Shortly after the start of the pandemic in 2020, the clergy of the Diocese of Fond du Lac began meeting regularly by Zoom. The weekly gathering was to update clergy with current Covid information, listen to what was going on in congregations, and pray with each session ending with a cacophonous recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. As time moved on, Zoom gatherings were less frequent, but continued.
Zoom allowed to two clergy continuing education conference and one retreat, but pandemic spikes prevented in-person gatherings. A number of clergy who recently arrived in the diocese had not had opportunity to meet their ordained colleagues face-to-face. That changed in February 2022.
The clergy of the diocese gathered in-person for the first time for a pre-Lenten retreat at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality, De Pere. Bishop Matt invited Bishop Jake Owensby of Western Louisiana to lead. The cold wind outside may have chilled the toes, the time to be together warmed the heart.
Fr. Paul Coey, ordained during the pandemic and called to be rector of St. Peter’s, Sheboygan Falls, was attending his first clergy retreat. “I appreciated the collegiality, and vulnerability of my brother and sister clerics,” Coey shared, and was “able to connect more than just faces to names, but also their stories, humor, hopes, and concerns allows me to more robustly know, be known, and pray for each of them.”
There retreat included a variety of things to do: community worship, prayer, meditation, Bible study, confession, spiritual counsel, reading, eating, and sleeping. Part of the retreat, including communal gatherings, is spent in silence.
“I couldn’t help but be thankful for the time spent in prayer, silence, and space allowed at the St. Norbert Abbey,” Deacon Paul Aparicio noted. As a deacon, assigned to Grace, Sheboygan, he is “employed outside the Church so my ability to attend is largely based on the available paid-time-off,” but appreciated the time away as “a re-orientation towards the vows that I carry and the community I have been sent to.”
In the four reflections provided by Bishop Owensby, the focus was on “messiness” and finding God in the messiness of life. Through sharing personal stories of vulnerability, he reflected on his life and spiritual growth. Mthr. Meredyth Albright, serving as rector of St. Augustine, Rhinelander, found the “unified message of trusting God in a way we have never trusted before, set for me, a tone with which to approach Lent.” Ordained in 2011, she remarked the reflections laid groundwork “to be open to a sense of honesty with God and start thinking about what to do with that gift of unencumbered love and support.”
Aiding clergy to better serve spiritual needs of those in their care is another reason for the retreat. Coey remarked that the week was “edifying as I return to the parish to lead the community through Lent.” Albright expanded for her it “was an opportunity to advance in my own thinking and belief to hopefully share an inspired Holy Lent with parishioners and those beyond our church doors.” Aparicio’s prayer is that the time in retreat “turned me towards my role as a deacon, my role as a husband, and my role as a father.”
Holding retreats has become more difficult as the costs involved, continue to increase, but clergy are charged only for their room and board as all other costs are covered through the diocesan Amaan Fund. Even though that cost can strain already tight budgets, the value of being together in-person was clearly priceless.
“I pray that the diocesan clergy may together continue to turn towards the direction of the Holy Spirit and continue the work we have been ordained to do,” Aparicio said. “We have been sent into the world in peace to love and serve the Lord and I give thanks to God for it!”