In times of involuntary isolation due to lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, online ecumenical retreats have emerged as an alternative place for spiritual dialogue. In Sweden, a series of four so-called “Quiet Days” retreats, where participants join online in a digital room to share a moment of stillness and reflection, were launched on the Eve of Pentecost. Initiated already last year under the headline “A spiritual dwelling for God,” by Lutheran Bishop Karin Johannesson from the Diocese of Uppsala, Sweden and co-hosted by Cardinal Anders Arborelius from the Roman Catholic Church in Sweden, the retreats have been expanded this year with English subtitles to also attract international audiences.
Photo: Magnus Aronson/WCC
15 July 2021
Built on dialogue and conversations between the two church leaders under the theme of “A Pentecostal Retreat for the Life of the World,” the retreats are meant to provide an opportunity for spiritual reflection in search of God.
“We saw a growing need last year for people to come together under alternative forms for reflection and contemplation. Now, a year later, the need for comfort, hope and fellowship is perhaps even greater and we see more people go online to fulfil those needs,” explains Jo-hannesson.
This year’s retreats are between 15 and 20 minutes long each and are accessible online for all, without any registration requirements. The first was held on the Eve of Pentecost, 22 May, under the theme “The Arrival of the Helper” (John, 14:25-29), followed a week later by theme “The Temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:12-20) and themes “The Gifts of the Spirit” (1 Cor 12:1-11) on 5 June and “Mary the Mother of the Church” (Luke 1:46-55) on 12 June.
“Unprecedented times like these, when more people feel lonely and forgotten, and aren’t able to gather in church to worship, make us realize what is important in life. We discover that God is actually far more present in our lives than we can comprehend. People feel a need to pray and strengthen their Christian fellowship. To some extent, our retreats may have helped them do that,” Arborelius hopes.
Next year, these two Swedish church leaders plan to further develop their cross-denominational collaboration. In June they will hold a sermon together during the International Conference on Receptive Ecumenism and in August 2022, they will host a conference together on how Carmelite spirituality and evangelical Lutheran traditions can enrich one another. Both events take place in Sigtuna, Sweden.
Overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants in the two series of online retreats that have been held so far, has thus encouraged Johannesson and Arborelius to explore new forms of collaboration to help people find God.
“The conclusion is that spiritual dialogue and reflections are key elements in people’s search and that there is an accumulated and growing need for it,” they agree.