Spring 2024 Retreat Reports



Spring EUU retreat in Saarbrucken

By Lili Fulton

About 100 people from all over Europe met this weekend for a spiritual retreat together. This tradition has become the highlight of many people’s year over the last 20 years. For yours truly, however, it was only my second EUU retreat ever, so I am happy to brag about it to all y’all.

I was driven to Saarbrucken by Dorcy and Laura, so I just got to enjoy the community of these two lovely ladies (sages femmes); they sure do carry a powerful institutional memory of UUFP and the EUU. I learned a lot.

It was a pleasant drive across France and was supposed to only take 4 hours from Paris. We, of course, got stuck in traffic leaving Paris and got lost arriving in Saarbrucken, so it took us seven plus hours from door to door, but it was still a pleasant spring drive for me.

I admit to feeling a bit daunted and shy upon first arrivall, though, the dinner was delicious. I wasn’t ‘up for’ the required meet and greet, but I’m glad I did it anyway. Despite my fatigue, the other EUUers were lovely people, and I got to interact with some very interesting new folks.

I did retire early though. I had wanted a private room, but Dorcy and I had to share. She was an extremely easy roommate, however, and our room was easy to share. I retired from the socializing early and had a late-night shower and was asleep before she got in. Then Saturday morning, I snuck out bright and early to go sit by the lake with the birdsong and leave the room to Dorcy for her morning routine. This worked well for us, I think.

After a lovely big breakfast, we were treated to the ‘theme discussion’ from our visiting pastor from Cedar Creek UU church. Abhi Janamanchi had insisted on working with Lea Morris as our music director. He was asked not to be too intellectual, that being too much of a comfort zone for UUs worldwide. His discussion was about the journey from the head to the hands being through the heart, and he gave us four guideposts on how to live our best lives: first, pay attention (as in really pay attention to right now), then be rooted and grounded and notice grace when it comes your way (we often miss the details – in which abides the sacred), next we must have the courage to be vulnerable and authentic. Last but by no means least, we need to embrace joy (frankly this is where I was falling short: so caught up in the ‘should’s of every day that I missed the fun, the sacred joy).

I personally was left pretty overwhelmed by all I had experienced through our extremely interactive morning by the time we got to lunch, but ‘no rest for the wicked’ – we were offered two workshops in the afternoon. I attended the first on Cree spirituality, given by Derek, where we learned of a very different form of feeding the human hunger for meaning and piety in our hearts. Excellent discussion of peace pipes and Kisimanatou that really fed my spirit. We learned the seven sacred laws (each named for an animal in the Cree tradition):

Buffalo – Respect all life, all races and especially elders

Eagle – Always act in love of the creator, the earth, your family and yourself.

Bear – Have the courage to listen to your heart and to do what is right.

Sasquatch – Honesty; never lie or gossip malevolently, be true to your word.

Beaver – Have the wisdom to use your gift to better the world.

Wolf – Have the humility to take care of your group and be grateful for your world.

Turtle – Always speak the truth.

Next, I attended a ‘break out session’ lead by Matt on the subject of left-right brain divide – particularly about how we need the right brain for our search for meaning. Particularly we are trained better in specialized attention from the left brain and its details categories and dissections, but we are forgetting our much needed right brain attention to the relationships between things, to connections and the holistic world around us. Without a good balance we live a much less meaningful existence than we might otherwise. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “we live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meanwhile in us is the soul of the whole, the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is related…to the universal one”. Let’s not lose our ancestral right to spiritual balance.

Then after teatime, it was time for choir practice. Lea was an awesome music director; it was great fun to work with her beautiful songs. She was very patient but also a very good choir director; she told us, “There is no such thing as a mistake in this song, if you do something different it becomes jazz.” We tried our best, and I humbly say I think we sounded good.

I couldn’t hang around to enjoy the talent show because I was just too tired. I went up to bed and slept early again.

