‘Refresh’ combines music, prayer and reflection in one-hour ‘retreat experience’
WILMINGTON — A program launched by the youth ministry at St. John the Beloved Parish in Wilmington has expanded to include all ages and all prayer styles.
It is called “Refresh,” a midweek gathering of prayer and music that attracts 30-40 on Wednesday evenings at 5:30 p.m. Greg Boulden, the youth minister at St. John the Beloved, envisions rapid growth and weekly attendance of perhaps 150 at this time next year.
“The word’s spreading pretty well,” he said earlier this month.
The service is based on a traditional evening vespers service, although Boulden and the other leaders are still working on the format to see what works and what doesn’t. It includes prayers and music, along with a video that reflects the evening’s theme and reflections.
“However you experience worship, you’re welcome to do when you’re here,” he said.
Refresh began a few months ago when some members of the parish youth group went to Boulden with an idea for weekly gatherings called “Relevant.” The kids wanted adoration and to be able to lead readings and give reflections on their week, he said.
After about three months, the group was not growing from its five or six original members. St. John the Beloved has a bunch of prayer groups, but they do not have a lot of younger members, perhaps because the groups’ prayer styles didn’t fit the youths’ style. Boulden called Frank Julian, who works in the diocese’s Finance Department, and asked if he was interested in starting a new group. It grew from there.
The idea was to create something that would allow people to get themselves “ready spiritually for the rest of the week, or if you’ve have a bad week so far, come lift up your spirits with a one-hour retreat experience and go from there,” Boulden said.
What has emerged from that idea has been a pleasant surprise for Boulden. The initial three or four young people who attended has grown into a much larger contingent of all ages, parishes and denominations.
During the service, lyrics of the songs are projected on to a screen in front of the altar. Volunteers read a Psalm, which is left up on the screen for reflection. After another song, a Gospel reading and meditation, there is usually a video, followed by more songs and petitions. Anyone present can offer a petition. Music plays while people light candles.
“This turned out from something that was supposed to be kind of fun and light-hearted prayerful-type things and it’s really turned into something that has meaning for people. So, that’s been wonderful,” Boulden said.
After a closing prayer and more music, the people in attendance are welcome to hang out for a little bit.
Ann Marie Fitch, a lifelong member of St. John the Beloved and a graduate of the parish school and Padua Academy, has been attending regularly since February. She had been away from the parish because of school but likes that she had this to return to.
“I like how they play a lot of contemporary music. We don’t have a whole lot of that at Mass. We have more traditional music, which I also like. But it’s good to have a chance to sing the contemporary stuff as well,” she said.
Some parishioners have seen advertisements in the bulletin for Refresh meetings but were unsure if they could attend. On a recent Wednesday, the ages of those at the church ranged from a year or two old to senior citizens. Boulden hopes this is one way to bridge the age gap that is present in some other parish groups.
He checked with the youth group to make sure they were OK with the group being opened to everyone. After all, they created it for themselves. Thus far, he said, none of the youngsters has left.
The parish priests have stopped over, but their presence is not required because there is no Mass. One of them or a deacon might be needed beginning in the fall if Refresh brings back adoration.
Boulden hopes to stream Refresh live online beginning in the fall, as he has done for the Blue Mass and other events at St. John the Beloved. That will increase the level of engagement.
“If you’re sick, you are a shut in, you are unable to make it for any reason, you can just plug in,” he said. “It’s recorded, so you can watch it the next day, whatever is needed. It will be a weekly retreat basically that St. John the Beloved is providing for the world.”
Refresh meets weekly during the school year but will reduce the frequency during the summer. Contact Boulden at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.