As I walked my daughter to school last week, we noticed the first real frost of the season, tiny crystals coating the cars, trees, and roofs. The brisk air propelled us along at a faster pace than usual. It’s been a warm autumn here in Minnesota, and the leaves are still hanging on as the first anticipated snow approaches.
Our lives consist of seasonal changes. As the weather changes so do the rhythms of daily life. At Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center, we experience this in the land, the programs, and our work of hospitality. Though perhaps not as glorious as some years, red, orange, and yellow hues were spread throughout our wooded trails until just recently. Our outdoor concerts and Stargazing have ended and we are preparing for our annual Advent retreat. Our chef is serving up homemade chili and soups (butternut squash and creamy wild rice and chicken) to warm our bodies and our hearts. Guests are gathering round the fireplaces once again.
Seasonal changes invite us to pause, to notice and enjoy our surroundings, to pay attention to one another, and to express gratitude for it all.
Here at Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center, the last four months could be characterized as a “returning to retreat.” As people were vaccinated, the weather warmed, and COVID protocols loosened, guests returned to the Retreat Center this past summer. Shelly Steinhoff, our Director of Guest Engagement, has scheduled, supported, and led us in welcoming new and returning groups. We anticipate, based on current bookings, that from July 1, 2021-Decmeber 31, 2021, we will have hosted over 130 distinct groups and over 2,600 people. Those groups represent 47 non-profit organizations, 25 churches, 38 families and individuals, and 20 Mount Olivet Lutheran Church groups. Many of these guests have returned to retreat after a long hiatus, while others have joined us for the first time. Whatever the case, they have been refreshed, renewed, and restored and their expressions of gratitude have inspired us as well. One group leader shared:
As we departed Mt. Olivet [Conference & Retreat Center], I heard from so many how meaningful the retreat was. All felt that there was a great balance of time for work, fun, personal and spiritual renewal. . . . The buildings and grounds were kept meticulously and the glory of God’s creation was on display . . . The food was excellent, and the Mt. Olivet Team really is amazing.
In this new season, with guests returning to retreat, we have made some changes in staffing. In October, the Reverend Jeremy Bork started as our Director of Programming & Communication. Jeremy is an ordained clergy in the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and a former youth pastor and program director at Camp Fowler in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. He brings skills and enthusiasm for developing our summer camp program in coordination with the Children & Family Ministry at Mount Olivet Church and for telling the story of the retreat center more broadly and creatively. Later this month, Bradley Hinz will join us as Lead Cook, working alongside Head Chef Jon LeBlanc to provide an array of beautifully-presented and nutritious meals. Bradley lives in Farmington, MN and has a long history of working as a chef in non-profit organizations. In December, the Reverend Annie Langseth will join us part-time as Director of Outreach and Creative Engagement. Annie comes to us from Garrison, ND where she has served as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church. She will implement a marketing and outreach plan for our 200+ annually-hosted retreats and will provide creative resources in worship and the arts for our programs. In addition, Annie will serve as the new Director of Spiritual Care at Mount Olivet Home, Careview Home, and Day Services, overseeing the spiritual needs of residents, families, and employees.
Sometimes change takes the form of reorganization, and we’ve done that, too. Multiple staff members work cross-departmentally now. You might see Patrick Hansen cooking breakfast, setting up rooms, or cleaning the overnight building on any given day. Jason Peterson has been promoted to Logistics and Facilities Supervisor, supporting our facilities assistants and increasing our ability to efficiently and effectively care for our guests’ needs.
Volunteers have returned to the retreat center in full. Each Fall and Spring, this faithful group joins Dan Kahl, our Site Naturalist and Director of Operations, in caring for our land. Last month, they pulled up annuals, raked leaves, split wood, laid wood chips on one of our hiking trails, and erected deer fencing—all so that our guests can experience more fully the beauty of this land and its Creator.
Regular readers will notice, too, that as part of our own need to practice retreat, we paused our blog for a period of time, and now we are picking it back up again. Throughout the first 18 months of the pandemic, we offered resources and a regular blog for folks to “retreat where you are.” We have woven that initiative into our regular offerings and our new website. Please check it out, and expect to hear updates and blogs from Jeremy, Annie, and me on a regular basis.
Psalm 104, the longest creation psalm, reminds us that the changing of the seasons, like the changing of the days, is an example of God’s provision for the earth and all its inhabitants. God upholds and sustains all things in love. Seasonal changes slow us down so that we can remember this, so that we can name all the good we have received from God even and perhaps especially in the midst of an unabated global pandemic. As we return to retreat and take time to be present to the Giver of Life, may we find ourselves encouraged and strengthened by God’s meticulous care for all our needs.