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Decision-Making Factors for Group Retreats

Scheduling group retreats for GilChrist and making decisions about what we can accommodate is a monumental task each year. The process is a complex overlay of practical, philosophical, and relational considerations. You should see our gloriously chaotic poster of sticky notes!

For 2023, we fielded more group retreat requests than we can accommodate, especially for high-demand dates, which meant we had to decline some requests. The upsides are that retreat is in high demand and the overflow will hopefully benefit other centers in our retreat network. But we also know some folks we care about will be disappointed, and that’s hard.

As we lean into the dynamic tensions inherent in making these decisions, it feels important to make our process as transparent as possible. Toward that end, here’s a list of factors that have gone into our scheduling for 2023. If you have questions or feedback, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

BEFORE PLUGGING IN GROUPS…

  • We mark off all dates that we need to reserve, like Fetzer Institute board meeting dates, GilChrist Thanksgiving and winter holidays, and other holiday weekends. We don’t schedule group retreats for holiday weekends unless specifically requested (and even then, we make sure the facilitator knows they requested a holiday weekend).
  • We also reserve time in the schedule for…
    • One good (non-holiday) weekend per month for solo retreats
    • Spring (early April) and fall (early October) maintenance closure
    • Cabin deep cleaning Monday-Thursday (January-February)

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR GROUP PLANNERS

  • Winter weekends (January-March) are lower-demand times and usually easier to accommodate.
  • Weekdays (especially Tuesday-Thursday) are lower-demand times and usually easier to accommodate, especially if they are next to solo weekends.
  • We suggest lower-demand dates if…
    • The facilitator has two or more repeat offerings that are similar in content to several other retreats (or just schedule one request)
    • A new retreat is requested for high-demand dates
    • A retreat open only to a select group is requested for high-demand dates
    • The facilitator has cancelled in the past due to lack of participation
  • If we can’t accommodate a group…
    • We refer them to our other neighborhood centers
    • We refer them to retreat center networks to explore options (RCC and RetreatFinder)

PROGRAMMATIC + RELATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

  • Does the emphasis on contemplative space feel like a good match with GilChrist?
    • With open curiosity, we will ask for clarity when groups express a desire to push the capacity limit for WindHill or if they seem to have overly ambitious agendas.
    • We don’t generally reserve space for things like business meetings, networking, or strategic planning.
  • Does our overall slate of offerings reflect diverse topics, practices, and facilitators?
  • Is the proposed content of the retreat unique and detailed?
  • What is the value of preserving the relationship and retreat home for a longer-term group? Has the group held a mutual care for GilChrist’s space, mission, policies, and staff in the past? What is the quality of our relationship as it relates to feedback and overall communication?
  • What is the opportunity to cultivate a relationship with a new facilitator and their participants?
  • Are folks demonstrating efforts to articulate specific strategies for diversity, equity, and inclusion? For example:
    • Do facilitators leading practices from traditions outside their own background and identity demonstrate awareness of borrowing respectfully?
    • Are there specific strategies for economic access?
    • Are there specific strategies for the inclusion and safety of historically excluded people?
  • Does the overall need for support from our staff allow us to work in a spirit of contemplation and peace, in reciprocal relationship with maintaining an atmosphere of retreat for our guests?

Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma, head caretaker for whole systems design at GilChrist Retreat Center, seeks to live a deeply rooted life as a guest of the Potawatomi people at the intersection of the Rocky, Portage, and St. Joseph Rivers

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