By Barb Arland-Fye
This week’s column takes a cue from Star Wars, which unfolds a story from back to start. In this case, the story focuses on the Christian Experience Weekend, or CEW, the subject of last week’s column. I thought every parish in the Davenport Diocese that organizes a CEW had been mentioned in the column. My mistake! I inadvertently left out St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, which held its women’s CEW Feb. 20-22. The men’s CEW is this weekend, March 6-8, and it’s not too late for any man desiring to enrich his spiritual journey to attend. “We will take walk-ins on Friday evening — we start at 8 p.m.,” George Blough, lay director for the men’s CEW, told me. “If someone wants to sign up, contact me at George@riglassco.com.”
“The Christian Experience Weekend at St. Paul the Apostle Parish is a vital retreat experience that helps those who attend it experience, perhaps for the first time in their lives, a vital personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Father Tony Herold, the pastor. “Those who are not Catholic and attend the CEW often choose to enter the church. At our parish we are consciously focusing on forming intentional disciples. The Christian Experience Weekend helps us fulfill our mission.”
St. Paul the Apostle is the forefront of CEW in the Davenport Diocese, having organized the first one in our diocese in 1983, according to Deacon Bob McCoy. He and his wife, Pat, are longtime members of the CEW community at St. Paul’s. Participation in CEW inspired Deacon Bob to discern a call to the diaconate. He has served CEW as a spiritual director and Pat has served as a lay director for the women’s CEW.
Men from communities in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, where CEW was founded some 40 years ago, brought the retreat movement to St. Paul’s in 1983, Deacon Bob said. From there, CEW spread to Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf and beyond, he recalls.
“CEW has meant a great deal to Pat and me,” Deacon Bob says. “Personally, CEW directly influenced my interest in the diaconate. I realized the value of the spiritual enrichment that can come through involvement in CEW. It’s kind of a mini retreat. People come together. It allows them to examine their own relationship with Jesus and with the members of their own parish community and with the greater church.”
Pat says she felt more connected to the parish community after participating in CEW. People open up about their faith during CEW; Pat felt affirmed in her faith journey. “You realize how many people are thinking about their faith and actually do something about it. I think that’s what leads to a lot of leadership at church.”
The couple gives a lot of credit to Father George McDaniel, a retired priest of the Davenport Diocese, whose support of CEW in the early years kept it going.
George Blough is among St. Paul parishioners who have accepted the baton for CEW. His wife, Beth, “is the one who got me involved in it 15 years ago.” They’ve been involved ever since. “It’s just made my faith life so much stronger because of the involvement it creates in the church (parish) community,” George observes.
As a result, he feels more a part of the Catholic community anywhere he attends Mass. “It’s also spurred me to get to know my own Catholic faith more and to get more involved in other areas of the church, like RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults).”CEW fosters “a closer relationship with God, but that relationship happens in community with others,” George adds.
Since CEW is a weekend long retreat, first-time participants (called candidates) spend Friday and Saturday night in St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School. “We turn the school building into a mini hotel and conference center, with our own private chapel.”
That concludes another chapter of the CEW story. Now CEW’s founders in the Dubuque Archdiocese have established another spiritual enrichment program: Disciples Experience Weekend (DEW). Stay tuned.