United Adoration ceased in-person US-based retreats in March 2020. With our neighbors, many of us entered into the long winter isolation of the COVID pandemic. We pivoted all of our operations online and formed virtual Creative Sessions, SongShares, and Worship Arts Shares. This pivoting has turned and turned again into pirouettes, and by the grace of God, we learned how to dance in the minefields (to borrow a metaphor from artist Andrew Peterson).
Yet United Adoration has always maintained that in-person retreats are the primary mechanism through which our organization pursues community. Through these retreat, we invite artists and pastors together to unite in purpose, create theologically envisioned art for the mission of the church, and adore Our Creator.
So how did we host in-person retreats during COVID?
Science and research has shown that the virus was less easily transmitted with the use of various precautions, including social distancing, masks, and being outside. After months of pre-recording music and church via YouTube, artists within my own church in Pittsburgh, PA longed to be together in the flesh. So, in Fall 2020, we discerned together how to trial United Adoration’s first “COVID” retreat.
Just like an artist working within a sized canvas or on a strict deadline, we sought the Lord’s inspiration as to how to view our limitations as opportunities for divine innovation. Instead of a 24 hour retreat, we shortened its length to a “day away” of creativity and communion with the Lord and one another. The gathering was capped at 10 people, the largest number we could gather in our courtyard space and still maintain the recommended 6-foot distancing. Our building had enough green space to hold the retreat completely outside barring horrid weather. For food, instead of our typical buffet or potluck spread, we ordered from a local restaurant that was able to package individual boxed lunches for each person.
An intimate community of eight poets, visual artists, creative writers and songwriters registered for the retreat. Our gratitude to be together shaped our perception of COVID restrictions as mechanisms for gathering, not hindrances to fellowship. One participant had never attended our church, but had been searching for a creative community. Seeing this retreat on our church website was an answer to prayer!
Being outside provided an additional new vantage point. Many were drawn to the architecture around them, particularly our church’s windows. Some basked in the sun, or under the shadows of the church’s stone towers. Others peered into the shimmer of trees, studying the light patterns through the leaves. We feasted on Panera cookies and laughter. We clung tightly to the tie that bound us all in Christ, as well as the common thread of loss, isolation, transition, and excavation of hope in the midst of such significant suffering.
Some of our artists’ reflections were as follows:
“God provided rest, good food, great company and new friends, sunshine, and much needed space…I would love to join in again at some point and stay in touch with this group.”
Emily Deemer, poet/visual artist
“These retreats remind me that the Spirit not only speaks through me in the work that I create, but through those who create alongside me, bringing additional insights from the Spirit I wouldn’t have found creating in isolation.”
Zoë Welsh, visual artist
“God used the retreat to heal something inside me. He untangled some long-snared strands of old longing to be used by God creatively. About my novel, he whispered, “I’m the one who gave you that beautiful story. Not for you, but for my people. Take your focus off yourself and turn to Me.”
Debra Kornfield, creative writing
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (John 18:20). In a fast food culture that defines a small drink at 16oz, it is a good reminder to remember that the power of Jesus’ presence is not just reserved for large crowds or conferences. It is not reserved for armies, or multitudes of disciples. Eight artists sensed the power of his presence. The Lord does not despise small beginnings; neither should we (Zechariah 4:10).
For this reason, United Adoration continues to pursue hosting in-person retreats. We will pursue unity by discerning with and submitting to a church’s leadership how to best love the members of their flock. Whether a retreat has 4 or 40, we know that the Lord is with us when we call upon his name. Our hope is to be in his midst, and invite others into the divine presence of Christ where healing and grace abound.
To learn more about retreats and the possibility of hosting one at your church, visit our website.
by Elise Massa, NE Regional Leader