Sarah Withrow King, co-director of the Christian animal welfare organization CreatureKind , organized and facilitated this wonderful retreat which helped a group go deeper into our connection with each other, with Jesus, and our animal welfare missions. I was really happy to have attended this event for many reasons which I want to share in this blog post.
I decided to attend the retreat because I had gotten to know Sarah when we worked on a project together. When I heard about the retreat, I was excited and signed up immediately. Connecting with other women who were Christian vegans seemed like a place that would be kind of like heaven on earth! And in many ways, it was.
Sara designed the retreat based on the needs of the participants. She thoughtfully sent out a questionnaire to get a sense of where we were all at in our lives, and I think she did a great job of making the retreat a memorable and satisfying experience, including writing each of us a personal note of encouragement.
Of course, the nine other ladies who were there for the whole weekend made the retreat beautiful as well.
I really learned a lot from every participant. I was glad to reconnect with Kathy Dunn of Shepherding All God’s Creatures. Kathy was the first Christian vegan I met when I first realized I wanted to be an activist. Because of her letting me know about the Creature Conference in London, I was able to get funding to attend this amazing event with her.
I also was very happy to get to know Deann Thomson better in person. She is Humane Society Of the United States Faith Outreach Manager, and I had numerous fulfilling communications with her via email. I enjoyed so much getting to spend time with her both during large group time, small group, and one on one.
Meeting Sarah was also a wonderful experience. I met her through Darryl booth,, director of Sarx, and we had only met via phone and email.
There is something about face to face interactions that really help deepen and cement relationships. This is so essential as we build a movement–to create relationships where we trust each other, encourage each other and support each other in our endeavors.
I believe the seeds were planted with each of the women who attended where we have the potential to build lasting relationships.
Each one of us offers something unique to the table of spreading the animal welfare message to the church and to all of humanity. I pray each day that our time together will yield beautiful fruit.
Arriving at the Crainaleith Spiritual Center located on the outskirts of Philadelphia, I was greeted by a kind resident who showed me to my room. In those brief moments, she shared the fascinating history of this beautiful place, including how they ministered to the homeless, veterans, and activists who need some respite from their intense lives.
We gathered for dinner in the lovely dining hall where the roundtables were the perfect size that was conducive to lively conversations, and the vegan food was scrumptious! What a treat–to be able to eat everything on the serving table!
After dinner, we gathered in the cozy living room. A resident nun from the Sisters of Mercy which owns and runs the retreat center told us the history of the retreat center. We were all excited to know that Susan B. Anthony, a social reformer, Quaker and women’s rights activist who played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement, had met with other suffragettes in this very room to talk about how to get women the right to vote.
Some women voiced excitement about how we were gathering for a different cause, yet an important social movement none-the-less. We felt hope that our cause could also be successful and a sense of destiny as well.
Sarah asked people to share a story about a special animal. As each of the women shared their story, evening session I was touched by how deeply they loved animals.
I was glad to get to know people better, for I was eager to develop deeper relationships with people with whom I shared so much in common.
We started each session and most of the meals with a prayer that Sarah read from a book that Sarah used throughout the retreat. The prayers were unique and included a focus on our relationship with all of life, especially animals. I was glad to hear such prayers from someone else because when I do my spiritual practices live on Facebook, my prayers usually include all sentient beings. This is a bit unusual in our Christian circles.
Being around people with similar values was and talking about the topics relating to caring for animals extensively was inspiring and motivating.
After our evening session, there was plenty of time to hang out and talk to people in the variety of sitting rooms. Vegan snacks, tea and coffee were made the atmosphere hospitable.
The next morning, I was eager to take a walk around the grounds to get exercise and fresh air. I have become rather addicted to both ever since I had my “dark night of the soul” experience four months ago. Taking care of myself has become more important to me as I saw that one of the reasons I spiraled into a kind of depression and separation from God was because I was not attending to my personal needs but rather focusing on projects and getting things done. I was glad to be in a retreat setting where we were encouraged to take care of ourselves.
The acreage was lovely. There were lots of trees, a big garden, beehives, flowers, a pond and wide expanses of lawn. I didn’t even want to venture out to the neighborhood because I enjoyed the sense of peace and protection that the retreat grounds afforded me, much like the country life I experience every day in the Ozarks at our Jesus Vegans Event Center.
