The Episcopal women of Arkansas take time to relax and be pampered each year when they meet for an annual Time for JOY (Jesus Others Yourself) retreat, a weekend-long event to give participants a calming escape from their daily lives.
"We want to give young women a weekend of nurturing and an opportunity to pursue and discover their own spirituality … without the pressures of today's world," said Shellie Bailey from St. John's Episcopal Church, Harrison, who has helped organize the retreats in her diocese since 2005. The Diocese of Arkansas sponsors the gatherings.
The retreats originally targeted women ages 19 to 40, whether married, single or divorced, but the ages of the women attending tends to vary, Bailey said. Because of changing family dynamics and the fact that women are having children later, women outside the age range have wanted to attend, she said. "I just told them, 'We don't check ID.'"
So far, about 17 congregations have sent from one to two women to Time for JOY. Some participants see an announcement and register themselves, others are invited by an older congregation member, but either way their communities sponsor the women, Bailey said.
Once she arrives, each woman is greeted at her car door and has her luggage carried to her room, where a gerbera daisy waits beside her bed. The women are invited to participate in activities including yoga and meditation -- or they can choose to stay in bed and sleep all weekend. Nothing is mandatory as long as they take time for themselves, Bailey said.
Sara Milford from St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, is a perfect example of someone who needed a relaxing weekend away. The mother of four, who attended the first Time for JOY in April 2005, recalled it as a holy and very spirit-filled experience.
"I had the sense of being unconditionally loved -- even by strangers," Milford said.
She described the retreat as a "spiritual spa package," where the women were pampered spiritually as well as physically. Time for JOY gave the women time to evaluate where they were in their relationship with themselves and with Christ, Milford said.
Since that first retreat, Milford has become part of the team helping with the behind-the-scenes work and coordinating publicity for the events.
Milford's reaction is part of what makes it worthwhile for Bailey. Most women ask if they can come back and help, she said.
Time for JOY's mission is to help women find a place in their church, to help them learn to take care of themselves and to remind them to take time for themselves, Bailey said.
For more information on starting Time for JOY, contact Shellie Bailey at 800-943-0454 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Julia Fleming was a summer intern for Episcopal Life.