Happening! In all times and in all places

Every President’s Day and Labor Day weekend, teens from all across Tennessee come together for the influential weekend also known as Happening. These three days are packed with events to create transformative experiences in a loving and safe environment.

Happening rector (leader of the weekend), Sarah Kate Burchett, gives her final speech of the weekend. She shows the happeners how to re-enter society after going through the metamorphosis of Happening. (CINDY MCMILLION//USED WITH PERMISSION)

“When I attended Happening, I absolutely loved it,” Paxton Smythe (12) said. “Going into the weekend I truly had absolutely no idea what to expect, and I think that is what I loved most about it. My favorite part of Happening was either the Healing Service or just getting to help the Happeners have the best possible time throughout the weekend. ”

The Happening staff of the most recent retreat was mostly made up of college students and seniors, but typically college students do not play a part in the weekend. After the two-year break from Happening, the amount of returning happeners turned staff members was dwindling.
“[The hardest part was] probably just how understaffed we were and how many people were missing,” Virginia Pratt (12) said. “We had a lot of happeners this time so it was kind of hard with that ratio and it was adults as deacons besides me and Ella [Chipley]. The whole time crunch made it very hard to pull off.”
The same hard work from teenagers to push through this year’s Happening was also the kind of spirit that inspired its creation. The origins of the weekend go back to the mid-1970s. After seeing their parents go through a religious retreat for adults named Crusillo, a group of Texas teens decided to create a similar retreat for themselves. Through the 50 years, happeners have actually kept the events of the weekend a very large secret.

Dahlia Townley-Bakewell (11) reads an excerpt of the bible for the closing ceremony of Happening weekend #68. As a commemoration, the teens’ family attends the service to celebrate their time at Happening. ( CINDY MCMILLION//USED WITH PERMISSION)

“I heard about it a lot last year because my sister did Happening and they loved it,” Dahlia Townley-Bakewell (11) said. “It was a really great experience for them. They brought all the stuff home from it and they were keeping all these secrets about [Happening]. They would say ‘oh it’s so amazing’ but wouldn’t tell me anything about it. I understand why now.”
While the secrecy makes for an intriguing weekend, the view from the outside can seem a bit too secretive. The lack of details combined with the stigma of Christianity can sometimes make Happening seem like a cult.
“[Happening] sounds way scarier than it actually is,” Pratt said. “Religion can be very intimidating. I have always been somebody who has been kinda private about just my spirituality. Mostly because I was raised episcopal and when I tell people that, they are shocked. I personally do not like using labels but I feel like you can participate in something like that and not necessarily want to call it anything. Being religious feels like this whole thing that you have to dedicate yourself to and really focus on but it doesn’t have to be.”

Even though some people get a cult impression, Happening can create lasting experiences for so many young people. The secrecy creates a trusting energy that allows happeners to follow eagerly into the weekend. The teens involved cultivate lasting friendships in those short three days.
“I would say my experience going through Happening was absolutely amazing,” Smythe said. “It definitely opened my eyes to the amount of love that can be felt… I think religion has allowed me to grow closer to the people I love. I would not be this close to some of my best friends if it were not for religion.”