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Florida United Methodist Men offers springtime getaway

Florida United Methodist Men offers springtime getaway

Married couples and single adults of all ages can step away from the world and recharge their spiritual batteries at an upcoming weekend retreat.

After a one-year hiatus, Florida Conference United Methodist Men (UMM) is bringing back its annual spiritual retreat for couples and expanding its reach. For the first time, singles are welcome.

The Life Enrichment Center on the shores of Lake Griffin near Leesburg will be the site of the "Springtime by the Lake," a United Methodist Men retreat slated for March 6-8. 2013 photo by Susan Green.

"It's basically a time (people) can relax, get away from everyday pressure and get in touch with their inner spiritual beings," says Don Heishman, retreat registrar for the conference's UMM.

The three-day "Springtime by the Lake" retreat will be held March 6-8 at the conference's Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park. It will be an opportunity to spend time with friends, make new friends, listen to Christian music and join in Bible study and worship led by enrichment leaders and worship teams.

About 150 to 200 people are expected to come from all over the state, Heishman says.

Invited speakers are Rev. Deborah J. Nelson, pastor at Ridge Manor Community UMC, Dade City; Dr. Riley Short, former senior pastor of First UMC, Lakeland; Rev. Harold Lewis, director of the conference's Justice and Multicultural Ministries; and John Riley, an inspirational leader who has spoken to more than 9,500 audiences in 15 countries.

The Lighthouse Band from First UMC, Coral Gables, will perform and serve as praise band during worship.

The event's cancellation last year disappointed people, including Jim and Dot Blaney, who had been regulars for years.

"I think it's just a chance to get away by ourselves," says Dot Blaney, a member of First UMC, Seffner. "It's a time to be together to worship outside of church. It's a good bonding time for couples and to strengthen your faith."

Inviting singles to the mix can bring in more people and keep the tradition alive, she adds.

"It's really a good program."

Harold Lewis Headshot Deborah Nelson headshot Deborah Nelson headshot
Rev. Harold Lewis Dr. Riley Short Rev. Deborah Nelson

And some guest speakers in past years and again this year, she notes, are single, including Nelson, who is known to her congregation as "Revvie Debbie" for her energetic style of preaching.

Dot Blaney first met the pastor at a women's spiritual retreat.

"She is so dynamic," she says of Nelson’s style. "She'll have you laughing and crying and you'll be right with her."

Short, who is one of the retreat's enrichment leaders, says his father helped start the UMM'S first men's retreat in the late 1940s. Couples' retreats were started nearly four decades ago.

"I'm glad to see they are trying new stuff," he says.

Attendance had been declining in recent years. Heishman says that was due, in part, to the death of loved ones.

"They'd tell us 'we love coming but our mate isn't with us anymore,'" Heishman says. "So they felt left out."

John Rley portrait
John Riley

The idea of holding a singles' retreat also had been floated but never came together.

Heishman and his wife, Sue, have been host and hostess since the retreat’s beginning. He also handles the sound and recording equipment for the event.

But it's not all work for the couple. "We get an opportunity to be with people and enjoy fellowship," Don says.

Thinking about the spiritual and not about worldly things "is a healthy thing to do for everyone," Short says.

The retreat can be a path to improving a marriage, bringing new life to a church or just a time to get away from the daily "rat race," Short says. "There's some value in that, some real value."

Registration will start at 3 p.m. on Friday, March 6, followed by a dinner, general session and, at 9 p.m., an ice cream social. Saturday will begin with devotions and breakfast.
There also will be general and enrichment sessions geared to both couples and singles, and about four hours of free time before dinner.

The retreat concludes on Sunday with breakfast and worship.

The message can be simply to enjoy a peaceful, quiet weekend, Short says.

"I think it would be great if they would be still and know He is God," he says. "That's what I hope to get out of it. I can be recharged, refueled and renewed -- just get excited again."

Dot Blaney enjoys the fellowship. It makes no difference whether people at the retreat are couples or singles.

"It's a great opportunity for ... wonderful worship," she says. "You come away with such a great feeling. I never want it to end."

For registration information, click here
-- Kathy Steele is a freelance writer based in Tampa.