As the last day of Student Leadership week draws to a close and night falls on HoneyRock lake, nearly 300 Wheaton students cram into canoes. As they arrive in the middle of the lake, canoes awkwardly scrape against each other while gathering around a pontoon boat where the new chapel band team stands, ready to lead worship on the water.
As with most HoneyRock experiences, worshipping together in canoes is engaging, beautiful, intimate, spiritually formative and a little uncomfortable. HoneyRock is the one of few opportunities for Wheaton students to separate themselves from the stress of their everyday routines at Wheaton and step out of their comfort zones. This is especially true for the student leaders who will return to campus to train their staff and prepare for a year in service to the community.
HoneyRock was built to serve as both a college campus and a campsite where students and families of Wheaton College and other Christian communities can experience transformational discipleship.
According to Honey- Rock’s website, it is “a place apart, where people have a chance to get away from the distractions, noise and busyness of everyday life to a quiet place encompassed by God’s creation.” HoneyRock offers retreat spots for church groups, families, young kids and college students to engage more intentionally with each other and God through activities such as kayaking, canoeing, climbing rock walls and horseback riding.
Two weeks before the fall semester begins, incoming students arrive at HoneyRock for Passage. Passage is Wheaton’s optional student transition program. It invites students to engage in fellowship with other Wheaton students without the added distractions of technology and provides them with two course credit hours in CE 131: Introduction to Spiritual Formation.
New students enjoy a time of bonding with small, same-gender cabins while also completing coursework that helps ease them into rigorous Wheaton academics. New students spend a week in camaraderie with student leaders and professors, having small group discussions, solo times to commune with God, fun activities and sports and a community service day.
Passage wasn’t the only Wheaton organization that sent members to HoneyRock in the weeks leading up to the fall semester. Student leadership programs, which consist of different on-campus organizations, were also at the HoneyRock campus. Student leaders take their teams to HoneyRock for a week to help
them make connections with each other and establish a vision for their ministry during the upcoming year. Current Office of Christian Outreach (OCO) member Nate Wallace (‘18) talked about his third and fourth year at HoneyRock for RA staff team and the OCO staff team respectively, as helping him grow in his faith. He affirmed HoneyRock’s ability to provide a “break from the busyness of life [to allow you] to reflect on your own identity and just on a lot of the things that truly matter.”
RA Rose Wright (‘19) also participated in Student Leadership Week this year on the RA staff team. She connected her experience this year with her Passage experience, calling it “a family reunion with these people that I had never met before. It’s kinda a funny thing to say, but [HoneyRock] was just so welcoming and hospitable and exciting for me and getting out in the wilderness was something I’ve always loved to do, so that was really the start of my Wheaton family experience, which hasn’t ended.”
Many incoming freshmen, like Passage students Blake Andrews (‘22) from Missouri and Joey Robinson (‘22) from Illinois, first heard about Passage from current Wheaton students who participated in Passage before their first year at Wheaton. Robinson told the Record that his older siblings recommended Passage because it would allow him to experience spiritual growth and vulnerability. Passage provides students with an easy path to deepen involvement in the Wheaton College experience without the stress of beginning classes and settling into campus life. According to Wheaton’s website, Passage is second only to dorm life in its ability to provide students with meaningful and lasting friendships.
Andrews affirmed that the process of meeting new people is “one less thing I have to worry about once I get to school.” Passage student Carlson Chiles (‘22) from Georgia agreed. “I’ve loved, even though we haven’t stepped foot on campus, [that] there’s still a Wheaton community of guys in the cabin… you can already tell that these are guys that obviously care about each other and are looking out for each other and have a love for the Lord.” The physical and spiritual exercises that the students participate in together.
Passage student Edward Carrington (‘22) from Pennsylvania said that he specifically appreciates the outdoor group worship time at HoneyRock as a way to be involved with other students because “it’s different from your regular church setting… it’s outdoors and it’s a bit more involved.” The spiritual practices put in place at Passage prepare students to learn about the world in a Christian liberal arts context, and many freshmen are excited for their new learning opportunities. Passage student Marion Geary (‘22) said that she was “excited to have classes that incorporate the Bible and Christ.”
Another Passage benefit is the small size of cabins. Andrews noted that instead of being thrust into a huge group of people, students are able to be themselves in a smaller group of companions. He mentioned his cabin as being one of his favorite parts of the Passage program, as he and his seven other cabin mates have been able to share their lives with one another. “I’ve gotten to get really close to seven individuals, and even if it’s just seven people that I get close to throughout my entire experience at HoneyRock, it’s worth it for me,” he said.
Andrews believes that the community of his cabin will most likely follow him throughout his college career. “I know a lot of these people are going to be people that I keep in touch with well after HoneyRock and throughout my Wheaton experience.” He said the cabins serve to reinforce Passage’s purpose as a way to connect new students to each other, as well as to their current student mentors.
Passage leaders are often sophomores and juniors at Wheaton College, many of whom participated in Passage during their freshman year. As a former Passage leader, Wright met her best friend, roommate, and fellow RA during Passage.
Wallace, who in addition to working as a student leader was also a Passage leader two years ago, received lasting friendships as a Passage student and Passage leader. He said, “I was super excited to lead just because of my great experience at Passage [during my freshman year], and so just going into Passage as a leader … seemed very similar to being a student at Passage, except without any of the work and a whole lot more fun.”
Freshmen look up to their Passage leaders, and student mentors learn great leadership skills through guiding book discussions and activities. Chiles said, “When we’re doing debriefs or we’re doing discussion about the book that we read, [my Passage leader] does a great job of prodding us but not forcing false answers which is really nice.”
Wallace recalled some advice he gave the freshmen in his cabin that he had learned through the HoneyRock and Wheaton communities: “to be themselves, and God loves them for who they are, and there’s nothing that they can do to change that. When you’re coming into a new environment as a freshman into college, you have the ability to create someone new, someone you weren’t in high school.”
Wallace’s advice speaks to some common new student insecurities that are often confronted through the Passage experience. These fears range from fear of heights, such as reaching the top of a climbing wall as Wright noted, to fear of loneliness, failure and homesickness. Passage is specifically tailored to help freshmen bond through confronting their fears. Mu Kappa member and former
Passage student Lily Huang (‘21) recalled a specific moment of vulnerability and togetherness at Passage that changed her entrance experience. During an exercise where students wrote their fears on a slip of paper and listened to them read aloud anonymously, she realized that her “fear of not being good enough, [and] fear that Wheaton College [was] going to be so academically rigorous” were both shared struggles, and that common ground helped her to feel more comfortable with her peers and with her new stage of life. And that is what HoneyRock does: It allows people to prepare their hearts in a place apart to grow in community with each other and with God.