Dear friends of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center,
It’s hard to believe that we are headed into the final weeks of 2020 after so much collective transition, upheaval, and loss. As we turn this corner, so to speak, and wait for the distribution of COVID vaccines and the restoration of a more normal life, I’m grateful for the ongoing work and presence of our guests, visitors, volunteers, donors, and staff members.
At the retreat center, our year began with regularly scheduled programs and retreats. Church groups, non-profit leaders, youth choirs, college students, synod staff, and individuals needing personal rest and care visited us every week—almost every day—in January, February, and early March. As COVID cases surged for the first time, shutdowns were enacted, and the retreat center couldn’t receive guests for a time. Within weeks, however, we launched an online initiative, Retreat Where You Are, aimed at providing encouragement and resources for persons, families, and other groups. For ten months now, we have connected with guests and many others through weekly inspiring posts, self-care resources, video nature talks, and guided prayers and meditations.
When it was safe and health care guidance allowed us to receive guests, we worked with partners at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church to host a series of Family Days Away. Parents and kids hiked our trails, played games in the field, swam in the pool, and enjoyed boxed lunches from our kitchen. We offered other new outdoor events, including an evening concert on the patio with folk singer, Katie Dahl, and a night of stargazing with retired Twin Cities meteorologist Mike Lynch. We hosted complimentary day retreats for groups from Rolling Acres as well as complimentary overnight retreats for Rolling Acres staff members. Pastors and other individuals, desperately in need of rest and renewal, booked private retreats. Our Culinary Director, Chef Jon LeBlanc, continued to offer our signature foods, many of which were grown in our own gardens. People gathered on our grounds for special occasions, including a memorial celebration. A few church groups ventured out for days of planning and renewal, and non-profit leaders enjoyed extended retreats with social distancing, masks, and new dining protocol. Our Director of Guest Engagement, Shelly Steinhoff, facilitated all of this with her usual warmth and care, and she accommodated many groups in their efforts to reschedule retreats.
In light of people’s needs for safety, health, and wellbeing as well as their ongoing needs for growth and learning, the retreat center sponsored online classes, workshops, and mini-retreats throughout the year. Simplifying Our Lives and Living Spaces with Rev. Becca Ehrlich (Philadelphia), Tending to Ambiguous Losses with Rev. Dr. Carla Dahl (Luther Seminary), and Courageous and Compassionate Conversations with me, Theresa Latini, explored the topics of grief, wellbeing, peace, and reconciliation. We are grateful that a grant from Louisville Institute, titled Leadership Education as Retreat, could be used to help fund these new offerings. Similarly, we offered our 8-week summer worship in an online format. Each week, led by one of the Mount Olivet pastors, focused on the theme of hope. Our Day Advent Journey highlighted presentations from Mount Olivet pastors and staff about Advent rituals and traditions. All this was possible due to the excellent video production and editing work of Mandie Siems, our Coordinator of Program and Communications.
Fewer guests for overnight retreats freed our staff to take on more projects to improve our buildings and grounds. Dan Kahl, our Director of Operations and Site Naturalist, oversaw the conversion from propane fuel to natural gas for all our buildings. We now are more energy-efficient and our utility costs are reduced significantly. Other staff members, under the direction of our Site Logistics Manager, Jason Peterson, stripped the original wallpaper and painted the hallways and dorms in our overnight accommodations building, giving it a fresh, clean look. They painted the dining room, outside walls, and picnic tables. They cleared miles of overgrown buckthorn from our hiking trails, and with the help of some volunteers, repaired a foot bridge.
In summation, 2020 provided many opportunities for flexibility and creativity in carrying out the mission of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center. We couldn’t have done this without the strong support of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church and our donors, some of whom directly financed new audio and video equipment and an upcoming website redesign. If you’d like to contribute financially to our ongoing work at the retreat center, you can make a donation to Mount Olivet Lutheran Church’s Christmas fund where your gift will be matched two-to-one in support its many ministries, including the retreat center.
As we head into 2021, we anticipate receiving more persons, families, and groups for overnight and day-long retreats. We will maintain our COVID-19 protocol, as required by the state, in order to ensure a safe, healthy, and hospitable stay. We will host special services, including an ordination for two Lutheran candidates for ministry in January, and monthly Family Days Away. Be sure to check out our new series of online workshops, “Living Well, Leading Well,” which promote wholeness, wellbeing, and renewal in our personal and professional lives. The workshops will be taught by specialists in the areas of counseling, peace-making, biblical studies, and pastoral ministry. February promises to be a fun month, with our first-ever outdoor Mardi Gras Festival (February 14) and Day Lenten Journey (February 23). Join us for feasting and fasting on these days! Then in late spring/early summer, we will be hosting a series of outdoor concerts that feature local musicians. We hope you will join us for these events and more!
Most of all, we wish you happy holidays and a bright new year. May glimpses of hope, peace, joy, and love fill your days and weeks. May you and your loved ones be safe and healthy.
With warmth and gratitude,
Rev. Theresa F. Latini, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center