Milestones like these always inspire me to reflect on the journey we’ve been on. I can remember discussing the idea of a retreat with our staff for a couple of years before we finally decided to have one. At one point we had even scheduled and advertised one, but had to cancel as complications came up. I ran the idea by a few other people in the diocese that worked in adult evangelization, but no one really sounded very excited about it. But, retreats have been such an important part of our youth ministry and young adult programs, that our rationale on the parish staff has always been that it only made sense they would have a big impact on our adult ministry.
Our goals for our first retreat in September of 2015 were quite simple. We wanted people to have an opportunity to encounter Jesus similar to how the youth does at Steubenville: through a powerful time of Adoration. We also wanted our parishioners to have an opportunity to grow closer, while building on a sense of community in our church. And lastly, we hoped that by putting the retreat on, our Evangelization Team of parish staff members would be able to build trust with parishioners, so they would feel comfortable coming to us as they had questions and grew in their relationship with the Lord.
Looking back, I can see many ways that these goals have been met. A common response on our survey after the retreat is how powerful the time of prayer and Adoration was. Most people leave there with a renewed sense of their relationship with God and a desire to pray more. A lot of people just feel different in ways that they sometimes aren’t even able to describe. We have seen small groups develop from these retreats, a lot of times because people enjoyed their small group discussions so much that they wanted to try and keep that going in their regular life. It’s also been quite common for people on the retreat to contact staff afterwards for advice or to pray together to see where the Lord might be asking them to go next.
As I continue to reflect on all of our retreats, the first one still holds a special place in my heart. The excitement of doing something completely new and seeing people experience it for the first time was very cool. I remember one couple mentioning how the husband had been on many men’s retreats before but this was the first time that he was able to go one a retreat with his wife and how special that was for them to be able to share an experience like that together. The highlight of the weekend to me was being in a small group with other men in the parish, some that I knew well beforehand and some that I didn’t. The journey that we went on during the retreat was pretty incredible as we shared what brought us there and how the Lord worked throughout the weekend. My relationship with all of those guys has been different ever since. There’s just a deeper relationship now when we see each other at Mass than in the past where we probably wouldn’t have even noticed one another.
In addition to completing our fifth year of retreats, another milestone that we crossed in February is that we have now had over 100 parishioners attend the weekend at least once! Just over half of those people have come back again. One person has even been on all nine of the retreats! Interestingly enough she was also the person who told us back when we first pitched the idea that we would never get people to give up a whole weekend for a retreat! God definitely has a sense of humor with these things!
Looking ahead I hope that these weekends will continue to be a blessing to our parish. If you have never thought about coming on a retreat before, or if you just think it’s for “other people”, I encourage you to take it to prayer and consider attending our 10th retreat on September 25th to the 27th. At our last retreat a few people mentioned how they didn’t really want to “give up a whole weekend” when they thought about whether they wanted to attend. I challenged them to think about what God might give them as opposed to what they were missing out on.
We all have stuff weighing on us. Often, those things are outside of our control. What if the Lord changed something inside of us so that we were better able to respond to the challenges in our lives? Or what if he gave us a gift that helped us to relate to someone in our life differently? These are things that can and do happen when we give our time to the Lord, especially when we take steps outside of our comfort zone or try things that we never thought we would have before. The bigger the risk we take the bigger the reward that the Lord often gives us. So, whether you have been on a retreat before, whether you’ve had a bad experience on a retreat before, or whether you’re not a “retreat person” and have never been on one before, I encourage you to take this to prayer and consider if the Lord might be calling you to join us in the future. Who knows, maybe you’ll be a part of the story of our next five years!