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"The mustard seed, which indeed is smaller than all seeds but, when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches."


The process is the same for all year groups in so far as it works; large groups, smaller group large groups. The purpose of this methodology is to ensure a sense of safety in a limited openness. To explore the theme with them, as identified in the group and follow that with proper closure which avoids the student going home in a vulnerable or emotionally charged state. All of this needs also to be in an atmosphere of fun and trust. The method is a development on the Psycho-social method (Training for transformation; Paulo Freire)

Session One - Others:

Aims to establish a trust and allows the team to assess and to interact with the existing group dynamic. In some cases it is necessary to challenge that dynamic in order to progress the day. This can lead to working through a problem with the group and in that event the second session can be squeezed to a shorter timeframe.

The tools used fall broadly into the remit of icebreakers but they serve a much more important function in seeing the underlying group processes. (This acts as a codification of their experience) The session is usually drawn together through a story and or contemporary song that reflects appropriately the theme as identified. In older groups, especially on a 2-day retreat we will spend longer in the large groups using Affirmation cards and sometimes the ‘Invisible friend’ concept where the student is asked to be an invisible friend for the 2 days to someone. (The identity of the invisible friend is disclosed in the final session day 2.)

Session Two - Self:

This session varies from year to year to try to take account of their development. Other meaningful issues are also addressed as they arise. We always try to address the group based on their experience and how they present themselves on the day. So while the outlines below are good examples, every group is different and every group will be dealt with as individuals. What they present, not what we expect is the key thing.  

Often (though by no means exclusively!)  the themes that arise include:

Change, getting to know one another, trust and a small focus on the future, being together for up to 3 years and having to live with the tensions that that brings. How faith or spirituality might help with the interpersonal tensions. How students have changed since beginning first year. This is usually done through a worksheet followed by open forum discussion around the issues that arise from their input.
With this session, we typically base it around asking the group about their life experience so far, and how this ties in to their beliefs. Topics that come up are often based around their relationships, with friends, family and the people they are with in school. It often leads to them talking about things like peer pressure, or bullying. Rules and restrictions at school are regularly mentioned; why are the rules there, what would it be like if they weren’t there. As with any group, the group's answers will determine the type of discussion that happens.
What are my values where do they come from? What do I believe in? Why what do I not believe in? Again similar methods will be used as in other years, depending on their willingness to be involved. Sometimes the unwillingness to be part of the process can lead us into a discussion of image and what others think of us and why we are concerned. This often progresses to the issue of self esteem, and where they see that coming from, and what builds us up and what tears us down. This in turns leads towards friendship, what they perceive as important in a friend, and how does that relate to the people in their year. We may also address again how they now relate to church and God. Often by now there is a differentiation between the two. The issue of authority and freedom control and choices will often recur. Questions and issues between 2nd and 3rd years often overlap so what applies for 2nd years may recur anywhere up the years.
This is another group who have to establish a trust level and often it can be as simple as that. Bonding and connection has usually begun and the retreat day is a deepening of that. On the other hand there can be cliques which are outstanding from younger years so they may also be addressed. Tools such as the book of questions or Photospeak are used here and throughout the senior cycle programme to begin discussions. The questions if followed down the natural tangents identify the generative theme of the group. It asks them to make a small disclosure in regard to their attitude on numerous issues and so agreements as to the moral value or lack thereof come through. All are put into the light of Christian values (or the values held true by their own traditions) and the question always arises, is this the best way to behave? Is this the way to behave which bests serves the greater good in the world?
There is always the issue of bonding as with 4th years, and the interaction between former 3rd and 4th years almost always arises. The difference between how boys and girls deal with these differences is an area of great discussion and why this difference exists and how the different genders deal with things is often generative here. Again Photospeak or the book of questions are relevant resources. Where Photospeak is used the question is find a picture, which reflects something about you or something you, would like to see in yourself. Or find a picture to which you respond emotionally (Love, hate, fear, etc) and talk about why. This is also the first time we begin to look at the future What is the basis for my future plans what values am now operating from where does faith or spirituality or religion fit into all that?
Here is where we focus on the adult person. The focus becomes very much where they see themselves as they move forward from their school lives, a time and place where so much of what they do is organised for them, including faith formation. We will be focussing on their dreams and what they are doing to make the dreams a reality. Hopes and fears are part of this and also endings because they are reaching the end of their school career. The Key question is will they keep their faith after they leave home? how will they take responsibility for what they believe and how that is developed once they move on.

Session Three - God:

Final session is always based in meditation allowing them to foster their relationship with God. It concludes with a paraliturgical input from us to help them understand the meditation an identification of the parallels in the process to the mass an explanation of our symbolic centrepiece and sometimes affirmation cards if they haven’t been used before. We try to get and give some feedback from them and us. We always conclude with a thought-provoking poem.

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