Bright sunlight bore down on sandy beaches while a soft breeze stirred live oak boughs above grey cinderblock buildings. In a few weeks the buildings and beaches would echo with the hubbub of hundreds of campers. On this Thursday afternoon, however, only the wind’s voice was heard on the grounds of Lake Swan Camp. In one of the buildings, eight young adults from throughout the Gulf Atlantic Diocese assembled for the annual Petra retreat.
Petra (πετρα) is a Greek word meaning “rock.” 1 Peter 2:4-5 declares, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” This verse describes the community of believers as a spiritual house built upon Jesus Christ the cornerstone. Jesus Himself uses the same imagery to describe those who follow His word (Matthew 7:24). And that image is the vision of the Petra ministry: a community of young adults standing on the rock of Jesus Christ as revealed in His word and being built up to serve God wherever He calls them.
Petra is a diocesan ministry founded and led by young adults to serve young adults. Built to meet the need for an organized ministry to connect young adults across the Gulf Atlantic, its centerpiece is the Petra retreat, an annual summer event incorporating Biblical teaching and corporate recreation. This year’s retreat, held from May 19 through 22, was based on Ephesians 6:13: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Scripture teaches that humanity is involved in a spiritual war of cosmic proportions in which every soul is at stake. To stand, Christians must arm themselves with the armament God has provided them in Christ.
To that end, a group of young adults gathered on the evening of May 19. Throughout the following weekend, they sat under solid Biblical instruction from a lineup of faithful teachers. The Rev. Brook Batchelor (All Souls, Jacksonville) spoke on the reality of spiritual warfare as attested to in Scripture, and the Rev. Christopher Jones (Saint Luke’s, Tallahassee) taught on the belt of truth from Ephesians 6, explaining how scripture’s truth defends us from worldly deception. The Rev. Larry O’Connell (All Souls, Jacksonville) exegeted Ephesians 6 as well, focusing on the breastplate of righteousness, the righteousness of Christ and the holiness He calls His people to. Jay Haug (Church of the Redeemer, Jacksonville) responded to myths and questions about marriage and sexuality, and Susan Morris (All Souls, Jacksonville) spoke on the importance of Biblical boundaries in every aspect of life. Bishop-elect Alex Farmer (Servants of Christ, Gainesville) talked on the critical importance of church community for discipleship and evangelism.
Amid this wealth of teaching, there was space to rest, relax, and be a community. Petra participants worshiped together, prayed together, ate together, and played together. They enjoyed Lake Swan Camp’s lakefront amenities as well as a variety of board games. The solace and quietude contributed to a very restful and restorative weekend.
Sunday morning dawned as another peaceful day. As before, the camp grounds were uncharacteristically still as each member of the Petra community exchanged their farewells and departed for their homes. Some returned to work while others returned to college, but each left a place of spiritual safety and stepped back into a supernatural warzone. Whatever lay ahead, each left with the armor of God more firmly fastened in place.
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