How to organize your retreat

The date is usually the first point considered when planning a staff retreat day or overnight. Retreat centers generally have greater availability on weekdays than they do on weekends. Do you consider your retreat to be preparation for a new program year? If you have many staff changes or a new pastor in early summer, might that be a good time for some spiritual re-grounding? Perhaps a school staff needs a spiritual break in midwinter when energies tend to be depleted and challenges abound. Will you have only one retreat day the whole year, or can you schedule them more regularly: twice a year or quarterly? We recommend that retreats be a regular part of your yearly calendaring, so they don’t get lost in the busyness of parish or school life. Without advance planning you may be disappointed in your attempts to secure your desired location and speaker.

What spiritual topic might be most beneficial for the growth of your staff at this time? The speakers in this resource guide offer a plethora of intriguing topics ranging from Catholic moral theology, to saints and mystics, scripture, and developing a personal relationship with Jesus. What are the needs of your staff? What knowledge, questions, yearnings would most help them in their ministry right now? What’s going on in the parish right now? What spiritual enrichment might the staff need to help them meet the needs of the parish?

Perhaps an intergenerational model is emerging in catechetical formation and the theme for the year is “Sacraments.” A retreat on the sacraments could help ground the staff for their work in this area. One parish built a new gathering space and requested their speaker to develop a retreat around the theme of Christian hospitality. Maybe it’s been a rough year and we need to hear some timeless spiritual truths from the saints and mystics to sustain us on the journey. At times a papal encyclical or bishops’ synod presents a theme; for example in fall 2008 the Synod of Bishops examined the topic “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” A staff retreat day on lectio divina would be appropriate to that theme.

Spend some time with your staff exploring possible themes, and then peruse the list of
speakers to see who might be best able to develop your theme.

What will be the rhythm of your retreat day? Some elements to consider are:

  • Common prayer and the celebration of Eucharist
  • Structured individual reflection
  • Structured small group reflection
  • Silent, alone, unstructured time
  • A closing prayer and ritual

Do not confuse retreat time with social time. Most staffs build in social time as they celebrate birthdays, retirements, and holidays with dinners and parties. It’s definitely lifegiving to take time to play as a staff, but confusing retreat time with social time tends to distract us and keep us from going deep in our spiritual reflection.

Who will be responsible for what in organizing your retreat day? Some staffs break up the duties among the staff members and others put one person in charge, rotating that responsibility yearly. What are some of the organizational duties?

  • Securing the location
  • Securing the speaker
  • Requisitioning the check
  • Gathering supplies. What do we need to take to the retreat center that is not already provided there? (Example: nametags. Though you know each other, it is a courtesy to the speaker and any new staff members that you wear nametags.)
  • Organizing carpooling to the retreat center
  • Duplicating and collating handouts for the speaker
  • Issuing clear and detailed information, including an accurate map, to the staff about the retreat day
  • Requesting “clock hours” for teachers and other staff who might want them
  • When will you process the gifts of the retreat as a staff? Taking the retreat back to the parish context is valuable as you ponder how you might begin to live those “nudgings” and insights God spoke to you on the retreat.

When all these organizational details are tended to in advance, the entire staff can look forward to rest and renewal as Jesus’ invites you to “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.” (Mark 6:30-31)

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