But then Sunday morning dawned another fresh and beautiful day, and we were given the sermon about ”Wrestling with God” – Abhi and Lea gave us lots to chew on. It was beautiful.

Then we ate lunch and drove home.

I look forward to the Nov. retreat in Cologne. These retreats seem like amazing little polished jewels of spiritual exercise that the EUU shares with us. I am tired but happy after spending this weekend with all my fellow travelers.

A Quick Overview from an Old EUUer

By Laura Stahnke

For five years I hadn’t been to a retreat for an obvious reason, Covid, and a less obvious one: moving from Paris to a rural community in central France where I have been busy settling and rooting myself. This includes a shift from the UUFP to EUU At Large.

Greeted with a hug from an old friend before I entered the youth hostel, I was immediately overwhelmed by all the familiar faces I hadn’t seen in years. I was at home far from home.

The icebreaker introduced me to a new face and a new generation. She found me because she recognized we were a couple in a series I had never seen. During our brief get together, I learned she was from the DC area now living in Spain; she and her wife had joined UU for the RE for their two children. Yes, RE and Social Action have always been UU markers for me.

During the Friday evening bar discussion, two old friends, a new one and I talked about how welcome, or not, Latinos were made to feel in a very large fellowship in New Mexico. (Since the shock of Trump’s election, the “bee in my bonnet” has been people feeling excluded and disparaged. I often ask myself if I and UU fellowships in general do not need to be more open and inclusive, welcoming.

Reverend Abhi Janamanchi and Lea Morris certainly opened my vision of who we UUs can be during the Saturday morning sessions. There we were doing breathing exercises, meditating, chanting and dancing along with discussing our values in small groups. UUers I had never seen dance before were dancing! We all had bodies, not just heads! Dance has always brought me joy, so when we did the mirror exercise afterwards another new friend and I found ourselves making circular gestures of profound respect for each other. I felt close to her and to everyone in the room, as if we were one.

The afternoon workshops I attended brought me more wisdom. Reverend Janamanchi stressed the point that being a community reviewing its principles was a process. In the history of Unitarianism there have been many heated discussions, starting with our beginning, that God is One, not three and going right up to 1961 when two creedal associations joined together to form a non creedal one: We COVENANT to promote these principles and sources. We do not believe them, we aspire to live them. We are united by our values, not our beliefs; we are a free faith, he said and “we need not think alike to love alike.” In June delegates to the General Assembly will be free to reject the new proposal.

Onto the right and left sides of the brain with Matt Gilsenen, we learned that the left side likes to look at details, to make categories and models, whereas the right side sees the greater picture, the whole and the relationships between things. We need both sides to survive and to many of us it seemed we have been developing the left side at a faster pace than the right side.

The talent show went from sublime classical music to ridiculous plates and dinner parties.

On Sunday morning the choir urged us to keep our hearts wide open, to listen and to have homes of peace and joy, hope and love. Reverend Janamanchi reminded us that we come together to serve life greater than our own and “that which is infinite and whole is joy.” Earlier when questioned about his Hinduism he said, “Being a Unitarian Univeralist has made him a better Hindu. He is both. We are all made of many parts, and we are one.

Seen at the Retreat

Unexpected !

An unexpected happening at the retreat: Tina and Logan came from New Jersey, where they are currently living, and Dorcy presented them with a special EUU mug. A recognition of their many years of service to EUU, the mug was intended to be given to them years ago. What with Logan and Tina moving around the world more than once, and the covid pandemic affecting our ability to gather in person, the present was. not presented until now. Thank you Tina and Logan!

Floral Mandala

Rumi wrote: “Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.”

The circle is a universal symbol of the cosmos or universe. There is evidence that ancient Sumerians made magic circles and had rituals to appease their gods. In Hinduism and Buddhism, mandalas are created by monks as an aid to meditation. Some First Nation peoples of the Americas developed circular dwellings, kivas, for ceremonies and rituals. Wicca is a nature based pagan belief system, that uses “magick” circles and rituals calling on the sacred elements of Water, Wind, Fire, Earth and Heaven for support.

