Central Minnesota TEC boasts highest participation in U.S.

Categories: Around the Diocese

Nov. 15, 2013, edition
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

On a whim, Stephanie Loecken decided to sign up for a Together Encountering Christ weekend in Belle Prairie.

When she arrived, she was nervous. She confided in her friend who was also participating and preferred individual projects to group activities.

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Participants from the first Central Minnesota TEC retreat gather for a group photo in 1978.

As the weekend progressed, however, she grew close to the others attending and did not want to leave. She decided to attend another TEC weekend a couple of months later as a volunteer.

The second weekend left an even greater impression on her.

“It’s focused on relationships with others,” Loecken said. “After coming the second time, I thought, ‘It’s good to have a group of friends we can talk about our faith with.’ ”

Since her first retreat four years ago, Loecken, now 20 years old and a student at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, has helped out with some 13 retreats and began serving on TEC’s board of directors in August 2012.

“It’s new every time,” she said. “The retreat is about experiencing God and truly encountering Christ.”

Tops in the country

Together Encountering Christ weekends are three-day retreats centering on the paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. They are endorsed by the St. Cloud Diocese and include talks, sharing, sacraments and activities.

Over the last 35 years, 35,000 people have participated in Central Minnesota TEC retreats in Belle Prairie. This number of attendees is higher than any other TEC program in the United States. There are approximately 65 of them throughout the country.

“We’re intergenerational, and once people come, they want to come back and do things for others,” said Mike Lentz, coordinator for Central Minnesota TEC.

Originally called Teens Encountering Christ, Central Minnesota TEC began in the St. Cloud Diocese in 1978. In 1987, it became separately incorporated from the diocese and changed its name to Together Encountering Christ to include people of all ages.

“We found that as youths are searching for meaning, adults are too,” said Lentz. “So many people are looking for identity and meaning.”

Attendees have ranged from 16 years old to 86, but about two-thirds are 22 years old or younger. Most hail from the St. Cloud Diocese. About 45-60 people participate in each retreat. About 13 retreats are held each year.

“It’s made things more concrete for me knowing Christ is in everyone I meet,” Loecken said. “And I’ve taken prayer to heart a lot more than I have in the past.”

Many volunteers help make the retreats possible. For a retreat of 50 participants, about 45 people might volunteer. Volunteers give talks, facilitate small groups, play music, help in the kitchen and are runners.

Reinforcing and igniting

Phil Korbett, a member of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Sartell, has volunteered for 70-80 TEC weekends. He attended his first TEC retreat when he was a junior in high school after a friend told him about it.

Since Korbett’s first retreat, he has met several people who have been influential in his life through TEC, including his wife Kelly and many good friends and role models.

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Vincent Kerkes, Jamiel Parker and Kaitlyn Hanlon share their TEC experience in Opat Hall in Belle Prairie.

He especially values the “letting go” part of the retreat. The first day is about letting go of the things that keep you from God. The second day is about celebrating the presence of God’s love in one’s life. The third day is about going forth and carrying out the message of Christ.

“For someone with strong faith, TEC can reinforce that; for someone with fledging faith, it can ignite that,” Korbett said.

Korbett said that in today’s busy world, it is important to take time to reflect on life, and the retreat provides that opportunity.

“You can’t go 100 miles per hour forever,” he said. “It might be difficult to sit back and reflect but people often say, ‘I should have done this earlier.’ ”

TEC reunion will mark 35th anniversary

Everyone who participated in a TEC is invited to the reunion Nov. 30 beginning at 3 p.m. at the Father Opat Hall in Belle Prairie. Mass will be celebrated at 4 p.m.

Those who have not participated in a TEC are invited to the next retreat Nov. 29-Dec. 1 in Belle Prairie. Cost is $95.

For more information about TEC or for future retreat dates, check out its website at www.cmtec.org or call Mike Lentz at 320-532-4455.