To say that parish life can be hectic can be a little bit of an understatement. Some days, the questions just keep coming, with no end in sight.
“Has the bulletin been approved by Father?”
“Whose turn is it to place the bakery order for Hospitality Sunday?”
“We need to place the print order for the bulletins and post the new Mass times to the website. Speaking of websites, did anyone change the homepage image out to reflect Advent?”
Sometimes it can be hard to stop and take a breath, especially when you work for the Church. The misconception is that working for the Church is a holy vocation, and honestly, it is. There are some beautiful, wonderful tasks that parish staff are in charge of — marriage preparation, RCIA, preparing new parents to instruct their children in the faith. It’s a vocation that not many have the privilege to experience.
But nestled within those “holy” duties are some that are typical to any office setting. Email, website, paying the bills, balancing the books, dealing with HR issues, cleaning, volunteer sign-up sheets, data entry, etc. The list goes on, especially when parishes deal with closings, mergers or the like. Less people doing more things is the norm.
It’s so important for parish staff as a whole to get away from the many tasks that come from running a faith community. That is why a parish retreat is so vital to the well-being of your staff — mind, body, and soul. Following are some suggestions to planning your next staff retreat:
Take It Away from the Parish
It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s important to physically get away from the day-to-day duties of the parish when on your retreat. With the ding of a new email and the ringing of the phones, too much distraction will take away from the central point of the retreat — to get away from it all.
When planning a location, think of what it is that you ultimately want to accomplish. Is it to focus on prayer and spirituality? Consider a nearby retreat center. Is it about comaradery and reiterating your relationship to one another? Perhaps more robust team building exercises are needed, with places skilled in just that kind of activity (think escape rooms or rock climbing walls … anything that takes team work to complete).
Whatever you end up doing, decide beforehand what the intended outcome is meant to be. From there, figure out where you need to go.
Quality, Not Quantity
The jury is still out on how long a staff retreat should be. It needs to be long enough to include all steps — reflection, relaxation, and prayer — but not so short as to feel rushed. Usually a half to full working day is enough, but of course, all that depends on your specific parish.
The important thing is that your time away should be as substantial as possible. Even if it’s just a few hours, create a schedule that includes time for prayer, sharing, and personal inventory. The goal should be that people leave feeling refreshed and ready for the tasks ahead — whatever they might be!
Choose a Theme and Stick to It
While it may seem convenient to spend your time together planning for future projects, the actual goal of a retreat is to focus on the mental health and spiritual well-being of those in attendance. Don’t bring clipboards and pencils to plan the next mission trip. Rather, be prepared to stop, pray, and remind one another why you do what you do. Share your story! Why are you working for the Church? How does your job help contribute to its vitality? Most importantly, why are you still here? Allow the Holy Spirit to lead the conversation.
Listen with Your Heart
As the leader of your parish, there may be a few things you’re not going to particularly like hearing during a retreat. But authentic, honest feedback is important in the growth of your parish staff. How can you address ongoing problems if you don’t hear about them in the first place?
Keep an open mind and an open heart to any issues that are brought up by staff, and then make tangible plans to solve them. Not all things that come up will have easy solutions, but the important thing is that staff feel comfortable enough to share their concerns — and leave confident that you heard them.
Have you participated in a parish retreat? How did it leave you feeling?