On Saturday, September 19, more than 100 Pax Christi members gathered for a liturgical retreat: Participation of the Heart, Serving and Building the Community of the Beloved. Thanks to the leadership of the Worship Council and planning by Pax Christi liturgical ministers, those who serve as ministers of the assembly and those who serve as liturgical ministers, came together to refresh and renew their connection with the liturgy and each other. But unlike other retreats, parishioners attended from home and gathered via Zoom.
On that Saturday, Ann Eccles participated from her sofa using a laptop. Ann attended because she wanted to experience the sense of Pax Christi community that she’d been missing. As one of the early members of Pax Christi, Ann’s involvement began as part of the parish’s set-up team. Over the years her involvement in liturgy has included serving as a lector, Mass Coordinator, membership on the Worship Council, and Eucharistic minister. She anticipated inspiration and insight from two excellent speakers on liturgical matters—Vicki Klima and Fr. Michael Joncas—and wanted to learn a bit more about faith and prayer. Having participated in other Zoom events, Ann wasn’t afraid of the virtual format. She said the retreat was worthwhile and would do it again.
Andy Leet came into the retreat unsure of what to expect but hoping that it would be a great community building event. Andy was familiar with both speakers and particularly Fr. Joncas, who he had as a teacher when he was a student at St. Thomas. The retreat, which introduced methods for deepening participation in Mass, was organized into three modes of prayerful reflection: Lectio Divina (reading of Scripture), Auditus Divus (music), and Visio Divina (art). The Auditus Divinus, which was Andy’s favorite part, taught him that there was a distinct pattern between the musical notes—whether those be in a sharp or flat key—that connected to the words being sung. Understanding this connection gave new meaning to the music he heard each week and a greater appreciation of music and its role in the Church.
For Andy, the retreat format offered a mix of activity and a regular sequence of listening to the speakers, reflection, and breakout sessions. He particularly liked the small group sessions, saying, “It was amazing how each person had a unique viewpoint that others in the group hadn’t previously considered.” By the third small group meeting, Andy says that he really felt a shared connection to the other group members and experienced that sense of community that he was hoping for.
Andy has been a Pax Christi parishioner for eight years and serves as a Eucharistic minister and an altar server. He was part of the member engagement committee for one year, a co-leader for the Cast into the Deep Pivotal Catholic Players series, and is the chair of the Lifelong Faith Formation Council.
Anne Olinger didn’t know what to expect from a virtual retreat, but was surprised at how well the virtual format worked. Anne—a lector, cantor, and choir member—participated because she was looking for a fresh perspective in her ministries and to hear the morning speakers. The retreat gave Anne the opportunity to meet some new people, including some parishioners she recognized but didn’t know, and reconnect with a few individuals she knew well. She said that the retreat gave her ideas for making the spoken and sung word more meaningful for herself and, as a liturgical minister, more meaningful for the congregation.
Pat Lieb said that the retreat experience left her feeling welcomed and created a renewed connection with the Pax Christi community. Pat was first welcomed into the community as a new parishioner six years ago and serves as a lector. Pat says, “liturgy has always been a special source of Christian living for me.” Liturgy is also intertwined with her lifelong career as a religious educator. She viewed the retreat as a chance for a refresher on liturgy. As someone who typically doesn’t view group discussions as particularly helpful, Pat says this retreat proved to be an exception: “I was awed and inspired by the depth of spirituality expressed by members of our small group. It is probably my strongest memory of the morning. I was again grateful for being a part of the Pax community.”
Dave Schacht also found the small group sessions to be valuable, saying, “When talking with others, I gained further understanding that even though we all are different, we all want the same thing in the end and that is where our focus should be.” Dave has been a member of Pax Christi for 28 years and a choir member for about 13 years. As a member of the music ministry, Dave thought the content would be relevant and help him become more effective in his role. He said that the retreat helped him focus on the importance his role plays in the liturgy: “music has always been a way for me to connect with God’s word and this retreat helped me to remember that we are using music as a way to help all parishioners connect more deeply with God’s word.”
In addition to those involved in liturgical ministry, the retreat also included Ministry of the Assembly members like David Morris who has been a parishioner for four years. David attended as a way to refocus and add clarity on liturgical and Eucharistic foundations—things he hadn’t contemplated since his RCIA experience more than 30 years ago. The most impactful part of the retreat was defining the difference between being a participant and a spectator during the liturgy. With presentation slides to help make things “stick” and breakout sessions which were both effective and fun, David said that the retreat far exceeded his expectations: “It was both engaging and thought provoking.” David also commented that the virtual format offered the advantage of switching from venue to venue instantly, rather than spending time moving people around. In addition to creating meaningful connections, David gained other insights, saying “I learned about my need to refocus away from national events which I can’t control and back to my life and God’s teaching that will give me some peace, happiness, and purpose...at least contentment.”
Joe Meuwissen, a member of the Worship Council, used the retreat as an opportunity to renew his spiritual life after finding that the COVID crisis had impacted his sense of belonging, saying, “the social distance has been challenging as I miss the personal connections that Pax brought to my life.” He also saw the retreat as an opportunity to reflect on the value of ritual and how to better serve the parish community. Joe became a lector and Eucharistic minister shortly after joining Pax Christi in 2010. He had high expectations for the retreat given the reputations of the two presenters and was not disappointed. And while it was “socially distant,” Joe said that the tech team made it seamless. The format allowed him to meet some new people, share great conversation, and gain insights from fellow parishioners. Joe found the most meaningful part of the retreat to be the portion on Lectio Divina, the practice of reading scripture for deeper meaning and sharing that meaning with peers.
As a member of the Worship Council, Joe looks forward to the day when everyone can return to a sense of normalcy, and perhaps create some new ways of reaching out and worship. Joe summed up the experience in this way: “The retreat gave a sense of renewal and hope that we can and will weather this crisis and someday return to the traditional things that made Pax Christi the parish I came to love.”