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Diocesan Women's Retreat: Finding Shelter in Times of Unrest

News--Women's retreat

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. ––Ephesians 1:17-19 (NIV)

Unlike most things that have occured in the year 2020, this year’s Diocesan Women’s Retreat at Camp St. Christopher actually lived up to what it claimed to be, and even more! 

The overwhelming sense that I felt from the first day to the last was shelter from the craziness of the world we are currently living in. Just walking up to Susannah’s House, where the weekend’s events would be held, was peaceful. The ladies had thought of everything we might want or need. And they greeted us with smiles and happy faces on the porch. 

Women's retreat whole group

Pictured left to right: Glo Avent, Joanna Macmurphy, Tammy Gottshalk, Martha Vetter, Suzanne McCord, Pringle Franklin, Jayne Gurley, and Susan Keller at the annual Anglican Women's Retreat at Camp St. Christopher.

Then walking to our cabin was like walking into our own little bit of heaven. There was a deer munching on some grass, the breeze was blowing gently off the water, and we could hear the waves lapping on the beach just behind the massive palmetto log cross that stands in the dunes right in front of our cabin. The sun was getting lower and the half moon was bright white against the clear blue sky.  

Inside the cabin, there were more treats waiting for each us, as well as ceiling fans and air conditioning. But one notable thing was missing--a TV. It was the perfect place to find shelter in times of unrest. 

I felt covered in protection, security, and peace and removed from the unrest of the world. Later in the program I found out that Susan Yates, our keynote speaker, had been praying Ephesians 1:17-19 over each of our names before the weekend. The fruit of her prayers was evident in my spirit.  

After a yummy supper (with all the necessary COVID-19 precautions like temperature checks, 6-ft. marks on the floor, and carefully spaced seating), we met for our first session. Susan began by explaining that over the weekend she would give us eight keys to enable us to find shelter under the protection of our amazing, powerful God––especially during times of uncertainty. The beginning of any journey is knowing where we are and who we are. Since we are all sinners, Susan focused on sin, explaining that it is important to acquire a proper understanding of it. We were invited to write down on a slip of paper any sin that seemed to keep popping back up in our lives. It could be one that we keep committing or one that we committed long ago that we can’t quite forget or accept that God has forgiven. Then we put the slips of paper in a bucket by the altar. 

Worship Music Women's Retreat

We began and ended the night with beautiful music led by Chelsea Hamshaw, who is the wife of the Rev. Jason Hamshaw, Rector of All Saints' Florence, and the daughter of Bishop Mark Lawrence and his wife, Allison. Chelsea's niece Sarah Lawrence, one of the Lawrences' granddaughters, accompanied on the violin. The worship times were powerful and effective in preparing our hearts and minds to receive Susan’s messages. 

We closed the evening with some icebreakers, which provided most of us with a prize of some sort. Back in our cabin, the six of us enjoyed discussing the activities of the day. A few of us even went looking for deer and any other creatures we could find on the path to the beach, but they must have heard us coming. 

Early the next morning, some rose early while it was still dark and were treated to a special Godly gift. Without the light pollution of the city, they saw many shooting stars and even watched a satellite streak across the sky.  

Another treat awaited us all Saturday morning. Bishop Lawrence came to share a short message with us about Psalm 91 and how the Psalmist is describing God. Then he shared about when his fourth child, Emily, was born (in a towel closet) and he held her little fresh and still-dirty body in his hands. It was then he knew how God feels about holding each of us in His hands--He is NOT going to let go. He will NOT drop us. Each of us is His special child. We may have hardship and trial, but He will always be with us, holding us. 

Lawrence Music Women's Retreat

And then the bishop did the truly unexpected thing––he played the guitar and sang with his daughter Chelsea and his granddaughter Sarah. All the women in that room were touched in a very special way by getting to be a part of this special moment. What a blessing it has been for our diocese to be led by such a man as Bishop Mark during our time of unrest over these last 12, almost 13 years. He is a man who knows how to love like Christ while standing firm like Christ. He has held us steady in his strong hands. Everyone applauded when he shared that he will still be around next year. 

Susan Yates Women's Retreat

Right after that,  Susan Yates opened our minds to a whole new way of looking at growth, sharing with us the juxtaposition of natural growth to spiritual growth. It is clearly an insight from the Lord as it spoke powerfully to all who were there. 

Another highlight of the weekend for me was the small-group time, a chance for all of our St. Philip’s ladies to gather together and share what we were learning from the weekend and from our own personal studies and pray for each other. Being with these sisters was like a feast after a fast. 

Women's retreat small group Vetter Avent Gurley

I also had the treat of hearing our own Jayne Gurley give a talk on her research of the book of Ruth and how she is using it to understand better how women can mentor other women. Her whole talk and many from the weekend will later be uploaded to the diocesan website. 

Saturday afternoon there were a few hours free to walk on the beach and soak in the beauty of Seabrook Island. 

St. Christopher cross McCord

Women's retreat testimonies Vetter   Burning of sins Women's Retreat

Sunday morning worship and communion included an “open mic” time when ladies could share their testimonies from the weekend. At least six different ladies ages 35 to 75 shared how God had spoken to them through the weekend. They all shared how they would go back home and be able to live in Him and for Him with fresh vision, with newfound freedom and joy and peace--even in the midst of these times of unrest. We know how to seek him for shelter instead of the many things that the world prescribes. For the closing of the service, we were invited outside to watch the burning of that “bucket of sins” from day one. It was a powerful conclusion to a powerful weekend retreat from the unrest in the world. If you see any of us who went, please ask us about the weekend. We all would love to share it with you. And we invite you to join us for the women’s retreat 2021, God willing.  

Keynote speaker Susan Alexander Yates is the author of Risky Faith: Becoming Brave Enough to Trust the God Who Is Bigger Than Your World, which takes readers on a journey of renewed understanding and vision to walk in the confidence of a God so much bigger than the challenges we often face. Susan also spoke at St. Philip's last December at the ECW Advent Luncheon.