Students travel to Holden Village to study liturgy and the cycles of creation

A pink sky behind the North Cascade mountains

During the month of January, a group from LSTC traveled to Holden Village in Chelan, Washington. Twelve students, under the leadership of Dr. Benjamin Stewart, the Gordon A. Braatz Associate Professor of Worship, gathered daily for prayer, fellowship, and study of liturgy during the various cycles of creation—including the four seasons and different times of day.

Holden Village is a remote Lutheran retreat center, nestled in the North Cascade mountains of Washington state. For years, the village has been welcoming students for intentional time apart to learn, grow, and play, and this year’s J-term excursion was no different. The days were filled to the brim by contributing to life in the village, romping around in the nearly 150 inches of snow that had accumulated there throughout the winter, and growing closer in community, all punctuated by morning, evening, and night prayer.

Together, students wrestled with what it means to rise as leaders in the church in the era of climate change. How might our liturgies reflect the present moment of crisis? What does it mean to care for creation well? Students discussed their greatest dreams and deepest fears of the future. They found hope, joy, and grief.

When asked about what he hopes seminarians will carry forward in their ministry, Stewart said, “I think the course generates a love for worship and at the same time a sense of humility that humans are latecomers to the cosmic choir practice — that the stars and the trees and the ravens have been singing hymns of praise long before we were ever here, and now it’s our job to learn from them and join the unending hymn.”

Alongside the study of worship and creation, the group bonded through moments of hilarity. Games in the dining hall, synchronized dance routines for the village’s winter Olympics, and singing hymn after hymn all drew them closer together as a group.

“There were too many moments to single out just one,” Stewart said, about his favorite memory from the trip. “But on that last morning together, when we had been wrestling intensely for weeks with questions of despair and hope in the struggle for climate justice, and then we stood high up on Chalet Hill, and as the sun was rising over the mountains, and we were singing what was now mostly memorized and in harmony, ‘the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace,’ I was just so blown away and thankful. I could feel God’s promise in Zechariah’s song coming true among us.”

Although the time at Holden was only two and a half weeks, the special memories they contained will remain with the students for the journey to come. As the prayer of good courage reads—which Holden staff often read to bless departing guests—we do not know where we go, but only that God’s hand is leading us and God’s love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A man in a backpack looks out toward the Cascade Mountains

A trail leads between rows of tall, snowy pines

Holden Village at night

Attendees on a trail through Holden Village

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