This year the Giving Voice retreat for sisters in their 20s and 30s filled Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery in Phoenix with 30 participants. This annual gathering in the desert is an oasis in for the youngest members of religious life as we step into a space with peers.
Mandy Carrier, RSM, and Katherine Frazier, OP, led us through a weekend focused on friendship, an apt topic for the group of sisters who supported, prayed, and shared life with one another over the weekend. We were invited into the quiet to consider questions such as:
- What friendships have sustained you?
- How do you struggle to be a good friend?
- How do you struggle in your friendship with God?
- How has deepening your relationship with others or with God challenged you to become more fully yourself?
- How are you available to friendship? Are you fully alive with others, God, and yourself?
Our peer-friends outside of religious life do not entirely understand religious life. Although our sisters in our own communities share our charism and commitment to the vows, they do not know our age culture. This time together cements relationships among those who attend year after year and those who are with us for the first time. Developing meaningful relationships with a group of people we see once or twice a year is a skill.
This year I heard the participants comment about how much they need this retreat this year, that it was a huge energy boost for them, and that they find this experience of sharing and prayer sustains them when they return to their communities and ministries. These comments are not new. However, this year I heard a new questions bubble up at the retreat:
- What if this once-a-year energizing experience with Giving Voice is not enough anymore?
- What if we need to be together more frequently as the shifting realities of religious life become more pronounced?
These questions reminded me of my own Franciscan community’s decision to begin having community-wide “Gatherings” twice a year instead of only once. My community determined that we have become small enough that we could meet more frequently and make more decisions as a whole community.
Even though GV has book groups, online and social media spaces, local grassroots organized gatherings, national gatherings every other year, and now annual retreats for those in their 20s and 30s, as well as another retreat for those in their 40s, is this enough? Is there something more we need at this time? Is there something else we are called to enact at this moment?
Is this current moment in religious life inviting us to turn to each other, strengthen our friendships, and prioritize meeting in person more frequently? Do we younger sisters need to add another regular meeting time to the GV calendar?
What would this additional time together be? Another retreat experience? An annual conference (instead of every other year)? Regional gatherings?
Two retreat participants have teamed up to lead a “First Annual Giving Voice Camping Trip” as a first response to this call to meet more frequently. Grassroots leadership continues to be an effective model for Giving Voice.
What will ultimately unfold if Giving Voice thoroughly embraces this call to increase our in-person gatherings? It will certainly yield more opportunities for younger sisters to take their turns at exercising leadership. Perhaps this instinct to reach out toward peer-age sister-friends living religious life is an essential step we will take that will prepare us for whatever is next.
This is not the first time significant questions surfaced at the 20s and 30s retreat. I would like to invite Giving Voice participants to trust ourselves as we claim what we need and imagine what might be next as we ponder these questions.