Effective spiritual retreats may be very simply organized. Invite your regular group to meet on a Saturday morning or host a special time for women in your church who don’t meet regularly as a group.
Women of our small congregation gathered at 9 a.m. one Saturday in the fellowship hall of our church. On a table set with a dark cloth stood small, lit votive candles, each in its own glass holder. Chairs were arranged in a quarter circle around the table. A woman from a nearby city had been invited to guide the morning, so she was seated, waiting for us to come in.
The guest leader took 10 or 15 minutes to explain four basic elements of prayer and spiritual reflection. This short talk along with the beauty and peace of the candlelight served well to begin to focus our minds away from our busy lives toward this room and our individual spiritual selves.
At this point each woman was invited to take a candle from the table. We were told we could go off by ourselves to a place anywhere in the room or to another room if we wished. We were invited to set our candle down in front of us and enter into a time of prayer and reflection, using some of the points given by our guest leader or some format of our own.
After about 45 minutes of time apart, a chime called us together again for singing interspersed with scripture readings. Then we were invited to enjoy different kinds of fresh-baked bread, cheese, fruit, and hot drinks. We relaxed and visited together, bringing closure to a very different kind of Saturday morning than most of us were used to. We all helped clean up and we were out of the building by noon, spiritually refreshed by our time together and our focused time alone with God.
For more detailed guidance on planning spiritual retreats or silent retreats, see Spirit Windows: A Handbook of Spiritual Growth Resources for Leaders by Ann Z. Kulp (Bridge Resources, 1998), Spiritual Life in the Congregation: A Guide for Retreats by Rueben P. Job (Upper Room Books, 1997), Be Still: Designing and Leading Contemplative Retreats by Jane E. Vennard (Alban Institute, 2000).
—Susan J. Jantzen, Mennonite Women co-coordinator 1997-2000, Newton, Kan.