Community has always been an integral part of my personal walk with God. It began in the context of the congregation where I was baptized as an infant. I was continually surrounded by people whom I first knew as instructors in faith, in time changed to become mentors, and eventually became colleagues in faith. Even my experiences of going on retreat were either in the context of going as part of a congregation or as a way of exploring with a different segment of my larger faith family.
As community has suffused my personal experiences in faith, so it is with the work of the whole of the Alton L. Collins Retreat Center. Community is part of who we are and what we strive to foster.
The community building begins long before the first guest arrives. It is in the care and planning of the event leaders. It is in the selection of the right space that will foster the right atmosphere for the group, and in arranging space to facilitate the flow of events. It is present in the communication of inviting people to participate and helping them prepare to arrive.
Community is built as people sit together around the table, passing food to one another as they talk. It is built in working together on a jigsaw puzzle or in conversation on the couches; And oddly enough, community is even supported by providing space for people to be alone for a while so that they can recharge and later connect more deeply and authentically when the opportunity arises.
I think one of the most telling ways that we demonstrate our care for community is through prayer. We invite our staff to hold each of the groups that we host in prayer. We let the leaders know this ahead of time and inform the participants of this at their first meal. We also invite people to place their joys and concerns in a prayer box and inform them that we will confidentially hold this in prayer. Having grown up in a community of faith and consistently participated in these communities throughout my adult life, I had not realized what a powerful element in community building this is. I had simply assumed that caring for one another and praying for one another is just what people did. But for individuals not part of such a community it can be surprising and powerful to entrust your inmost thoughts and feelings to others. Holding people in prayer builds connections of care and trust in truly amazing ways.
Today, we live in a world that lets us connect to more people and over greater distances than ever before. But those connections may be more superficial due to both the number of relationships and the limits of technology. We encourage people to take time away to form deep community, steady community, shaped by spending more time physically present with one another. If you feel like your life could do with a greater sense of connection to others and to God, look us up and go to www.gocamping.org to find many opportunities to be in community.
In peace and hope,
Rev. Dan Benson