The spiritual retreat that changes lives

On Friday, January 9th through Sunday, January 11, WPAUMC (Western Pennsylvania United Methodist Church) held their annual conference and retreat, dubbed SPARK (Seek & Prepare A Renewed Kingdom) at the Sheraton Hotel in Station Square, Pittsburgh. A good amount of Latrobe’s students attended the event, including; Rachael Blissman, Michelle Kondrich, Lara Daigle, Abbey Ford, Laurel Sipe, Abby Whitehead, McKenna Martinosky, Tyler Bryant, Kayla Murphy, Emily Miller, Alex Hoffman, Kara Lehman, Dave Ross, Josh Kennedy, Zach Malone and Jenna Irons.


The weekend was filled with multiple sessions with prayer and worship from bishops and pastors. The whole event was hosted by two students who were a part of the leadership team. Laurel Sipe and ALex Hoffman of GLHS also happened to be YMT (Youth Ministry Leaders). Laurel and Alex got to stay at the Sheraton a few days in advance to prepare events and activities for the students on the awaiting weekend.

Alex Hoffman’s mother, Renaye Hoffman, is actually the woman in charge of the entire conference and the person responsible for making it all happen. Without her, nothing would come together and SPARK would not be the amazing and life changing experience it is today.

Throughout the weekend, students got the opportunity to listen to motivational and spiritual speaker, Reggie Dabbs. Dabbs is a southern african american preacher from Florida who has the funniest jokes, uplifting and clever scripture, and the unusual ability to play the sax. Dabbs opened all of his sermons with songs like “Just The Way You Are – Bruno Mars” “Bless The Broken Road – Rascal Flatts” “Treasure – Bruno Mars” and “Problem – Iggy Azalea”. Though Dabbs was a talented sax player, it wasn’t just his music that made people love him, it was his ability to change everything for everyone in the room. Dabbs gave a sermon that changed over 300 peoples lives, he introduced some to Christ for the first time, and recommitted many to following Jesus. Dabbs gave refreshing sermons that brought many to tears with his stories of miracles. Dabbs was a realist, and he talked about how bad things do happen, but God has a plan for why they do and he works in weird ways, but out of everything bad, God has something good planned. “Reggie Dabbs was amazing, he really brought it to SPARK, he could’ve been the entire show, the music, the comedy, and the incredibly moving speaker,” said Junior, Laurel Sipe.

The band that entertained with music for the weekend was the loved Rush of Fools, a christian contemporary band with so-called attractive members. The band consists of Wes Willis (lead vocals), Kevin Hugely (guitar, vocals), Patrick Sweeney (guitar, vocals), Jacob Chesnut (bass), and Jamie Sharpe (drums). They were formed in 2005, and are from Birmingham, Alabama. The band had everyone up on their feet and dancing close to the stage, teaching everyone new lyrics and setting an uplifting tone for all, with songs that had the ability to move mountains. Rush of Fools rocked at SPARK, and this being their second year, everyone wants them back for a third. “Rush of Fools is an amazing band! They infuse their passion for Christ through their music,” said Junior, Michelle Kondrich.

There was also a comedian who had everyone laughing as well as breakout sessions with more specific topics of discussion for the students and adults to sit in on. The days were jam-packed, starting at 7:30 AM with breakfast and ending at 11:00 PM with the end of a session. After that, students had the option of Karaoke, Dodgeball, Gaga Ball, and blanket making for charity; all 75 blankets were given to younger patients at Children’s Hospital, Pittsburgh. On top of that, a photo booth with some creative costume materials, they also had a prayer room that was open to anyone, it was decorated with black light and before students went in, they had a word written on their arm to show what the lord would be helping them with in the near future. The words were written in highlighter and weren’t visible in daylight, but in the darklight, the words glowed on all the students arms, making for some creative pictures.

In the free time given, lots of groups of students went out to eat at places like Hard Rock Cafe, Noodles and Company, Joe’s Crab Shack, and The Melting Pot. Some went figure skating, took the incline up to Mt. Washington, walked around Station Square, and visited the shops at the shopping centre.

Overall, SPARK is a phenomenal experience for all. Every student who has attended speaks of it as one of the best weekends of their life.

The Voices of SPARK:

“SPARK is a great experience for everyone, once you have gone you always want to return!” – Michelle Kondrich

“SPARK is an amazing way to grow closer to God, but at the same time, connect with other Christians and have a blast in Pittsburgh.” – Abbey Ford

“As always, SPARK this year was an amazing experience, from getting to worship with Rush of Fools to hearing Reggie speak, I feel that it provides a unique oppertunity to fellowship with other Christians and grow closer to Christ. – Emily Miller

“It’s such a fun weekend with really good music, and really great people. It’s always fun to see what SPARK has in store each year, it seems like it just keeps getting better and better.” – Mckenna Martinosky