Virtual retreats offer space for UNY women and beyond to find space and build connections
October 26, 2023 / By Krystal Cole, Conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women
Doing something new can be scary. But the Upper New York Conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW) is full of people ready and willing to try something. We weren’t sure it was even achievable to hold a retreat for women over Zoom.
The mere mention of the word “Zoom” for some people can elicit an internal eye roll, or perhaps the word “snoozefest.” But what we wanted was to create a space for women of faith to connect from anywhere and everywhere, and what better venue for limitless connection than the worldwide web, on a platform almost everyone has become familiar with in the last few years. Despite the hurdle of the stereotypes that can come with the word Zoom, we pressed forward!
Countless hours went into planning our inaugural event in the fall of 2022; Wisdom-Seeking Women. In coordinating this event, we put in every effort to appeal to many styles of learning, scheduling in several stretch breaks, lining up five different speakers, and spacing the event over two evenings to appeal to clergy as well as lay people. We were fortunate enough to have five women say “yes” to speaking, including Bishop Susan Hassinger. Bishop Hassinger served as the Episcopal leader of the Boston Area from 1996 until her retirement in 2004.
Because of the limitations of meeting remotely, we also wanted to add as much personal connection as possible, so we added time to break off into one-on-one prayer partner sessions as well as a discussion group. And why stop at making an impact just on the women that attended? We went one step further by donating $5 of every registration to End the Backlog, a nonprofit organization founded by producer, director, actress, and advocate Mariska Hargitay which focuses on ending the rape kit backlog in the United States.
To further personalize the retreat experience, we packed and sent care packages to early registrants. These packages included stickers, candles, candy, a handwritten note from the team, a postcard explaining what COSROW is, a coloring sheet, paper for an origami craft, and other materials.
Ultimately, holding these events stems back to 2019, when COSROW conducted a survey of the Upper New York (UNY) Annual Conference, asking how we can best serve and support the needs of women in UNY. Those results led us to planning a Zoom retreat.
Our team had never tried anything like this before. Previously, we have been known as the “pie chart people,” keeping track of demographics of speakers at Annual Conferences. And for some years, that was the heart of COSROW’s work. While we will not cease that important task in the future, we are branching out and finding more ways to support women. Right now, that’s with Catch Your Breath events.
The Finding Your Space women’s retreat allowed us to spend two evenings with women from across the country, Sept. 29-30. This is our second Zoom retreat and the experience was centered around the theme of “Finding Your Space." During our time together, we heard from five unique speakers, had breakout group discussions, connected with prayer partners, and even did a little origami.
This year, our speakers included Jenna Amberge, the Rev. Theresa Eggleston, Nairobi Smith, the Rev. Corey Turnpenny, and Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, who serves as the Episcopal leader of both the Western Pennsylvania and Susquehanna Conferences. Bishop Moore-Koikoi served as our retreat's keynote speaker. We learned the definition of space, built community, engaged in guided meditation, experienced the creation story, and worshiped through song. This time around, $5 of each registration cost went to Girls Inc., which “inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.”
Through the work of the Spirit, our gifted speakers, and of the COSROW team, we have gotten overwhelmingly positive feedback after both of our Zoom events. One person attending from outside of New York state shared they feel their home conference doesn’t host a space they feel they can spend time in retreat, but the Catch Your Breath retreats provides that for them. I recently received a handwritten card in the mail from my prayer partner, who was keeping my personal prayer concerns in her heart.
We look forward to continually serving and supporting the women of Upper New York however we can. Thank you to everyone that has made these Catch Your Breath events possible.
We don’t yet have the date of our next event, but please follow us on Facebook: Upper New York Commission on the Status and Role of Women. Feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com.
COSROW team members include Margot Rankins-Burd, the Rev. Bryant Clark, Ellen Klock, the Rev. Sue Russell, Krystal Cole, the Rev. Dr. Aaron Bouwens, Pastor Brett Johnson, and Pastor Bekah Solar.