Written and led by Nick Bond, Declan Bornhoeft, Freddy Groff, Blaise Ricciardi, Michael Shubny, Henry Timmerman, and Silvi Pirn

This church’s Confirmation week in the wilderness is fairly unique—some churches have “Confirmation Camp” where maybe you go to a summer camp, and eat in the dining hall, and sleep in bunk beds. This is not that. There are no bunk beds. There is no dining hall. You carry your bed and your dinner on your back, you filter your water and then carry it with you as you hike, and your feet are your only mode of transportation. No matter how much we were told this was a wilderness trip, it was hard to know exactly what wilderness would mean.

We were on the Olympic Coast Trail, just west of Seattle, hiking right along the ocean, over slippery rocks and sand, at a pace of about a mile per hour. We were surprised by how few people there were in the wilderness, thinking that it would be more like a normal hike with a decent amount of people around. It was the opposite of that, seeing no one but the people in our small group for miles at a time. We were far away from the normal world. But that brought a surprising peacefulness. The long hikes helped us to slow down and look around at how beautiful nature really is.

We weren’t worried about our phone, or what else was happening back home. It opened us up to becoming friends with others on the trip. Most of us went in barely knowing each other but came out with much more than we expected. God was present as we connected to nature: In the morning, we’d wake up and look up at the trees. As we hiked, we’d see all these little animals living in the rocks along the ocean—sea stars, rock crabs, barnacles, clams, and sea snails. Sitting on top of a hill one day, a deer followed us up and was right there, so near to where we were.

One day after climbing a hill, we saw an eagle. We sat on a hill by the water and saw two otters playing. It is easy to overlook the wildlife that surround us but being in the wilderness helped us to pay attention, to notice that God’s creatures are part of how we know the presence of God. Prayer became strength in an unexpected way. Whether it was homesickness, the long hikes, or having to rely on the tide schedule, we had to trust God in a new way in the wilderness. God listened when we prayed, especially when back pain took over, or we got another bruise, or our feet hurt.

Our bodies healed and got used to the rhythm of hiking. Being in the wilderness alone let us think about God and life. Being there was a great experience, a chance to truly connect with God. God delighted us with nature and wildlife. God connected us with each other in deep and abiding friendship and community. God bonded us together in laughter and tears. God enriched us in thoughtful conversations about faith, life, Jesus, sorrow, and suffering and what to write in a faith statement.

God brought us safely home. God helped us pay attention to the thin places where we are inspired, unmasked, and transformed. Thank You God for the youth you called into the Wilderness last week and for the guides who helped lead them. Thank you for carrying us through every hardship. Thank you for teaching us about you, each other, and ourselves. Thank you for letting us always rely on you.