With a very clear schedule of meals and events provided by Sarah, it was easy to make it to breakfast and all of the activities on time. Once again, the plant-based food was delicious, with lots of raw options including a delicious green smoothie! What a delightful surprise for me because I thought I would have to do without my favorite breakfast for a few days.
Our conversations were lively and intimate. We all bonded so quickly and shared details of our lives that showed trust was being built in the short amount of time we had been together. I was really grateful to be present with these women who encouraged me and listened to me as I shared some difficult times in my past.
We reconvened in the living room for our morning session. I was so eager to just be with these lovely women so much that I didn’t even take a break to get a breath of fresh air! We each had about two minutes to share about an object that was meaningful to us, and I felt inspired by each expression as people shared their hearts. Soon, Sarah had us divide up into groups of two, except for my group–which was three.
Sarah had thought a lot about how best we could connect with each other, and she paired up people with similar interests and/or circumstances. I was with my dear friend Kathy Dunn, of Shepherding All God’s Creatures, and Leslie, an animal rights activist from Washington DC. I liked the way that even though we were a small group, we agreed to time our sharing so that we could make sure we had equal time. Our conversation was vibrant and left me feeling energized and uplifted.
Sarah’s questions really helped to spark interactions between us that helped us build trust with each other as well as discover aspects of ourselves that we hadn’t experienced before.
I appreciated how Sarah worked hard to design a retreat with varying degrees of connection to others. She scheduled some alone time so that we could by ourselves focus on a spiritual practice called Lectio Devina which is a meditation on the scriptures. I think this was great since being with people all day, even for extroverts like myself, can sometimes be overwhelming.
After a delicious whole-foods vegan lunch, Our small groups met again in the afternoon. We decided to add two more people to our group to shake things up–and Sarah was not rigid about what we decided.
The five of us once again decided to time our sharing, and the questions Sarah asked helped us to get to know each other on a deeper level–something I am always up for! I loved hearing the enthusiasm these ladies had about helping animals, and I felt profoundly inspired.
After dinner, we came together as the whole group–our second night together. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the group sharing. Even though I love being around people so much, I had not allowed myself sufficient space to reconnect with myself, and with Jesus. I decided to leave the group before the session was over. I was so torn, because I had wanted to be part of every single activity.
Sarah had said from the beginning that if at any point we didn’t want to participate, that was fine. When she said that, I couldn’t imagine wanting to do anything but be with these new friends I had made. But I am glad that I could tune into my feelings and needs and disengage from the group. I sensed that my inability to be totally present was not going to be beneficial to me or the group.
I retreated to my room and did some deep processing of feelings that had come up during the retreat. I sensed that this alone time actually was really what I needed more than anything. I had been praying for breakthrough about some issues I knew needed addressing, and I believe I got that breakthrough and am now free from destructive behaviors which have been limiting my ability to fully connect with Jesus and to truly love people.
The issue? The need to please people and compromising my needs and goals so people would not be upset with me, and would approve of me.
I felt touched that two of the retreatants came in later to check on me. Their willingness to comfort me and listen to my feelings deepened the already blossoming friendships.
In our last session together, we shared prayers and encouragement in various ways which were very meaningful. We were together in the large group as well as our smaller groups, and Sarah artfully helped us to make the transition from the sacred space of the retreat to going out to the world again. We gave each other hugs and goodbyes, knowing that we had done something very meaningful, and that some of us would be furthering our friendships.
We all signed a card to tell Sarah our appreciation for her wonderful facilitation and organizational abilities.
One of the women started a Facebook page so we could stay connected. Another created a group email thread which will also help us to continue to cooperate.
We were a diverse group from many walks of life, different racial backgrounds, and socio-economic statuses, but our common threads of being Christian women who passionately want to raise awareness about animal welfare within the church and with everyone, wove a beautiful tapestry of love.
Already we are enriching each other with posts on our Facebook page, and encouraging each other. I believe our ongoing collaboration will yield productive fruits of helping to spread a message of veganism and caring for animals in a way that is truly effective.
I hope that Sarah can fulfill her desire to organize and facilitate many more retreats like this which can help our movement grow stronger. If you are interested in contacting her about hosting a retreat in your area, you can contact her here.
I would love to hear from you about experiences you have had at retreats that are meaningful. I would also enjoy hearing your story of being involved in veganism and standing up for animals rights.