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Ever Wonder What Happens at Those Retreats?

Sometimes for those that don't attend the various retreats around the convocation, we're left wondering what was really accomplished? What gets discussed, and does it change anything for the participants, and the congregations? Fair questions.

The Episcopal Convocation of Europe is lucky to have an annual conference focused on skill building for interested lay people and clergy. The Annual Parish Leadership Conference is an opportunity to get together with all of the Episcopal Churches in Europe, and to address a theme applicable to all of our work.

This year, the retreat was held near Munich, Germany in the town of Augsburg. Augsburg is the third largest city in Bavaria, which was important militarily over the years since its initial Roman discovery. It is also the historical seat of the Bishop, and was an important location during the Reformation, where the Peace of Augsburg treaty was signed in September 1555. It officially ended a religious struggle and made the legal division of Christianity permanent within the Holy Roman Empire, allowing rulers to choose either Lutheranism or Roman Catholicism as the official confession of their state.

The rich Catholic and Lutheran presence can still be found in the town, with magnificent cathedrals full of renaissance art to inspire the conference participants during short breaks. See the photo

for a magnificent painting of Our Lady untying the knots of our spiritual lives to bring us closer to God.

The conference this year was themed "Experiencing the Holy" and featured The Very Rev. Ian Markham, Ph.D., and The Rev. Barney Hawkins, Ph.D. both of the Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS). Both in their individual styles, discussed how we can define "The Holy" and enhance the feeling of holiness in our churches. A detailed explanation of the Episcopal Liturgy was presented, and participants given opportunities to work in small groups to brainstorm how we can enhance holiness and be curates to each other. Services were held in the chapel of our retreat center, giving us a precious opportunity for communal worship. This year saw the inclusion of a new mission in Italy, and featured a service in Italian with the most lovely singing!

Below are some personal notes giving an idea about the insights received during the presentations.

Holiness: Group Definition - Something that comes in transient moments when we are more fully connected with God and feel it fully in our hearts. Presenter Definitions - Holiness is the quest to give and receive love. Holy = Perfect(ness) & ability to transcend wickedness and become vehicles closer to what God intended. God permeates us and there is a God-like encounter. Holiness = service.

Giving the Peace: We symbolically reach out to all of those who've hurt us, we invite the forgiveness of God and the peace of God to bring healing. We are both offenders and victims in the process, and so also extend apologies. We are the offender in the confession, and then get to reconcile to those around us during the peace.

We have a supreme obligation to live a life of gratitude, seeing the normal as a miracle for which we give thanks.

We are all curates and evangelists called to "win over" outsiders. We are to be pastors to each other, patient and have conversations about faith, be pastors to grief and dreams, and prayerful about all souls, preoccupied with the cure of all souls. The God we worship is a God of joy and is deeply concerned by the poor, marginalized, and exploited.

Sometimes throwing out the scripts and letting God move through us is what is needed.

Below is a list of ideas that the Emmanuel Church participants highlighted for further exploration:

* Do a series of instructed eucharists to enhance our understanding of what is happening and why.

* Explain in sermons how holiness is expressed in the liturgy, and tell congregants especially about Rev. Markham's comments about why we do the confession before the peace and the offering.

* Intermittently vary the service, and call attention to the differences in options contained in the Book of Common Prayer.

* Have a conversation and define holiness with the congregation.

* How can we "go out" into the world and seek to cure souls, rather than wait for them to come to us?

* Be diverse, inclusive, and adaptable in our ministry.

* Include poetry from diverse authors, acknowledge the feminine divine, and include more art for meditation in our service bulletins.

* Offer some redesigned space at the rear of the church for expressions of faith like candle-lighting, and holy water use.

* Create space for disabled pew access.

* Set a tone of pre-service quiet reflection, and encourage moderate length "peace giving" so as to not interrupt the sacredness of the service.

* Consider a more complete bulletin so that services can be easily followed by those unfamiliar with worship at Emmanuel.

* Discussed use of the postlude for silent exit, or continued participation and prayer.

Do you have any ideas you'd like to share with us? We'd love to hear from you! Please email the office or comment below (

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