I've got some traveling to do next week. I have been attending the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in Anahiem on and off for the past decade (this will be the fourth year in a row). As I did last year, i will be making a week of it, speinding the early portion of next week on retreat at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, then driving down the coast to Anaheim on Thursday. (My posts from last year are here, here and here.)
If you are not familiar with it already, the RE Congress is probably the largest regularly scheduled gathering of Catholics in North America. It is held at the Anaheim Convention Center across the street from Disneyland. Thursday is Youth Day, which attracts around 15,000 high school age kids, and Friday through Sunday is the Congress itself which is attended by anywhere from 15 to 20 thousand teachers, catechists, musicians and other Catholics in ministry from all over the country. There are dozens of conference sessions each day with Masses and other events in the evenings. Some of my closest friendships in the Church began over dinner at Congress. This year several members of our New Wine group are going for the first time, so in collaboration with others, I put together a Dozen Handy Tips for Surviving Anaheim.
- Dress for comfort – there is nothing formal about RE Congress. Good shoes and socks are a must. Think of it as going on a day hike with ten thousand of your closest friends.
- Get there the night before (Thursday) – and if possible the afternoon before. Try to avoid crossing downtown LA between 3 and 7 pm. Driving time from Merced is about 5 and a half hours – and that is if things go just right without stops.
- Remember to take your entire registration packet (just leave things in the envelope). Get there Thursday evening between 7 and 8:30 or early Friday to avoid lines when picking up your book and nametag holder. Once you have your book, keep track of it as it has most of the information you need, and the text of the Arena liturgies. Stick your tickets behind your nametag holder so you will have them when you need them.
- Bring a pack or something you are comfortable lugging all day – a shoulder strap to take the weight can be a life saver. There are no lockers, coat or bag check.
- Pack a lunch – especially if you have (as I do) special dietary needs. You can save money, time, and aggravation by bringing your own lunch with you each day. There are food vendors around, and both the supply and quality improves each year, but the prices don’t. And you avoid the lines.
- Take everything you need and nothing else. Pack that lunch, a small bottle of water (there is ice water in each conference room), medicines and anything else you need to have during the day. Don’t plan to return to your room unless your hotel is very close indeed. Leave room for your jacket or sweater( as it can get warm in some areas) and, of course, room for any purchases you plan to make. Also, some conference sessions and all liturgies tend to be crowded, so you don’t want too much stuff in the way – it may all end up on your lap.
- Lose the car. Either walk from your hotel or take the Disney shuttle ($3 per day – check with your hotel) – parking at the convention center is $8 per day and can be a hassle.
- Shop early – Get your serious shopping and buying done on Friday – Saturday is a zoo in the vendor’s area and many are either bought out or have closed on Sunday.
- Plan ahead for evening Mass and dinner. Know where and when you will meet the other members of your group.
- Chill out. Find out where the Sacrament chapel or some other peaceful corner and make sure to get some quiet time in by yourself or with a small group of friends. And don’t feel like you have to go to everything – sometimes it’s better just to kick back and buy the tape later. Don’t forget that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is offered as well and sometimes there is nothing like confession to a priest you don’t know. The Chapel and Reconciliation are located next to each other on the second floor of the Convention Center.
- The Arena sessions are always open. Remember, you can always hang out at or near the Arena sessions (English – Main Arena, Spanish – Hall B), which can be a good place to meet up as well.
- Go where everyone else is not going – There is a “main drag” in the Convention Center from the Arena, through the vendor area in Hall A, past the main Hispanic workshop in Hall B to the first escalator in the main lobby of the newer portion of the Convention Center. Most of the workshops are in the second and third floors of this area. Most people just stay on this one beaten path and use the first escalator they come to – and the worst crowd scenes of Congress result. Sometimes it is easier just to walk around the outside of the center (there is a very nice walkway between the Hilton and the Convention Center just for this) and when you get to the lobby, go to the far end where there is another elevator that is not nearly as crowded. If you have mobility problems, there are elevators just for you..
Have fun, take it easy, and give the Holy Spirit some room to work in!We'll see how things go. I've known some people to try to criticze Congress on a number of levels. Over the past decade I've seen the RadTrads and Call to Action take turns picketing it -- which sounds about right. Anyone else going to Congress out there?