surprises in store for the young people.”
For Ogden, reviving the Chrysalis weekends has gone far beyond a mission to guide the spiritual formation of young people.
“It’s become a calling for me,” she said.
Ogden said she became an enthusiastic advocate for Emmaus after participating in a walk in 1998.
“It completely changed my perspective about being a disciple for Christ,” she said. “I was always active in my church, but Emmaus showed me that being a disciple is so much more.”
Then, two years ago, Ogden was serving as the director of discipleship for her church when God began to point her in a different direction.
“God was telling me to quit my job and devote myself to Chrysalis,” Ogden said. “He was relentless. He wanted me to refocus my efforts and do His will.”
Fortunately, her path to reviving Chrysalis was aided by the Aldersgate Emmaus board, which maintained a reserve of funds for just that purpose.
“God just opened every door to make this work,” she said.
Now she’s spending her time spreading the word to all the churches in the 10-county Aldersgate area.
“We want the churches to understand that this doesn’t replace their efforts to bring young people to Christ: It bolsters it by providing them with the essentials of Christian faith and deepening their discipleship,” Ogden said. “We’re taking these young people to the next level to help them grow spiritually and make them better equipped to live out their discipleships.”
That’s why the name Chrysalis is so appropriate, she said.
“They come to us as caterpillars and through the weekend they are transformed into a chrysalis,” she said. “When they leave us, they’ve become butterflies who spread their pollen to others.”
For this first Chrysalis Flight, Ogden said up to 35 young people per retreat will be accepted. There is a cost to participate and registration is underway.
Among those who have already committed to the boys’ flight is 17-year-old Ryan Kellogg of Clermont.
“I want to create a strong ground in my spiritual life to help fight the enumerable temptations my senior year and college will throw my way during the transition period from young adult to adult,” Kellogg, a lifelong Methodist, said in an email. “I hope to take away a deeper connection with God, peers in the community and myself.”
For information and to register for the upcoming flights, visit www.aldersgatechrysalis.org.
– D'Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer based in the Brandon area.