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Spiritual Practices: Grace Church in Madison's "Men’s Mission Retreat"
At Grace Church in Madison, social outreach is a defining aspect of our parish identity as a community of faith. So it is not surprising that for a number of years, a common topic of conversation at our annual men's retreats was how we might complement our "fellowship retreats" (where we explore our own spiritual journeys) with "mission trips" like our youth groups take every other year. But in contemplating a traditional mission trip, the recurring challenge we faced centered on the basic logistics of when and where we could engage a broad group of men from our parish for such an endeavor.
The solution we devised to our logistical challenge was that instead of trying to organize a mission "trip" we would instead organize a two-day mission "retreat," focusing on a variety of social needs closer to home.
In keeping with that concept, on May 17, 18 and 19, nineteen Men of Grace (as we call ourselves), assisted by four young men from the parish, participated in our second Bi-Annual Men's Mission Retreat. The retreat offered an opportunity for the participants to expand and enhance our recognition of the needs of others in the greater community, and reflect together on how we can respond to those needs as part of our individual and collective Christian ministries.
On each day, the group split up into teams of four to twelve people to perform a variety of social service projects within the diocese. Over the two days, the teams offered a seminar providing supportive advice on good job interview habits to a group of single mothers in Newark who are clients of Apostles House; learned how a ministry to a largely overlooked group of global seafarers helps by offering a supportive oasis in their very hard lives at Seamen's Church Institute in Port Newark/Port Elizabeth; and did some old-fashioned manual handiwork to help make more hospitable a cottage that will be a welcomed summer get-away for families with seriously ill or terminally ill children at Haven of Hope for Kids in Hope, NJ. The group also heard a presentation from the director of Project Community Pride in Madison, a counseling service for at-risk teens, and spent time on Thursday evening and Friday evening sharing thoughts and reflections with each other.
The fact that the retreat was conducted as a church group was important, since it underscores a critical aspect of our collective identity as Christians, namely our desire to follow Christ's teaching to love our neighbors, and in this case neighbors who for one reason or another find themselves facing challenges in life that most of us can barely imagine. While some of the work was challenging and/or tiring, the men and young men who participated found their time on the retreat to be both rewarding and enjoyable.
Geoff Brooks is a long-time member and former warden of Grace Church in Madison.