Spring 2023 Retreat Reports

Reports from the Bad Homburg retreat in April 2023

Religious Exploration

by Janie Spencer

For many years, I was the RE Director for EUU. At the Spring retreat, I was an RE teacher. It was strange because I didn’t know any of the young people; I used to know all of them. I was very happy to work with Jim Carlson, a patient, organized, caring teacher. It was a lot of fun (and hard work) to explore with the youth about who they are and what they want to become. The older teen helped put together a wonderful slide show of the art work the youth had done. It was sweet to see an older child take a four year old on her knees when he was bored. To be an RE teacher, you have to be really inventive, ready to adapt, ready to play, and very attentive. But it is well worth the effort. Well done parents, you are raising some amazing young people.

My impressions of our second hybrid retreat

by Shulamit Levine-Helleman

Overall, this was a huge improvement from the first hybrid retreat! The outgoing sound was excellent, and online participants were able to participate using our own voices rather than having someone else reading our words. I’ve even been told that when we did speak or perform, it was almost as if we were there in the room, with our voices strong and our pictures projected onto a large screen. We had about 15–20 people signed up for the online version of the retreat and had as many as 14 people joining the Sunday service on Zoom. Other events had 5–10 people on Zoom. This was a great example of the use of Zoom to improve our inclusion and accessibility.

The opening ceremony and sharing of joys and concerns worked well for me, and I felt integrated and able to share. It felt good that I was able to share the Shabbat blessing through Zoom, setting a tone right from the beginning that we intended to integrate Zoom and in-person as much as possible. The sound quality was very good for the opening ceremony, both to hear people in Bad Homburg and for us to be heard when we shared.

Then there was a great, low-key ice breaker for people who don’t like the typical ice breakers! That meant that this was one of the best ice breakers I have experienced in a retreat. I loved that we were in small groups where we could really hear each other. Some groups were hybrid, while others were in-person only, because fully hybrid would have made the groups much too large to share. There were a few technical difficulties, including a time-limit on the hostel WiFi, but it is definitely a model worth adapting and improving on for future retreats.

I was impressed that at least one person joined the first part of the theme talk on Zoom while traveling to Bad Homburg. This is yet another reason an integrated hybrid retreat is helpful, not only for those who can’t come in person at all, but also for those who can’t come for part of the event.

After a shaky start (the first 2 or 3 acts weren’t audible for us online), the variety show was really great. This time, we even had the first variety show act live on Zoom. I’m told that the sound and video quality during my performance was good, that the people in the room could really see and hear my act. I volunteered to especially see if it would work well to perform via Zoom. I hope this experience will encourage more online people to perform for the variety show next time.

The Sunday service was live-streamed rather than hybrid. While this is fairly normal for a service, I really hope that the next time there will be more opportunities for those online to participate, perhaps by sharing a reading or by participating in the new member ceremony. The sound quality was quite good with the choir, and we could see and hear everything.

I find it ironic that I was the one pushing for social times, even though I relish time away from other people. I did so because I felt that such times are necessary in a retreat and that if we could integrate in person and online participants in this, it would really feel like one retreat. The scheduled socializing times were a huge disappointment in terms of feeling like we had one integrated retreat. I really hope the next retreat committee will be able to come up with a better way of encouraging both in-person and online participants to socialize together for at least a part of the time.

As I said at the beginning of this report, this was a very good example of living our values of inclusion. We learned from the hybrid experience of the first hybrid retreat and made significant improvements. I can only hope that the third hybrid retreat will learn from this one and be even better.

Workshop Reports

Sacred Circle in the Woods Workshop

by Nancy Klein (including photos)

This workshop was led by Steve Crowley, a retired teacher, poet and self-described tree-hugger who walks in the Taunus mountains near Bad Homburg every day. This is where 12 of us hiked together during our Saturday workshop. Unfortunately, it was raining and muddy on the trail, so Steve was unable to lead the mediation exercise he had planned around a well-hidden circle of rocks in the woods. Nonetheless, it was a pleasure to take a walk in the woods together and be out in the natural world.

