Hey Trent - this was a very interesting piece - I'm interested that you're interested!
For 10 years my work was running programmes similar to this, in Ireland, and overseas - residential, community-living, faith-formation programmes... I have many thoughts. On the one hand, they provide a beautiful environment for people to experience some kind of community of faith. The unlikely friendships that grow are often lifelong, and the sometimes jarring experience of intercultural cohabitation are very educational... my motivation in working on these programmes was because of the possibility of bringing a diverse group of people together to experience a diversity of perspectives on faith, and to learn how to ask questions about what might our faith mean in the world.
Some of the things that I found difficult were the emphasis on things like "passion" and "truth" this seemed problematic - as sometimes passion and truth could be emphasised simplistically at the expense of highlighting the complicated realities of trying to apply sacred text to today's realities - whether in politics, or theological debates, or discussions about sexuality, or discussions about what it means to live a Christian life. I found that much of the emphasis was on a process of inner-conversion of the individual - and that purity and repentance from 'personal sin' was given far more time than things such as engagement in society etc... My experience was that many (not all, but many) of these programmes weren't very interdenominational - opting for some kind of lowest common denominator blend of biblical interpretation that was more evangelistic-driven than theologically-driven. The Outreach phases of some of these courses can also be about see 'the world' as containing those who need to be saved - sometimes even regular church-going folk are considered as 'just religious', with an implicit judgment that the religious nature of these people isn't authentic...leading, sometimes, to what I would consider to be a very particular way of delineating people into 'us' and 'them'.
That said, as Patrick mentions (hello Patrick!) there are folk who have gone on to do truly amazing things as a result of these courses - I know of many such people...I worked for 10 years with these groups, and can look back on these years as fruitful years, and (hopefully!) ones that contributed somewhat to the wider society through community engagement. As with many endeavors, there are many stories that go to tell the bigger story.
Essay over. Good night - I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts.
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