Flunking Sainthood

Last weekend I talked too much, ate too much, enjoyed much-needed laughs, reconnected with friends, reflected more than usual about my faith, and got (a little) more sleep than usual. I was with a group of about 50 Mormon women at Midwest Pilgrims. As always, it was a marvelous retreat.

I first went to Midwest Pilgrims some years ago as a speaker, but I found that I had found a community I wanted to return to as a participant. I’ve not only gone back but brought friends. And I’ve said yes to speaking at a couple of similar retreats for Mormon women.

My question is: why aren’t there more experiences like this? Granted, I don’t live in Utah, so maybe there are more LDS retreats than I am aware of in areas with a heavy Mormon population. But I’m not aware of a single LDS retreat center anywhere. The LDS retreats I’ve attended have been held at Catholic, Episcopal, RLDS, or YMCA facilities. One fall overnight camping experience with the stake Relief Society was held at a campground. (Brrrrr.)

Just running the numbers a little, I did an informal count of denominational retreat centers in the USA. There are more than 700 Catholic retreat centers, serving more than 65 million Catholics and many others. Mormons have a tenth of that population in the United States, but we don’t have anywhere close to a tenth of those retreat centers. I’m hard pressed to name a single one.

There are numerous reasons for this, both historical and cultural. Mormons have no monastic tradition to support lay retreats, harbor a strong institutional bias against starting anything that isn’t “approved” by official church authorities, and have a far shorter established presence in the United States than Catholics. Then, too, Mormons with large families may have trouble getting away or paying for a retreat (though these parents are arguably the ones who need it most).

A persistent fantasy of mine is to start an LDS retreat center, where all kinds of groups could come for their time away, but individuals could also make retreats as part of a programmed weekend or a self-directed experience. The center would need to be in Utah, where there is no shortage of beautiful scenery to inspire reflection and peace.

Unless I become independently wealthy in the foreseeable future, I will likely never achieve that dream. But I can still trumpet the importance of retreats, which foster community and serve as the sort of liminal space in which real spiritual transformations can occur.

Go on retreat. You won’t be sorry.




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