While many Gonzaga events have shifted from physical to virtual during the pandemic, GU’s Office of Mission and Ministry decided to hold its Search and First Year Retreats on Feb. 5-7 and Feb. 19-21, respectively, in person.
Ben Goodwin, program coordinator for Mission and Ministry, said that these retreats are meant to be disruptive to students’ normal rhythm and spiritual practices, which in previous years would mean going away for the weekend.
“The thought process is, what is disruptive right now? What is the most disruption we can cause?” Goodwin said. “The answer is just being in person.”
While these weekend retreats focused on community building and exploring one’s spirituality, are still being held in person, students will be staying in their own housing overnight.
By holding the retreats on campus, Goodwin said they are able to provide students with a place for faith exploration and a break from day-to-day life at GU that isn’t putting anyone at undue risk. Many of the retreat activities are being held in classrooms, where there are already safety and sanitation protocols in place for Mission and Ministry to follow.
“There’s no difference between being on campus to go to class and being on campus to go to a retreat and we’re staying more than 6 feet away from each other at all times,” Goodwin said.
In addition to following classroom protocols such as wearing masks, disinfecting communal spaces and contact tracing via ZagCheck, retreat members are expected to return to the same seats throughout the weekend to minimize the amount of contact between students. Retreats are smaller than prior years, with larger spaces on campus being used to accommodate everyone safely.
Senior Coordinator the Rev. Janeen Steer said for the First Year Retreat, all students will use their dining plans to eat on their own, under the protocols GU has in place for the on-campus dining halls.
Planning the retreats has been a full campus effort as Mission and Ministry has been working with the Pandemic Response Task Force, Guest Services, Plant Services and the Office of Risk Management to figure out how to hold these retreats during a pandemic.
“Everything that our Office of Risk Management has expected of us, we’re doing and everything new that we want to do has to go through them,” Steer said.
Steer said that it was the students who showed them that the retreats needed to be in person.
“We were doing events on Zoom and no one was coming,” said Steer. “You’re on Zoom all day and you don’t want to be on Zoom.”
It wasn’t until Mission and Ministry started holding its in-person Timeout Tuesdays that it was seeing consistent attendance, with many students Steer wasn’t used to seeing at Mission and Ministry events.
“That helped us also realize people want to be in person,” Steer said. “So, last semester we had an in-person, one day retreat, and it filled up like that.”
For Mission and Ministry, the most important thing is providing students with a safe place to foster community and experience faith development during this difficult time
“We have a great opportunity to help people with their spirits right now,” Steer said.“We need to be courageous and try.”
On the First Year Retreat, students pick one of three tracks to explore their faith for the weekend. This year the tracks are focused on what is guiding you, who you are and what’s next. Students on this retreat also get to see a panel of upperclassmen discussing their own college experiences and journeys throughout their time at GU.
To Steer, the most important part of the retreat is building community, not just on the retreat but afterward.
The Search Retreat is based both on the practices of spiritual exercises and in finding the love of God and community. Through sharing the retreat experiences with others, students are meant to expand their own faith development.
“Safety is the No. 1 concern for all of us,” Goodwin said. “We want to make sure that everything we do, we’re doing in the healthiest, safest way possible for everybody involved.”