Our First Model of an Online Retreat

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I began exploring the idea of an online retreat with some skepticism. Having read your comments and spent a number of hours looking around on the internet, I am now convinced that some kind of online retreat experience is not only possible but desirable. An online retreat will never replace the robust experience of getting away to a new location and meeting people in-person, but it might provide a valuable alternative to that. For one thing, traditional retreats are expensive. Most people can only afford to attend a few of them. Some cannot go at all. And there may be other factors that prevent people from going to retreats. Some sort of online version of a retreat might meet some real needs. Before I outline an imaginary online retreat for you, let me mention something I think is important.

While an online retreat will involve technology, it should use the simplest forms of technology possible. Technological tools that require software installations or are tied to some particular social media form would be too limiting. The model I’m proposing would require only a modest set of internet skills. Individual participants would be encouraged to use their social media connections on their own. That kind of thing would greatly enhance the retreat but would not be a requirement.

Enough talk. Here’s how I imagine an online retreat might look.

1. Registration

There would be a registration process. If a small fee were required, this is where you pay it. If I had to guess at a fee, I would think it would be around $25. When you register, you would create a user account and fill out a profile. This profile would include ways that other retreatants could connect with you - your email address, phone number, skype account, IM account, Facebook, Twitter, etc. None of these would be required, of course. You would choose how much you want to share. And you could update your page during the retreat if you wish. TECHNOLOGY NEEDED: A website with registration capability, possibly with online payment capability.

2. Opening Session - Sunday Night

The first session of the retreat would be a live video from the retreat leader(s). A speaker would be introduced. Some details and instructions would be addressed. Those watching the video stream would be able to ask questions with a process like instant messaging. The speaker would present the first session. The live video would not be recorded. Retreatants would have to be online to be part of this event. If someone can’t attend, that’s okay. But, as it is with live retreats, if you miss a session, you just miss it. TECHNOLOGY NEEDED: Live video feed with feedback capability. For the initial session, only the presenter would have video showing.

3. The Chat Room Opens

After the first session, a chat room would be open for those who wish to use it. This room would remain open at all times throughout the retreat. If people want to connect in other ways, they could use the information in their profiles to connect with Skype, IM, email, or even by phone. Some might not want to interact at all. That’s fine too. TECHNOLOGY NEEDED: A chat room with access limited to those in the retreat.

4. Exercises - Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday

On Monday morning, a web page would appear on the retreat website. This page would only be available to those on the retreat. This page would contain exercises and information particular to the retreat. It could contain artwork, poetry, readings, instructions for prayer exercises, videos, etc. Retreatants would visit this page whenever they could on Monday and work through the exercises outline on it. Feedback on this page would be greatly encouraged. Comments (both video comments and written comments) would be collected. People could share their experiences in going through the exercises. Their feedback would become part of the experience for the next person who visits the page. Retreatants could come back to the page on Monday, replying to comments and being part of a conversation. On Tuesday and Wednesday, new exercise pages would come online. Retreatants would visit them and go through the exercises on those days. TECHNOLOGY NEEDED: A website capable of displaying video and receiving comments.

5. Session Two - Wednesday

On Wednesday evening there would be a second live video event. This event would be like the first one. The speaker would offer a presentation of some kind. It is possible that music could be involved in these live events as well. The leader of the retreat, having gotten to know people since Sunday, might be able to expand this session with some increased interaction with those watching. Questions or comments could by typed live. The speaker could respond. While the chat room would be open all the time, after this event there would be a special invitation to interact there. The speaker would likely be involved. As throughout the retreat, people could connect using their own methods as well.

6. Exercises - Thursday and Friday

Another series of exercises would go online each of these days. People would interact with them and with each other as they have all week long.

7. Closing Event & Worship - Friday Night

Retreatants gather for another live video feed. The speaker would make his or her last presentation. In this last gathering, we could turn on video feeds for all involved, creating a video conference. Participation in the video feed would be optional, of course. I’ve not experienced worship in this way, but perhaps there would be singing and praying and other forms of worship. We would close by giving people a chance to talk for a few minutes about what the retreat has meant to them. TECHNOLOGY NEEDED: Video conferencing.

8. Live Gatherings

Live gatherings would be an important part of these retreats, but they would not be organized by the leaders of the retreat. The retreatants could meet in person after the retreat in whatever ways are available to them. Friends might go through the retreat and meet every day for lunch during that week. People who live near each other might plan to go through the retreat together and meet up at the end.

9. Post Retreat Archive

A closing web page for the retreat would be provided where people could leave final comments and post pictures or videos of their live gatherings. Retreatants could return to the archive and revisit the exercise pages. Profile pages would be available for those who want to reconnect at later times. If anyone wishes to delete or change their profile information, they would be free to do that.

A Word about Privacy

For the comfort level of those wishing privacy, anyone involved would be able to delete their user account at any time. Immediately, all comments and input offered by that user would be deleted. It’s not anticipated that anyone would want to do this, but perhaps it would be a comfort to know that it could be done. Let me know what you think. Keep talking to me in the comments. This is just a model of what might be.