Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood

Where Are All the Mormon Retreats?

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.




  • http:.// Course Correction

    our ward Relief Society sponsored a Friday night/Saturday morning retreat at a member’s cabin for several years. It was a low-key,fun time for women to relax and have fun together. Then word came from headquarters banning RS restreats. No reason was given, as I recall.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Larry Ogan

    Here is the address of Ghost Ranch, an ecumenical and interfaith education and retreat center of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), north of Santa Fe.

    I receive there catalog every year. They have wonderful programs for their members and non-member visitors. I have wondered in the past why we Mormons don’t do something simular. Headquarters need to see this as least as an missionary opportunity. Nauvoo, for one, would be a great place for a Mormon retreat.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jennalee

    I went to a Catholic high school. I went on the Kairos Retreat senior year. Great bonding time. There’s also a tradition that on the 4th day each participant receives letters from friends and family members. Very moving. Sophomore year Iwent on Urban Plunge…a mini service mission to Appalachia that was also supposed to teach us how blessed we were. Though it was a service mission, it was an incredible experience and felt more like a retreat to me. Start that Mormon retreat building…I’d go!!!

  • Brooke Shirts

    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed Midwest Pilgrims! I missed it this year, owing to my new baby. Next year, maybe . . .

    The Church doesn’t own retreat centers, but they do own several stake campgrounds in Utah and Idaho (and perhaps in CA and AZ?). The larger campgrounds are often hosted by senior missionaries and are usually used for youth campouts, ward campouts, and family reunions. I know it’s not the same as a retreat center, though.

    I think the institutional fear you mentioned is one of the chief reasons why LDS retreats don’t really happen. The church is scared of schism, and is sometimes over-careful in trying to prevent apostasy. The women who organized the Provo Canyon Pilgrimage used to use a lodge owned by BYU for their retreats for several years, until fears about church intervention caused them to change location.

    As for a self-directed retreat, my husband wants to point out that this is perhaps something temple worship can fulfill.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment rachel J.

    Amen sister. I just found your blog because I’m thinking of doing an art retreat in the Northwest and would rather do an art retreat with sister saints where it’s ok to speak of being inspired and have everyone know what that really means! I dunno. It’s probably never been thought of much by those who would give the encouragement for the masses. And then there is the fear of one thinking for oneself. I know I’m just speaking of an art/poetry type of retreat but “heaven knows” mormon women need something to get away to other than to serve at the ward house down the street. Especially since they took away the crafting we used to do as part of relief society years ago. Talk about healing! Something happens when women gather and create–they begin talk– and tell the truth and work things out in their minds. They feel supported and loved–rather than guilty for not “doing more” and when that happensl, it empowers and spreads and spreads to their family and beyond. There’s a reason why our ancestors had quilting bees—and it wasn’t just because they needed another blanket! Here’s to an LDS art, writing, soulful retreat somewhere–sometime–hopefully in my lifetime.But would a priesthood authority have to be present??? Just musing.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment April G

    Yep. I really don’t understand why the Church doesn’t own several YMCA style camps/resorts. We love the YMCA here in Estes Park, Colorado and wish it was actually run by the Church. I realize it could be complicated. For example, having to establish branches for the resident employees, etc. Oh, but for a couple million dollars!

  • http://Canwecommunicatedirectlyonthisconcept chaplain mike

    I have some concepts in this area that are currently under feasibility and would love to have an open dialogue. Thanks – JMLB

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