After the first two days of classes, a group of 16 Goshen students traveled—“fish-tailed” more accurately describes our transit—to Laurelville’s Music and Worship leaders’ retreat in Pennsylvania.

The purpose of this retreat is to provide genuine and meaningful worship and learning sessions around a theme in such a way that it models and teaches participatory worship, novel ideas and an inclusive, relevant space.

The group of Goshen students included Megan Eigsti, Nate O’Leary, Aaron Graber, Brody Thomas, Becky Snider, Joelle Friesen, Kyle Stocksdale, James Lang, Melanie Drinkwater, Hannah Thill, Andrew Pauls, Matt Wimmer, Eliana Neufeld Basinger, AJ Delgadillo, Kenan Bitikofer, Gloria Showalter, and Bobby Switzer.

This year’s theme sought to bring our whole worlds to worship: the unimaginable grief and the incredible joy of life. We integrated the diverse spectrums of our lives through song and prayer, through visual art and movement, and through instruments and liturgy.

Throughout the weekend, we participated in sessions led by resource team members and guest speakers, one of whom was a female Jewish rabbi. Singing, listening, and learning melded together seamlessly to create a wholly wonderful worship experience that met us where we were in our lives. We learned new songs, songs from different traditions, new ways of singing old hymns, and ways of experimenting with tempo and dynamics. Furthermore, we used new liturgical readings, patterns of worship, and theatre to contribute more fully to the worship experience.

Being there also allowed us to connect with the broader Mennonite church. We met, ate, talked and made music with graduates from Eastern Mennonite University, pastors across the US, Mennonite Voluntary Servicer participants, folks from Menno Media, and people involved with Mennonite Central Committee. There is so much good happening within and because of the Mennonite Church, and this weekend allowed us to meet some of the people behind that good and to share with them the good that’s happening at Goshen.

Growing from the weekend is a desire to make our worship more meaningful by making it more participatory. When congregants claim worship as their own, the worship becomes more meaningful, more life-filled. This can be done when everyone is included and the gifts of all are valued and seen as contributing to worship. Poets can write calls to worship, bakers can bake the communion bread, dancers can construct motions that connect us to our bodies, and dramatists can bring scripture to new life.

We all should seek to tease out the gifts of others.

One specific example of how we’re trying to develop gifts is by offering song-leading practice before our regular Hymn-sing meetings. Anyone, from any musical level, is welcome to come to Music Center room 153 at 8:30 PM on Tuesdays to learn and practice song-leading techniques.

Another outgrowth from the weekend is an appreciation for diverse worship styles. Instead of seeing different worship styles as diametrically opposed, we can instead see them as complimentary and instructive. We can learn from each other.

Over the weekend, I saw our group of 16 very different people, who didn’t necessarily know each other beforehand, form meaningful friendships and connections.

Our group connected beyond pre-existing friendships to form new friendships. Something about worshipping together for an entire weekend forges new friendships where vulnerability can manifest.  Students shared candidly from their lives with each other and with the other guests, and seeing this was profoundly effective.

A personal favorite from the weekend was our group’s night-singing. Each night, we gathered in a circle in our cottage and sang together for an hour before bed. During this time, many from our group song led for the first time. As someone who values congregational song, this was particularly meaningful for me.

Even if we have to brave more snow and ice, I know many of us will return next year to experience that profoundly meaningful weekend yet again. And heck, if it takes us twice as long to fish-tail there, well, that’s just more time for singing hymns in the car.