By Celine Klosterman
Before taking part in her first Christian Experience Weekend (CEW) 12 years ago, Ann Marie Bramer felt as if her life was missing something.
The retreat helped fill that void, said the member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf. After the experience, she began reading the Bible regularly, praying and participating in parish activities — and she recently returned from a trip to Medjugorje. “I’m pretty sure that would not have happened without CEW,” she said of the pilgrimage.
Other parishes in the Davenport Diocese are hoping to offer faith-boosting experiences in coming months through CEW and WATCH (We Are The Church) retreats. The weekends feature witness talks, discussion, Mass, prayer, fellowship, time for reflection and the opportunity to escape the daily grind to renew participants’ relationship with God.
CEWs usually take place overnight and are held separately for men and women, while WATCH weekends are co-ed and send participants home nightly.
Rhonda Versluys, a member of St. Mary Parish in Pella, got involved with WATCH retreats three years ago and said they’ve helped her grow spiritually, make new friends, use her gifts of organization and planning, and develop public-speaking skills.
Now, she speaks at retreats and serves as a lector — things she said she “never would have dreamed of” doing in the past.
Versluys also has enrolled in the Davenport Diocese’s Ministry Formation Program (MFP), which educates and trains lay Catholics for church ministry. “I feel this is another fruit from the WATCH program,” she said. Deacon Don Efinger of St. Mary’s in Pella developed the renewal weekend in 1987.
For Leo McGarry, member of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt, attending a CEW retreat six years ago meant finding Christian role models he could go to for spiritual feedback. It also made him realize the responsibility of Christians to support each other, and that people are at different points on their journey of faith. “No matter where we are at, there are people at CEW who can relate to where we are,” he said.
The retreat has unique potential to strengthen faith, according to Bramer. “The fact that you take this whole weekend to get introspective” is important, she said. “We’re all so busy, we don’t always take time to be quiet and hear what God has to say to us.”
In the months following a CEW, renewals a few hours long are often offered to keep participants’ spiritual boost going and maintain friendships forged during the weekend. Similarly, WATCH retreats help participants form sharing groups during the weekend, and the groups are encouraged to meet regularly after the experience.
“The fruit of the program is seeing more people get involved with their church and enriching their spiritual life,” Versluys said.
Upcoming retreats in the Davenport Diocese
• Bettendorf: Lourdes Catholic School, women’s weekend Feb. 5-7, men’s weekend Feb. 19-21. Cost: $35. Contacts: Ann Marie Bramer, (563) 332-4338 or Ken Tisinger (563) 359-0848.
• Clinton: Prince of Peace Schools, women’s weekend Feb. 19-21, men’s weekend March 5-7. Cost: $35. Contacts: Karen Jess-Jungen, (563) 219-1819 or Greg Michel, (563) 872-5494.
• Davenport: St. Paul the Apostle School, women’s weekend Feb. 26-28, men’s weekend March 12-14. Cost: $30. Contacts: Rita Stanforth, (563) 359-6714 or John Brimeyer, (563) 355-9561.
• DeWitt: St. Joseph School, women’s weekend Jan. 22-24, men’s weekend Feb. 5-7. Cost : $35. Contacts: Becky Townsend, (563) 370-3035 or Leo McGarry at (563) 650-3677.
• Fort Madison: McAleer Hall, co-ed weekend March 19-21. Overnight accommodations available with advance notice. Cost: $25. Contact: Jean Neuweg at (319) 372-4270 or Tim and Julia Caruso at (319) 470-7648.
• Long Grove: St. Ann Church (in collaboration with Our Lady of the River Parish, LeClaire), women’s weekend March 5-7, men’s weekend March 19-21. Cost: $35. Contacts: Melissa Brimeyer, (563) 285-5288 or Dan Elskamp, (563) 386-4099.
• Riverside: St. Mary Church, women’s weekend Feb. 19-21, men’s weekend March 5-7. Cost: $50. Contacts: RoseMary Fiagle, (319) 354-7048 or Dave Sharp, (319) 331-0869.
• Knoxville: St. Anthony Church, Feb. 5-7. Cost: $35. Contact: Deacon Don Efinger, (641) 780-6186.