I have made Earth Circles for many years, often to celebrate the Solstices. It is part of love and respect of the natural world. For some time, I was the team leader of the Environmental Justice Ministry at Cedar Lane UUC, Bethesda, MD. It appeared to me that all our efforts in lobbying, changing environmental laws, etc., may not have reached the core, although it is an essential activity.

Most of us know where we are headed. We just have to follow the news of world wide climate impacts. How does one transform the subconscious fear of species extinction (including our own) and climate change to a fierce love for the natural world?

In Saarbrücken, Reverend Abhi reminded us of Love. I appreciated the title of the conference: “The Journey from the Head to the Hands leads through the Heart.”

For me loving and protecting the natural world leads through ritual. Here complex, holistic principles can be perceived through all our senses, that read the sun, birdsong, wind sounds, and visual beauty of natural materials in our Right brain. The shared community of gathering around an earth circle reminds us of the ancient mystery and diversity of creation.

Change made out of love has greater potential.

Christiane Graham

Photos by Tom Sievers and Jeanette Wild-Sievers

Young People’s Program

By Janie Spencer

We were very lucky to have an exceptionally great group of youth at this retreat and also to have sunny weather so that games outside were a must.

All of the retreats at which I have lead RE have been different; but in all cases, I can say thank you parents for a great job, well done.

I was touched to have Sally teaching with me. I remember bringing her to a retreat when she was a girl. She was amazed for the first time to feel so much appreciation and love. Now she has passed that on to others.


EUU Safe Community Statement workshop

By Linnea R

Raise your hand if you want an unsafe community! No, of course not. Nobody wants our community to be an unsafe place.

A group of EUU members has been working on documents and procedures for a safe EUU community. They have developed a statement that expresses what a safe EUU community looks like and a policy that describes the measures we should have in place to keep our community safe.

It is uncomfortable but important work to think about things that could go wrong in our community and to describe how we could handle problems. The documents we turn to in a crisis are a first-aid kit we hope never to need. It is clear that a great deal of love and commitment has gone in to developing the Safe Community Statement and Policy. Having well thought through and clearly expressed goals and procedures can help us deal with minor incidents and greatly reduce the likelihood of more serious or prolonged incidents.

What a work of love it is to invest in our collective safety! Keep an eye out for opportunities to contribute to the process with your wisdom and perspective.

WORKSHOP:  WHERE ARE WE? led by Bettina Lande

By Dorcy Erlandson

Since this was the first EUU Retreat to take place in Saarbrücken, Bettina Lande had done a lot of research on the area and its history and had collected books, maps, and other documents. She began by leading us in reflections on our own personal identities.  In fact, identity has always been a fundamental issue in the Saar region.  Due to its rich deposits of coal, the area had been shuffled between France and Germany since the time of Louis XIV, and its status was part of each treaty after their numerous wars.

We focused on the Versailles Treaty of 1919 at the end of World War I. This treaty set up the region as a separate political entity, occupied and governed by France under a League of Nations mandate until 1935.  In that year a referendum of the population voted overwhelmingly in favor of what had become Nazi Germany.

Bettina played for us a recording – a pro-German anthem, “Das Saarlied,” written in 1934 by Hanns Eisler with words by Berthold Brecht. Here is a link to the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PdgancaUs0.  In fact, both Eisler and Brecht were soon banished by the Nazi party, and both eventually lived in exile in the United States.

Some of this history dove-tailed with the history of Bettina’s own family.  She had recently learned that her grandfather, a musician, had worked in the Saarbrücken theater for several years when the region was under the mandate.  She had just visited the local museum’s archives where she actually found some details of his employment there. After losing his job there, he briefly returned to his German hometown and then fled to Switzerland.

P.S.  For more information about the Treaty of Versailles, an excellent book is Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, by Margaret MacMillan, Random House, 2009.