After I got the call that I had been accepted into Amate House, I no longer dreaded the ever-popular question, “What are you doing after college?” One day, when a classmate brought up the topic, I sat up a little straighter in my seat and told her all about my upcoming adventures with Amate, to which she responded, “Yeah, I was thinking about taking a year off, too.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, a “year off” entails either traipsing across Europe from hostel to hostel or playing Nintendo 64 in your parents’ basement. This is quite different from what I have experienced so far with Amate. In fact, I believe we at Amate House have been taking a “year on” by living in intentional communities in solidarity with those we serve and work beside everyday.
However, no matter how much I love my year “on,” I have begun to realize how important it is to take time “off.” Thankfully, the Amate volunteers and staff had the opportunity to spend a weekend retreat at the rustic Ronora Lodge in Michigan to reconnect and rejuvenate. On an unusually sunny and warm October afternoon, we packed up the cars with everything we would need for the weekend, from rice cookers and s’more fixings to Frisbees and tennis racquets, and drove from the always-busy city to the serenity of the woods.
The weekend’s sessions focused on the five fundamentals of teamwork: trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results. While it seems like common sense now, I had never thought about the relationship between these components of a community. Each one is dependent on the others, and even if a community excels in one aspect, they cannot be truly successful until all are met. We took time to reflect on which fundamentals we succeed at personally and communally and which ones we need to work on. The staff members tied the concepts to personal experiences they have had in community and shared both healthy and unhealthy ways to live them out.
Each house community had the opportunity to assess our strengths and weaknesses regarding the fundamentals and come up with potential solutions to some of our shortcomings. In such a peaceful environment, we found it easy to have open and conscientious conversations. Issues that were perhaps difficult to bring up with twelve people at a noisy dinner table after an exhausting workday were comfortably shared in the tight-knit circle of attentive community members.
Throughout the weekend we had time to enjoy the beautiful grounds of the lodge, in between rain showers, that is, during both the retreat sessions and free time. We took walks with prayer partners, went paddleboating, played games, took time for personal reflection, had bonfires, and even a few brave souls took a dip in the lake.
We ended the weekend with an affirmation exercise that I think concluded the retreat perfectly. During the retreat, we had the chance to get to know our community members and ourselves more deeply, which helped us write our affirmations straight from the heart. Each community member took time to write an affirmation and prayer for the housemate sitting to his or her right. After some reflection, we read them aloud. I was truly taken aback by the authenticity and genuine love put into each person’s affirmation. Amid teary eyes and hugs, I realized how blessed I am to be a part of a community that is willing and able to eloquently articulate what is so wonderful about one another when we might not even be able to recognize it ourselves. By the time everyone had shared their affirmation and the final clean-up had been made, we all hopped back in our cars with renewed energy to take the year “on.”