that what the Lord wanted was to take evangelization very seriously. A parish that
just provides Mass and confessions and has no vision is a parish that is dying. We
are seeing tremendous problems in our Western civilization, a breakdown of values
and a common vision for living. Our culture is at a crisis point, and the big
question is whether the Church will step up and show the way. I have always
believed that the heart of evangelization is building a relationship with Jesus and
with one another. The adult retreats have really sparked this aspect of
evangelization. Whether through the talks, the times of prayer, confessions,
adoration on the retreat, the Lord reveals Himself over and over to those who
come. I think this is also true of ourselves, the staff. When the staff and I started
to plan the retreats a little over 3 years ago, we hoped that those who would come
could experience the power of transformation and encouragement in the Lord. But
the truth is, the whole staff has also experienced this. I think some people have
this false notion that “church people” have it all together and don’t need to grow.
How wrong they are…. Over and over again, God’s goodness and love manifests
Himself to me and everyone. God meet us wherever we’re at and invites us to take
the next step in our lives with Him.
We originally thought of the adult retreats as an opportunity for adults to experience what our high school and college kids have been experiencing at the Steubenville Youth Conferences. This meant taking the powerful experiences of Adoration and prayer that have become the norm in our youth ministry program and providing them for adults in the parish. While those experiences have been powerful for everyone who’s attended, the most meaningful part to me has been the community that’s slowly been building. Over the past three and a half years we have now had six retreats and all have been very successful! Just over 80 parishioners have attended a weekend retreat at least once, and we’re averaging around 25 participants for each retreat weekend!
Our adult retreats have been something that has helped me tremendously since I started working here. I remember driving around and visiting retreat centers with a newborn just shortly after I was hired. I was so nervous leading that first retreat and speaking at it. In many ways I felt like I was thrown into this leadership role, but the Lord knew what he was doing and he was going to use these retreats as a way to build up my confidence as a leader. With each passing retreat I’ve been able to see how the Lord is working in the lives of those who attend, but also on an individual level. Instead of being nervous going into the retreats, I can’t wait to see what the Lord has planned. I’ve learned to set aside my nervousness and to really rely on the Holy Spirit to guide me during the retreats and it’s been such a blessing to lead our adults to encounter the Lord in a new and powerful way.
Retreats have been a regular part of my spiritual life since I attended my first Steubenville youth conference in high school. They give me a chance to quiet my mind and heart and really listen to what the Lord wants to say to me in my life, and speak he does, without fail. I’ve attended all of the adult retreats except one, and even though I come as a leader and not a participant, God always shows up for me personally. It’s been really cool to see how the Holy Spirit has gently pulled my out of my comfort zone. Where not too long ago I was pretty terrified to lead a prayer team, this past retreat the Holy Spirit not only gave me the courage to step out in faith but also worked through my efforts, no matter how imperfect they were, in powerful ways. While I truly expect the Lord to show up, I still leave every retreat surprised and excited about what God is doing in my life and the lives of all who attended.
Since my freshman year of high school, I've been able to have 2 retreats built into my yearly schedule: The fall High School Retreat and Steubenville in June. These retreats were such important touchstones for my faith life; they gave me a chance to step back twice a year and evaluate my life and relationship with the Lord. As a result, I was so excited when Adam and Andrea started to brainstorm plans for an adult retreat. For me, there was always a tangible feeling of relief and peace whenever I stepped foot in the high school retreat facilities, whether at Greenville or our newer location in Rockford. It's not unlike that feeling when you get to the cottage in the summer for a weekend vacation, but with the added element of being there particularly to grow in relationship with the Lord. I was incredibly excited that people like my parents would have the opportunity to have that same experience. After a few years of adult retreats, I can say that these weekends have their own atmosphere, unique from the high school retreat or anything else we do. There's the key elements of separation from everyday life, but there's also a unique experience in seeing people from our community come together. Adulthood can be isolating sometimes with all of our separate jobs and family lives, and I think one of the greatest blessings that has come from this retreat is the community we're building. Whether people are coming for the first or sixth time, new relationships forged and each retreat is a new experience.
Since we started the adult retreats, I have felt that they were something special that everyone in the parish should experience. The first one that I was at I was still in college, and I ended up leading a small group. I remember gathering with all of these fantastic women who were older than me, probably more experienced in life and I was so intimidated! I couldn’t think of anything else but “Why would they listen to anything I said?!?!” But as we started talking and discussing where everyone was and how every person was experiencing the retreat, I really felt the Lord showing us how much he loved our community and how much He wanted to touch every single person there. It was an extremely powerful weekend, and honestly since then I feel like they have only gotten more and more exciting! Before every one of them I enter the weekend knowing that not only will I be refreshed and renewed, but the Lord will show up to people in a way they may have never experienced before and that is something special to be apart of.