The change is coming, though I can’t feel it yet. Even as I sweat in these humid days of summer, I know that soon – in only a few weeks – September will bring with it crisp air, changing leaves, and all-too-quickly shortening days. For me, September will also mean the arrival of one of the richest of annual rituals: attending the Terra Nova Men’s Retreat.
For the 2017 retreat, men will gather at Camp Gorham in the Adirondacks. Withdrawing from their regular routines, if only for a few days, they will have the time and the place to enter into each other’s lives in real and meaningful ways. They will have the freedom and encouragement to seek after God. For some, this retreat will be a time to regain something vital that’s been lost. Some will tread on new ground. I’ve heard some refer to this retreat as a “spiritual new year” for them – a time to begin again, to turn back to our Maker, and to rest once more in His mercies that are new every morning.
It may surprise you to hear that the retreat was not the creation of the Imago men’s ministry at Terra Nova, or even of Terra Nova Church. In fact, you could almost say that it all happened the other way around. Here’s the way I remember it:
There were eleven of us that first year. I knew a few of the guys, but not all. Somehow, through one connection or another, we had found ourselves planning a rebellion of sorts… for a few days abandoning the programs and events of our various churches to set off into the forest together, with little plan other than to seek God and see what would happen. We would stay at Camp Peggy O’Brien, a rustic cabin in the Adirondack High Peaks.
We surely didn’t know what was coming. It would be hard to overstate the impact of those first few days at Camp Peggy O’Brien. Ripples from that retreat have grown into waves that still reach us today. To be sure, we spent our fair share of time doing nothing of weighty significance – just sitting around the table; making dumb jokes; eating candy. In the deeper times around that table, it was clear that God was beginning something new for us. He was speaking, and He was calling us to enter into a deeper walk with Himself. Friendships and brotherhoods were being forged. After those two days, we knew we had been a part of something great. Something new had begun.
We didn’t know – we couldn’t know – what had been set in motion. We couldn’t know that our little off-the-radar gathering was the first of now fourteen annual retreats, growing to include hundreds of men. We didn’t know that, in two years’ time, a new church called Terra Nova would be planted – and that more than half of the men at that first retreat would one day become pastors or leaders at that church. All we knew was that we had set out, we had sought the Lord, and He gave us something good. This fall, as the air turns cool and it’s time to head north once again for the retreat, I hope for the same things we sought then: to set out, to seek God, and to see again what He has in store. I can’t wait for the start of another “spiritual new year.” For what comes from His hand is good.