As a longtime member of St. Mary’s, I was always a little embarrassed to admit I’d never made the trip to the All Parish Retreat at Shrine Mont. Many years I wished to go, but always managed to find an excuse to put it off for another year. With my husband and 3 and 5 year old boys on board, this was the year to make it happen.
The drive out of the city itself is therapeutic. Once we reached the town of Marshall on Interstate 66 with a few peaks of the Shenandoah ahead, the stress of metropolitan life melted into the simplicity of a mountain retreat. The drive was an easy one and the perfect duration for a nice nap for both kids. After passing through some quaint towns and resorts, Shrine Mont was easy to find, literally at the end of the road. As we wandered through our new surroundings it seemed as if our parish had established an early 20th century township. There were familiar faces lounging in the porch chairs, throwing baseballs and sharing refreshments. Our room was very comfortable, but we didn’t stay there long, because we knew that the good company and beautiful surroundings had much more to offer.
Dinner in the dining hall was delicious, and my oldest son quickly found his new best friend for the weekend. Mealtime always was a good opportunity to meet new friends from both inside and outside the parish. We had just enough time to get our fishing poles wet before heading to eat s’mores at the fire pit, with more parishioners arriving after the long workday. Walking back in the dark to our room past the beautiful luminaries leading to the Shrine, we were reminded that this was a spiritual journey through nature and fellowship.
There was enough scheduled throughout the weekend to keep us active and reflective while leaving plenty of time free for relaxation and fun. My children especially enjoyed fishing, exploring the woods and experiencing the chaotic water battle. I loved getting to know the people I see in the pews each week, (but in t-shirts and eating s-mores around a campfire, instead of formal Sunday clothing).
The Sunday morning service, which was set in the beauty of the old Shrine was an apt sendoff back into the chaos of normal life. I hope we will make it back to the mountains every year to come; but if we miss a year or many, our hearts forever hold the fellowship and Spirit with which we were blessed there.