Public Domain photo of the main gate to the Saalburg Roman Fort

According to Wikipedia, the Taunus is a mountain range in Hesse, Germany, northwest of Frankfurt. Indeed, when we climbed to the top of one of the hills, we were able to see the skyscrapers of Frankfurt.

Although we didn’t have time to walk to the top of the highest hill in the mountain range, Steve told us there was a Roman fort there from the time when Rome’s Empire extended into Germany. The fort is called the Saalburg and is located on the main ridge of the Taunus. It is called a cohort fort because it is part of the Limes Germanicus, the Roman linear border fortification of the German provinces. The Saalburg is the most completely reconstructed Roman fort in Germany. Since 2005, it has been designated as part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Here was the sacred circle spot Steve took us to. Once there, he explained about how to use breathing to help relax ourselves. One of the other workshop participants did a Lakota Sioux sacred dance at the site.

In different places along our walk, there were explanatory boards that told what type of constructions used to exist in the area when the Romans occupied it.

It was a beautiful place to walk and admire the trees and explore the beauty of the natural world.


Music Jam workshop

by Michael Mitchell

We had a great time in Susie’s Jam Session workshop.  Most of us had not really jammed that much, so it was nice to find out about the guidelines and how to conduct a session and just getting into the music.  It’s great not to really have to know the song you’re playing – you just get the chords down and take off and follow the leader.  It’s a good way to learn how to improvise a bit and learn the changes!

Sharon Marshall’s workshop “What is this thing called love?”

by Rev. Dr. Sara Zimmerman

Sharon read aloud a number of readings that used well developed, highly abstract, descriptive language. After each reading, she invited the sharing of our resonances and insights. How does this reading apply to our own loving relationships? It was a successful workshop in that the method worked well. It inspired a number of group members to share difficulties with family relationships and to describe how the readings gave them new insights into these relationships and new possibilities for healing.

Workshop on international U/U collaboration: some thoughts on the past and future of Unitarians and Universalists around the globe

by Tony Zamparutti

Some EUU members were involved in the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) from the start. Many of us shared disappointment, even anguish, when ICUU was dissolved in 2021. But not everyone knows this story, so a short introduction to the workshop on The future of international U/U collaboration may be needed.

EUU’s membership in ICUU brought us in contact with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists around the world. Unitarians from many countries have joined our meetings online or even attended retreats in person (UK, Germany, France, Burundi, Czech Republic, Poland, Finland, Transylvania,…) At ICUU meetings, we became acquainted with people we invited to be our retreat theme speakers from Transylvania, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa. We also got to know members of the main German Unitarian group, with whom we held a joint EUU-DU retreat in Oberwesel in 2003. We went on to organize two European conferences (EUT) in 2017 and 2019. Today EUU is well-connected internationally. This is due, in large part, to our committed membership in ICUU from its beginning until its end.

Read the rest of Tony’s summary of EUU’s history with ICUU as well as a description of the workshop, led by members of the Leadership and Design Team working on a new framework for international connections.

Guide for Workshops on Democracy in Small UU Congregations and Fellowships

by Peter Jarrett

This retreat workshop was attended by 8 people, including 2 online (of which Vernon Chandler, who was co-presenter, along with John Eichrodt). It was obviously the product of a great deal of effort to try to be helpful to not only EUU fellowships, but others elsewhere as well, especially in this time of intra-denominational tension. Key inputs included a 2010 book by former UUA President John Buehrens and Rebecca Ann Parker called A House for Hope, as well as an earlier (1993) volume by political scientist John Gastil called Democracy in Small Groups. I would add that the closed captioning feature proved very useful to online participants.

Early on it was emphasized that democracy can, in principle, be either representative or deliberative, but with our context being for smaller groups, we were dealing only with the latter. We take it as given from our principles that we aspire to democracy in our fellowships and congregations; this should make for healthier fellowships and fuller participation. But the form democracy takes may differ from one to another. Another important question is whether it can or needs to be imposed or enforced.

