In May, 14 students from Texas Lutheran University (TLU) in Seguin went to Holden Village, a remote retreat, learning and worship center nestled in the Cascade Mountains near Chelan, Wash.

They went for 12 days as part of a class called “Holden Village: Faith, Service and Social Change.” The students were accompanied by university staff—Carl Hughes, a theology professor; Morgan Klaser, director of the Center for Servant Leadership; and Judy Hoffmann, a social entrepreneurship professor.

One-third of the students were theology majors, one-third were social entrepreneurship majors and the others were seeking a spiritual experience.

The last time TLU students went to Holden was three decades ago with the late Evelyn Fiedler Streng, a geography and natural science professor who retired in 1988. Hughes wanted to rekindle the university’s connection to Holden that Streng had fostered. “It’s a gift of our Lutheran tradition that we’ve inherited,” he said. “It’s something we should become part of and open to the wider world.”

Most visitors go to Holden Village, a Lutheran Outdoor Ministry, to get off the grid and grow closer to God. A former mining village, Holden is only accessible by boat and hiking trails. There is no TV, internet or phone access, which is a testament to how people can live and work in community.

“The students were able to connect with a place that holds such a strong heart for Lutherans, and see how Holden functions and the lessons they can learn from that,” Klaser said. “It was a transformational experience in learning about themselves and others—and seeing how a community can function.”

Hughes added, “We never really follow Jesus by ourselves or follow God alone. It’s never a solitary experience. It’s about being part of a larger community.”

Kaitlyn Steele, a junior, was unsure about the trip at first. “I thought, ‘What could I learn here that I can’t get in church on Sunday?’ The answer is that everything is totally different,” she said. “After visiting Holden Village, you will see things in a new light and truly feel like a new person. My trip to Holden Village will be one I never forget.”

Holden holds a lot of Lutheran history. The old mining village was given to the Lutheran Bible Institute in Seattle in the 1950s. Today, Holden’s mission is “to welcome all people into the wilderness to be called, equipped and sent by God as we share rhythms of word and sacrament; work, recreation and study; intercession and healing.”

The village relies on volunteers to take care of many of its operations, which contributes to the sense of community that is formed there. Holden has a philosophy about food and meals that connects to this notion of community, saying, in part, that the acts of cooking and eating demonstrate complex and interconnected choices and values “that form and re-form our relationships with ourselves, with one another, with the earth, and with the sacred thread that runs through it all.”

TLU students learned about this philosophy and Holden’s concept of community as they worked afternoons in the kitchen and garden, and while doing household chores.

After suppers, students attended vespers. Klaser said this made the TLU group feel connected to the village community. “Vespers was very opening and welcoming,” she said. “Not all students were affiliated with the Lutheran religion. Some were Christian and some weren’t religious at all. Vespers was a time to center, reflect and connect with your spirituality. It was good for our students to grow in their faith.

“The experience of going and being at Holden Village really shows our students how TLU’s mission is in action. It opens their eyes to how an ideal society really is.”

After vespers, students had time to hike and explore, make crafts, bowl, play pool or cards, converse, read, reflect and write in their journals.

“The value of silence is something I appreciated there,” Hughes said. “You feel God’s presence in silence instead of in the words we use.”

The trip underscored the importance of living out faith in community, he said, adding, “Students liked to have space away from school. It gave them a chance to think about what they want to do after TLU and about vocational discernment.”

Senior Elizabeth Miller agreed: “You got out of your comfort zone because you [got] to talk to people face-to-face and get out from behind your technology screen.”

Steele said she experienced a different kind of spiritual feeling on the trip: “Hiking in the mountains, learning to throw pottery and just sitting quietly alone were the gentle reminders I needed that faith isn’t just what you do Sunday mornings and that God isn’t confined to church walls. His glory is everywhere and in everyone.”

TLU is planning another trip to Holden for the 2020 spring semester, Hughes said. English professor Lauren Shook is offering a class called “Dining with Shakespeare,” focusing on food scarcity in 16th-century Europe. The students will go to Holden to learn and reflect on food insecurity, an issue important to the ELCA.

Wendy Healy
Healy is a freelance writer and member of Trinity Lutheran Church, N.Y. She served as communications director for Lutheran Disaster Response of New York following the 9/11 attacks.

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