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Women’s retreats celebrate 25 years of ministry

Women’s retreats celebrate 25 years of ministry

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Women’s retreats celebrate 25 years of ministry

By Sarah Alsgaard | March 27, 2009 {0991}

FRUITLAND PARK, Fla. — Before the Florida Conference Women’s Retreat began 25 years ago, Marilyn Watson remembers feeling left out because she couldn’t attend the men’s or couple’s retreats.

Participants concentrate on their creations during a crafts workshop at the third women’s retreat. Photo by Rhonda Hammond. Photo #09-1131. For longer description see photo gallery.

She heard about the women’s retreats when they started in 1984 from some of the men in her church.

“I just really think that’s really neat — they enjoyed their retreat so much that they would want me to be able to go to one,” she said.

The annual Women’s Retreat celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. In honor of that milestone, former team members who have helped plan the retreats over the years gathered for a special reunion in late February during the third of the four women’s retreats held this year.

“There’s something special about this place, and I’ve seen it grow,” said the Rev. Karen Sutherland, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Lake Butler and chairwoman of this year’s retreat planning team. “I’ve seen lots of women come and go from here and seeing how their lives have changed, so it’s a real blessing.”

Louise Webster has attended a Florida Conference Women’s Retreat each year for nearly 20 years. Photo #09-1132.

Women from Louise Webster’s church came back from a retreat nearly 20 years ago praising the experience. They took Webster to the next retreat, and she’s attended the retreats every year since.

“It’s just an awesome spiritual experience for the love of God and for the love of Jesus Christ,” she said.

Four retreats are held each year — one in January, two in February and one in March — at the Florida Conference Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park. Each runs from Friday night until Sunday morning and features worship, speakers and enrichment classes that range from talking about being a single woman to making crafts.

This year, more than 1,800 women attended the retreats.

Kay Roach says the annual women’s retreats can be whatever attendees want them to be. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #09-1133. For longer description see photo gallery.

“It’s just a time to come away and reflect and relax,” said Kay Roach, chairwoman of the former team members reunion. “Like I say, just make it a weekend however you want it to be.”

Many women first started attending the retreats because other women from their churches invited them. Webster says she has brought more and more women from her church as the years have passed.

“Every year our groups have someone new coming with us,” she said.

“Friday night we always recognize those who have come for the first time, and it’s amazing each time,” Roach said. “Each year that grows and grows — the new people who have never been before.”

Sutherland says attending the retreats for the past 18 years and serving on the planning team for three years has helped her realize her dream of becoming a pastor.

“(Being at the retreat) has been preparation ground for me — not knowing it at the time, but all along as I’ve been growing spiritually,” she said.

A participant at the third women’s retreat adds a request to the prayer board. Photo by Rhonda Hammond. Photo #09-1134. For longer description see photo gallery.

The appeal of the retreat varies for every woman. Many attend just to get some time away to relax.

“On Friday we see women arriving here who are stressed out and they’re carrying just the business of the world with them,” said Sherri Lingle, one of the Florida Conference Connectional Ministries staff members who helps the planning team coordinate the retreat. “And when they leave on Sunday you see an obvious difference. There is a peace there that is kind of neat. It’s a really good thing.”

Regarding the future, Sutherland only hopes the retreats will continue.

“I mean we’re so hopeful that now we’re bringing interns in to learn what we (planning team members) do,” she said. “They’re a great help to us, but it’s also as we grow older we need someone to step into our shoes to continue this tradition.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is a freelance writer.