by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Deacon Dana Nearmyer has been on a lot of retreats in his life, but there’s one upcoming that has got him really excited.
He’s going to Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg, with family and friends to get some F.I.R.E. — Fellowship, Inspiration, Renewal and Engagement. Oh yes, and real, actual fire from burning things.
For its eighth year (but only seventh time, because of COVID cancellations), F.I.R.E Ministries will offer an outdoor men’s retreat at the ranch on Feb. 12-13. (See registration information below.)
“I’m excited,” said Deacon Nearmyer, the archdiocesan director of evangelization. “My son-in-law went to the last retreat [in Feb. 2020], and he had such a good time that he’s been [hounding] my son and [me] to go with him. Some other friends are going, and I’m just excited to spend some time with them. F.I.R.E. does a lot of outdoor activities. It will be anything but boring.”
The retreat delivers fire, both actual and metaphorical.
Father Luke Doyle, associate pastor at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, will speak on: “My Journey, Your Journey. What’s Your ‘One Thing’?” Dr. Paul Camarata, professor and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, will speak on what it means to be in the world, but not of the world.
During the two-day retreat, participants will have opportunities for Mass, eucharistic adoration, confession, small groups and outdoor activities. The activities will include a flint and steel fire-making exercise, an archery tournament, minefield games, a torch walk to a bonfire (because, you know, fire) and small group watch fires.
Confession will be by campfire in the frigid night.
“If you haven’t gone to confession outdoors by a campfire in February, you really haven’t done confession,” said Harold Bradley, a member of the Church of the Nativity in Leawood, and part of the 2022 F.I.R.E. team.
F.I.R.E. is for all men, but organizers are especially trying to reach young men who’ve fallen away and become indifferent to the faith, and men who are still going to church but are dispirited and find themselves on the fringe of participation.
Like Bradley once was. He was going to church, but his heart wasn’t in the right place. He went to his first F.I.R.E. retreat reluctantly and hated the idea of interacting with a bunch of guys he didn’t know. But that didn’t last long.
“The F.I.R.E. retreat helped restore my confidence in the ministries of our church,” said Bradley. “I was upset and angry about a lot of different stuff, and I went to the F.I.R.E. retreat and listened to a bunch of guys just like me who were figuring out how much they needed to do to change things by being involved and engaged.”
“I remember sitting around that campfire with my leader,” he continued, “and I grilled him for 30 minutes . . . about how he had not been involved and what made him reengage in the church. . . . He had a massive impact on my faith life.”
F.I.R.E. Ministries has ambitious goals. Not only does it want to engage the discouraged and disengaged, it wants to reconnect fathers and sons — to open the door a crack and let some hope shine on young men who aren’t going to church but might go on an outdoor retreat. That’s why fathers and sons who register together get a discount.
Part of the method is to bring men into the outdoors, an experience that opens hearts to God, and evangelization through friendship – low- key, authentic interactions leading to genuine friendships in faith.
Hence, the event’s theme: “The Journey is Yours. Come Walk with Your Brothers.”
“We now have 18 parishes represented,” said Bradley, “and five people who are unaffiliated. To me, unaffiliated means they’re coming to engage and reengage, and it’s an opportunity to come back to the sacraments with us.”
The latter point is very important, according to Bradley.
The F.I.R.E. organizers conducted a survey and found that a lot of men in archdiocesan parishes didn’t know anything about F.I.R.E. retreats. To reach more men all over the archdiocese, they’ve asked pastors to publicize the retreat, have engaged on social media and have sent volunteers to hand out information at more than a dozen parishes.
“F.I.R.E. has been attended [in the past] by men from a small swath of parishes,” said Deacon Nearmyer. “We believe the culture really needs men to step up and own their faith and be virtuous leaders in the families and communities.”
“We need an overnight retreat that appeals to men,” he concluded. “We have Men Under Construction, which is phenomenal as a daylong experience, but for an overnight experience, F.I.R.E. is a gift the whole archdiocese hasn’t experienced yet. . . . We really want the entire archdiocese to feel like they are welcome.”
The cost to attend is $138.38 (price includes a service fee). For the father and son 25% discount, use coupon code “Father & Sons 2022.” Send an email to F.I.R.E. Ministries for financial help if the cost is too high for you or a family member.