In Vernon’s view ,once you get beyond about 10-12 people, it is no longer possible to function like a family, with meaningful bonding and sharing, and having sub-groups is advisable (whether they are called dinner groups, sharing groups, covenant groups or whatever). A need to begin to delegate develops. Power conflicts may ensue.

Peter Jarrett said that he thought certain kinds of decisions can be taken by simple majority vote (such as budgets), but others (dealing with key policy stances) require some measure of consensus (two-thirds is often chosen). Blanca Maria Mueller argued that respect was needed for good governance in any group setting. Much of the rest of the discussion focused on the problem of dissension from a small number (most often a single voice) of people. Such dissension can be entirely legitimate or rather more toxic. Jay Houkes referred to “safetyism”, a term that has become popular in recent years and that I was unaware of. Lawrence Ramsey said that organizations should encourage good behavior rather than discouraging bad behavior. He cited the NUUF safe congregations policy document that he had helped put together. But he also pointed out that many are voiceless and cannot be heard.  John warned against a lack of tolerance (“scapegoating”) for the dissenter whose right of conscience has to be respected. Groupthink should be avoided.

Too little time was available to go into all the other aspects the co-presenters had in mind, notably meeting agenda setting, information flow, voting, board power, deliberation and “right relations”, for any member fellowship of EUU as well as EUU itself. There is much food for thought here: the guide is available to any of our member fellowships who wish to delve into it further. It is no simple matter to ensure we adhere to UUA’s 5th Principle.

International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF)
by Gudrun Hahn, active in the German Chapter of IARF

More than 100 years ago, IARF was founded in 1900 in Boston, USA. The first name was: International Council of Unitarian and Other Liberal Religious Thinkers and Workers. During the long time of existence, Liberal Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews and other communities became members.

In normal times, there is a word-wide congress every 4 years. The COVID pandemic changed the tradition. After meeting in Washington, DC in 2018, we will meet this year in Transylvania, Romania, in Kolozsvár/Cluj-Napoka, not far away from Torda, which is considered the cradle of Unitarianism. In 1568 (!) King Sigismund signed the Edict of Torda, and from then onward Unitarianism was a “legal” religion, at least in this part of the world.

As a representative from the Hungarian Unitarians, Zsolt Elekes visited the EUU retreat in Bad Homburg. In previous retreats, we had students from the Kolozsvár Unitarian School. Some might remember.

September 4–6 this year, the 36th Congress of the IARF will take place in Kolozsvár under the theme FAITH IN RECONCILIATION. “The theme seeks to explore the role of religion in fostering healing, reconciliation, and just peace around the globe. Discussions will cover topics such as the role of religious leaders in reconciliation, the place of religious narratives in modern societies, and the lessons interfaith dialogue can offer to the broader social and political realm.”

You can get more information via the website: IARF.net/congress-2023. New will be the possibility to follow the congress from home via internet. The booking fee for this is 50€. This hybrid event will be new for IARF. The big challenge is: Can we create a program that gives everybody around the world (at least once) the chance to log in at an acceptable time (not at 3 o’clock sleeping time).

There are pre- and post-congress activities. September 1–3, there will be a bus tour around the Transylvanian area. Places with old Unitarian traditions will be visited, so, of course, Torda. After the congress, the “International Association of Liberal Religious Women” (IALRW) will have a two -day congress. “From Reconciliation to Inclusive Diversity” will be the theme. Go to the website IALRW.org for more information.

Council: fostering recognition of a shared humanity and interconnectedness through speaking and listening from the heart 

by Jacoba Barber-Rozema

A beautiful moment for me was the Council on Saturday afternoon led by Stephanie Couitt. She made everyone quickly feel at ease and guided us through a series of thoughtful and imaginative prompts based on the imagery of a garden. We were a group ranging from 6 weeks to over 80 years old, from all different corners and circumstances, and many of us were (well to me) strangers to each other, and yet everyone had similar struggles and hopes. I teared up more than once, and not from what people were sharing, but from the sense of connectedness and love that was present, unspoken, between us.

Stephanie will be leading more councils through the Paris fellowship – in person and online.