Do you ever wonder about our sisters in Christ who lived in other ages–and about what we have in common with them? Our church decided to offer a women’s retreat with the title “Ages of Grace,” in which the teaching was by various characters who came to us with costume and music of their era.
The first talk began as the retreatants were settled on a Friday evening at a retreat lodge about 10 miles from our church. Candles were lit, and some recorded music suggesting the chants of the early church ushered in one of our members, wearing a long white robe. She spoke as Monica, the mother of Augustine. Her message related to the years of prayer she offered for her unsaved husband, and for her rebellious son, especially when he “went off to college” in Carthage and then started his first job in the decadent society of Rome. Monica’s prayers for both men were gloriously answered, but she told us with wit and gentleness how to persevere no matter what. We closed singing the kind of echoing praise song that our music director found to represent early congregational song.
The next morning, our speaker was not a literal historical figure, but a figure who would be a typical 10th-century Christian in Ireland, named Caitlin. Wearing a simple rough tunic, she told of the importance of hiding God’s Word in our hearts—for her, a necessity, since few women could study the Bible in medieval Europe. This character shared an ancient (to her, current!) version of the hymn “Be Thou My Vision,” which we then sang. Afterward, we had a craft activity making “Celtic crosses” of straw, and the option of a solitary “prayer walk” outdoors. Two of our teen girls even demonstrated Celtic dances for us!
After lunch, Anne Bradstreet, Puritan poet, spoke to us about how her family and faith survived disease, eight childbirths, and even the burning of their grand house:
When by the Ruins oft I passed
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sat and long did lie.
Here stood that Trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best…
Under the roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy Table eat a bit.
No pleasant talk shall here be told
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle here shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom’s voice ere heard shall be…
Then straight I begin my heart to chide:
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?…
Thou hast a house on high erect
Fram’d by that mighty Architect…
There’s wealth enough; I need no more.
Farewell, my wealth, farewell my store.
The world no longer let me love;
My hope and Treasure lies above.
She shared details about how communion was served in her community, and then some of our elders joined us to direct us into our own communion service at which they served while a violinist played music of the period from which Bradstreet came.
Last, a lively speaker from the 1800’s addressed our group—an African-American character named Lucy Craft Laney, who started a school in the basement of Christ Presbyterian Church of Augusta, Georgia, in 1883. One of the great educators of that century, she also began the state’s first kindergarten and started the first nursing programs for African-American women. As Lucy put it, “You know, God has nothing to make men and women out of but boys and girls. That was my motto, and my mission was to turn out a generation of women teachers and community leaders who would glorify God and help in our communities.” Our speaker’s energy, faith, and humor propelled us into service beyond the comfort of the retreat–and she bustled away to the tunes of fiddle music.
If your church would like to create a similar retreat or to read the speeches of these wonderful women, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for copies of the scripts, which our women wrote under supervision of an elder of our church. This retreat was a true “communion of saints” experience!
Leah Farish teaches college courses on law, language, and public speaking in Oklahoma. She also heads a nonprofit which encourages volunteerism. Leah and her husband are members of Christ Presbyterian in Tulsa, where, being party animals, they are also preparing to celebrate the church’s 50th birthday.