Novel retreat takes men to the woods
by Joe Bollig
OLATHE — Someday, someone will write a dissertation about the relationship between coffee and spirituality.
Until then, you may take the F.I.R.E. Catholic men’s retreat as proof that great things can happen when hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit . . . and mugs are filled with hot jitter juice.
The very first F.I.R.E. men’s retreat was held Feb. 7-8 at Prairie Star Ranch near Williamsburg. Most of the 50 men who participated were from Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe, but a few came from western Kansas and St. Louis.
“It was completely new, unique, one of a kind and never done before,” said Tony Collins, a Prince of Peace parishioner and one of the lead organizers.
It all began with a bunch of five or so guys from Prince of Peace sitting around, talking and quaffing mugs of mud.
“We were a group of men who had been through Christ Renews His Parish, having coffee, and realized we need more programing for men, different from the usual conference and retreat opportunity,” said Collins.
They didn’t want PowerPoint presentations and sitting in chairs for hours.
They wanted something active, in the outdoors, challenging — something with masculine appeal.
“There is plenty of programming inside,” said Collins. “We feel men are most natural in the outdoors setting. We’re born to be in the wild.”
That little coffee klatch grew from a handful of guys to 10, and they brainstormed a weekend retreat like none any of them had ever experienced.
“We are a creative group of guys,” said Collins. “Men sitting around, drinking coffee and praying, letting our imaginations go wild and accepting no limits.”
So they came up with something that included axes, teams, feats of daring-do, time out under the sky and a really big fire.
And not only fire, but F.I.R.E.
The name F.I.R.E. is an acronym that stands for the values the men wanted the retreat to possess: fellowship, inspire, renew and engage. Each of the activities eventually planned for the weekend centered around one or more of those values.
During the first day, the 50 men were divided into three teams: red, orange and yellow. They participated in three activities.
The first activity consisted of each man chopping down a small tree with an axe. Each man had to drag that tree up a hill and work with other men to build a pyre-like altar.
Each man was then given a wooden shingle upon which they wrote a sin they wanted out of their life, and then nailed that shingle to the altar with three horseshoe nails.
The second activity was navigating the high ropes course. This included climbing a pole, standing on a small platform and leaping out with a partner to catch a trapeze.
The third activity was making a rope rosary and using it on a rosary hike.
Later that evening, the men wrote the name of a sacrificial offering — something they were good at — on their team-color bandana and hiked to the altar/pyre, which was ignited by their torches and sacrificial talent offerings. They also had time to talk and a surprise fireworks display before bed.
On Sunday, the horseshoe nails were dug out of the ashes of the fire, made into crosses, and given to the men. Before attending Mass, the men received a crucial challenge via a four-minute video message. They were challenged to pray for a cumulative 1,000 hours during Lent. And to keep them accountable, they would receive a weekly postcard to record their hours and then mail back to the retreat leaders.
Mass was celebrated by Father Bill Bruning, in residence at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. Also in attendance were Father Scott Kallal and Brother Joel Haug, both members of the Apostles of the Interior Life. Music was provided by Mikey Needleman.
Word of the F.I.R.E. weekend is beginning to spread. Already, the organizers have received requests to take the show on the road to other dioceses.
“It far surpassed anything any of us could have dreamed of,” said Collins. “I completely, 100 percent, attribute it to the Holy Spirit. It was definitely an act of the Holy Spirit blessing this weekend.
“We, as a planning team, believe God is honored when men worship him in the outdoors.”
The next F.I.R.E. retreat will be on Feb. 21, 2016.