GREEN BAY — When Jody Engebos served as youth minister at St. John the Baptist Parish in Howard, she promoted Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) by promising that the three-day gathering would produce lasting memories.
“I liked to say to the kids, ‘This is a weekend that you will never forget. In 30 years, you will still remember your TEC weekend,’” said Engebos.
Those memories go back 40 years for many. Anchor of Hope, the diocese’s TEC chapter, will mark four decades with an anniversary Mass and potluck on Sunday, Nov. 4, at St. Joseph Church in Green Bay (see box for more details). The first TEC weekend in the Diocese of Green Bay was held June 10-12, 1978, at St. John the Baptist Church in Howard.
Deacon Nick Williams was part of TEC in the diocese from the beginning. He explained that Oblate Fr. Martin Machovec, who came to St. John the Baptist as an associate pastor (parochial vicar) on Thanksgiving weekend of 1977, was involved in TEC in Minnesota.
“We had nothing for youth to speak of at that time,” said Deacon Williams. “(Fr. Machovec) asked a group of us to be a part of it. He sent a whole bunch of us to Minnesota beginning in January of 1978. I was a part of the second group to go to St. Mary’s in Minnesota to learn about it.”
TEC is based on the Paschal Mystery. Participants die to self on the first day. The second day focuses on rising and the third on going forth. The weekends include daily Mass, adoration, reconciliation, 10 meditations (talks), Stations of the Cross, music and praise, and worship. When TEC started in the diocese, they were held from Saturday to Monday.
“We had a couple at St. John’s and then we were searching,” said Deacon Williams. “We had trouble getting a Catholic school because they had school on Mondays.”
TEC moved around to numerous parishes in the diocese and retreats were even held at the former Norwood Elementary School in Green Bay. There was so much interest that TEC20A and TEC20B were held in consecutive weeks.
“We were having one almost every month, a minimum of eight a year,” said Deacon Williams. “It was a very successful program. It came at an ideal time in the church. We had Cursillo for men and women. Everything started off of Cursillo. Fr. Matt Fedewa recognized that we needed something for the youth, so TEC was started in 1965 in Battle Creek, Mich. It spread throughout the Midwest. Fr. Matt came to Green Bay a couple times.”
Following TEC in the Green Bay area, Valley TEC started at Mount Tabor Center in Menasha to serve young people in the Fox Valley. Rosemarie Peterson, a member of the anniversary committee from Annunciation Parish, Green Bay, explained that Anchor of Hope and Valley TEC merged in 1988. TEC weekends are identified by number, so the Anchor of Hope and Valley numbers were added together. The first weekend following the merger was TEC 120.
The next TEC, 275, will be held Dec. 28-30 in the Faith Formation Center at St. Joseph Church, Green Bay. TEC is open to anyone grade 11 and older. Ideally, groups will be two-thirds youth and one-third adults.
“Each candidate gets the (Anchor of Hope) symbol and a cross with the TEC number on it,” explained Peterson. Participants also receive a T-shirt and a Bible. The weekends were moved to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to accommodate schedules. Global Outreach exchange students have regularly taken part in TEC weekends and some confirmation programs require it.
“Die day is like Good Friday,” said Sally Ronsman, who has been involved with TEC for 33 years. “You can’t move on to Holy Saturday unless you have Good Friday.
“The first talk of the weekend is called ‘Ideals,’ given by a young person, likely in high school or college,” she added. “They talk about their ideals and don’t mention God at all. Each mediation builds on the previous one.”
“There are some people who want to leave on Friday,” said Nancy Malcore of St. Francis and St. Mary Parish, Brussels. “It’s a deep experience. Those who haven’t died to Christ yet still have that opportunity all weekend long. Fridays are hard, but when these kids wake up Saturday morning, and you are banging pots and pans to wake them up and telling them to rejoice, these kids get rejoiced. It’s like a renewal.”
Ronsman, who met her husband, Gary, at her first TEC in 1985, said that the weekend is “more than praying. They have a lot of fun.”
“There are skits and games, a lot of singing, whether you are good or bad, and a lot of humor,” said Engebos, president of the Anchor of Hope board.
Green Bay has also hosted three national TEC conferences in its 40-year history. Reflecting on TEC’s success in the diocese, credit goes to both the team that directs the weekends and the team that cooks, cleans and prays during the three days. Dale and Rose Ronsman have been a part of Anchor of Hope for 39 of the 40 years. Bob and Josie Kazenbach and Kevin Smits are also among those who have been “the backbone” of the program, said Deacon Williams.
“I think Rose Ronsman has made soup for every TEC,” added Deacon Williams. “She does our grocery shopping and is so good with coupons. She has saved us a lot of money.”
“(Dale and Rose) have become family to so many,” said Sally, their daughter-in-law. “They get invited to so many graduation parties and so many weddings from TEC. At their old house, they had a table with a glass top on it and there were pictures underneath the glass of TEC people.”
Looking over the TEC group photos from over the years, several of the faces are now involved in ministry, including some who have answered the call to the priesthood.
“Fr. Mack (Machovec) stressed that TEC is not your goal,” said Deacon Williams. “To be more involved in your parish is your goal. We’ve seen people become more involved in the church because of their TEC experience.”