In mid-October, 30 women met at Murray Grove, the UU retreat site in Lanoka Harbor, New Jersey, to spend a weekend contemplating and seeking “the Goddess in Nature, finding the Divine within.”
The Facilitators Circle and our presenter, Sarah Campbell, gathered Thursday afternoon through Friday noon to set up the premises, to gather our thoughts, and prepare for the other participants.
As Friday afternoon wore on, women from all over the District trickled and then streamed in, bringing with them all sorts of experiences and baggage that helped shape their experiences.
Kathy Lawson (Montgomeryville, PA) says “It was wild and wacky, awesome and sombering. I met women whom I truly respected...a diversity of different types of personalities with a common thread...tolerance.”
Susan Eckert (Annapolis, MD) writes “This was my first JPD W & R retreat and I thought it was wonderful. The weekend provided a nice mix of creative, spiritual and social experiences. I hope to be at next year’s retreat!”
For Sherri Philpott (Harpers Ferry, WV), “the retreat is a time and space apart from my everyday life. A place of respite and renewal. A place to shed some immediate concerns, get centered, and perhaps re-assess where I am. This year's retreat reminded me how much I enjoy earth-based ritual. I was familiar with the teachings of Starhawk but had never participated in a ritual with people who were students of the Reclaiming tradition. I particularly liked the concept of "suspending disbelief" in order to be more fully present during a ritual. I can be as skeptical as any UU but I didn't necessarily have to "believe in" everything presented to me in order to enjoy the process.”
This retreat was Patricia White (Philadelphia)’s first experience of any kind of retreat, and she was also very new to her UU church. Much of her experience is typical for first-time retreaters: “I was new to the experience, and, in a way, am still assimilating it. Probably if you attend with a close friend or two, you can get more into the chemistry and dynamics of being in a group like that, and feeling a kinship.... rather than feeling, as I sometimes did, a bit awkward, and like a stranger.
Margaret Bakker (Shavertown, PA) another first-time JPD W&R retreater, wrote
“My experience has certainly been affected by my ongoing recovery from my sister's recent death ... so please take my critique, to the extent it is critique, in perspective. I needed downtime, quiet time, and I have been just plain sad. So I didn't really mix very well or feel myself. I therefore had a hard time making new friends or even interacting very well with others. For me, the non-verbal interaction was the best - beating on drums, walking, being outdoors, yoga, drawing. And I'm a quiet person generally so those are always my favorite activities. Sharing our drawings and shrine boxes in silence made me smile. It gave an insight into a deeper part of people and I found that very interesting.
Alix Berenzy (Germantown), designer of the retreat flyer, writes “The ceremonies that Sarah Campbell and Beth Weaver-Kreider designed were very moving and well-done… by doing them women are really getting in touch with their power again –after all these centuries—and with the Earth. I especially loved the little turtle who appeared at the beginning of the retreat under a pine tree where we did ceremony. She stayed the weekend there and then disappeared back into the woods. I felt the turtle, representing the Earth, gave her blessing to what we were doing.”
Randa Todd (Harrisburg, PA), convenor of the JPD W & R, writes “Two thousand eight has been a hard financial year for me, and many others. ….., I thought there was no way I could attend the Women and Religion fall Retreat. I have been attending regularly for 8 or 9 years. I know that I always feel much more a part of the bigger congregation of UU women when I make time for the retreat. I feel refreshed and invigorated after sharing 3 days with wonderful UU women. …
The flyer was beautiful and enticing. How could I not attend? The topic was interesting. How could I attend? I was mulling this over and over and over. Behind my back my friends conspired to surprise me by making sure I could attend the Retreat. What a wonderful gift. The Retreat turned out to be much more wonderful than I could have imagined.
Presenters Sarah Campbell and Beth Kreider-Weaver were down to earth, and knowledgeable. They were very good at presenting information that I had been exposed to before, but in a way that spoke to me as never before. I felt a real connection to the Earth-centered Religion, that Sarah and Beth live and shared with us.
I came away with a new-found respect for Earth-based Religion. I reconnected with friends from other UU congregations, made new friends, came away refreshed, renewed relaxed, re-energized and ready to meet the challenges in my home and church life.
I hope to see you next year when the retreat will be exploring music…
Murray Grove has a stone-outlined labyrinth under a grove of trees, but the summer season’s use, time, and the weather had covered it with leaves and moved stones into walk ways. A number of retreat participants took time to restore the labyrinth to really usable condition. The weather was quite chilly for our labyrinth walk, but, smudged at the entrance by leaders Sarah and Beth, we walked and sang and meditated with each step.
A joyful feature of the weekend was the campfire on Saturday evening, with songs and laughter filling the chilly autumn night. We had drums, rhythm instruments, a guitar (thank you! Patricia White and Anne Mason), and many beautiful voices.
Totally apart from the spiritual nature of the retreat was something that has become a traditional part of every retreat, no matter what the weekend’s focus. Nuala Carpenter (St Davids, PA) writes: “A visitor to our retreat would have noticed that from time to time participants scuttled over to some tables at the back of the dining room. What were they doing ? Probably engaging in a bidding war for an item in our silent auction.
We had a wonderful array of items, some hand made by participants (pottery, hand forged jewelry, a CD of songs, to name a few), others were lightly use items seeking a new home such as a pair of nearly new sneakers (size 8), books, scarves, a small pin cushion (which sparked a ferocious biding war,) and more jewelry. The proceeds from the auction, over $300, was donated to Unitarian Universalist Women & Religion which is dedicated to freeing ourselves, others, and the Earth from traditional, historical, and contemporary oppressive and patriarchal systems. To learn more about this group go to their web site: www.UUWR.org “.
Anne Slater 12/13/08