Being a young adult is hard. You can do all the right things: join a parish, sign up for recreation league sports, make friends with your coworkers, but it’s so wildly different than anything in your life up to this point. In the summer of 2014 I was in what one might call a young adult funk. The funkiest of funks, in fact. I had just finished graduate school. I had just finished my second year of teaching. Then a dear friend from undergrad invited me to the Encounter Milwaukee young adult conference. In high school, I attended the National Catholic Youth Conference twice. In college, I attended the FOCUS National Conference. You could say I was a bit of a Catholic conference junkie. Naturally, I registered for Encounter immediately.
Having been to Catholic conferences before, I had a rough idea of what to expect at Encounter: some praise and worship music, some keynote talks, some breakout sessions…the usual. What I wasn’t expecting was my world to be absolutely rocked. As a post-college young adult I was doing okay. I had a roommate who was great for brunch and seeing a new movie in the theaters. I even enjoyed the occasional social outing with my coworkers, including the weekly Friday post-work happy hour. However, I didn’t have a group of friends with whom to share my faith. The vibrant faith community in college that helped me fall deeper in love with the Lord was a distant memory, and I hadn’t found anything even remotely resembling it as a post-college young adult. The Lord knew what I was seeking when I came to Encounter. He knew what I needed.
As the great Fr. John Burns has said, “Vacations are good. Just like we need R&R from our daily lives, so too do we need time to retreat and renew our faith lives.” Encounter is the jolt that we all need, especially as young adults. I attended two Encounter conferences, in 2014 and 2015, I served as an assistant conference director last year, and I am serving as a team lead this year. My experience with Encounter has varied each time hearing different speakers, attending with different friends, and seeing it from various perspectives, but one thing has always been true, the Lord has spoken straight into my heart each time.
Throughout the day at Encounter our hearts are being prepared. We gather with young adults from all over the Midwest rife with anticipation. We sing and praise together with the house band. We hear messages meant to inspire, to strengthen, to equip, and to challenge. We worship together with Mass. The culmination of our day leads us to one incredibly moving hour of time with Jesus Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. We pray. We praise. The presider brings Jesus through the crowd for us to encounter Him face to face. That is the moment. It is one thing to know about Jesus, but it is an entirely different thing to know Jesus. At Encounter, we come to know Jesus through stories and testimonies, through new friendships with others, through prayer and praise, and in meeting the person of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
Encounter is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I wouldn’t be in this job with these friends in this city if I hadn’t made the choice to attend back in 2014. We all need time of renewal, time to withdraw from our daily lives to meet the Lord and come away refreshed. Who knows, maybe Encounter will change your life? That’s what it did for me.