Grace Place strives 'to preserve every shepherd'

Ten years ago, helping pastors, teachers, and their spouses learn biblically based strategies to cope with ministry challenges and strengthen physical, emotigrace-place.gifonal, and spiritual health was the focus of Grace Place Lutheran Retreats.

Today, the LCMS Recognized Service Organization continues to serve clergy and educator couples at affordable mini-sabbaticals but has widened its reach to also include retreats for fourth-year seminary students, parish nurses, ministers of music, directors of Christian education, and missionaries.  The single church workers retreat, Sept. 2-6 in Snowmass, Colo., is one example of how the continuing education ministry strives, in the words of founder and Executive Director Dr. John Eckrich, “to preserve every shepherd we can preserve.”

“While most of our retreats have a heavy emphasis on marital and parental relationships in ministry service, we also recognize that many pastors and teachers have unique challenges as a single person,” Eckrich said.  “Whether a pastor or educator is single by choice or as the result of being widowed or divorced, the stresses of serving as an unmarried church worker are significant and quite different from those faced by married counterparts.” 
 
Grace Place’s 10th year kicked off in March with a mini-sabbatical for fourth-year Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, students and spouses at Trout Lodge, Potosi, Mo. A similar retreat for Concordia Theological Seminary students followed April 4-7 at Pokagon State Park near Fort Wayne.  (See 2009 retreat schedule at the end of this story.) 
 
Since 1999, Grace Place has served some 2,500 church workers and spouses at more than 100 retreats.  Eckrich, a life-long Lutheran and St. Louis physician, founded the ministry after years of treating church workers and their families.  “I saw how struggles related to ministry bring on health problems,” said Eckrich, who retired from his medical practice in 2007 to focus full time on Grace Place.  “Our church workers were burning themselves out while they cared for others but did not take care of themselves.”
 
The Grace Place day is structured around four “pause points” for prayer and reflection on God’s Word — marital and family relationships, conflict resolution, fiscal health challenges, and spiritual health.

Retreats also include recreational opportunities such as hiking, biking, golfing, and even napping.

Generous donors and foundations help Grace Place keep retreats affordable. The cost for a typical four-night retreat is about $345 per room, including lodging, meals, education sessions and materials, and recreational activities.  Gifts and grants help underwrite actual retreat expenses, which run about $2,000 per couple.  Some retreat participants (such as missionaries and seminary students) attend at no cost, thanks to Grace Place supporters.

Along with expanding the variety of professional church workers served, the ministry has grown geographically. Last year, the Australian Lutheran Synod invited Eckrich and staff to host clergy couples Down Under. On Aug. 26-31, Grace Place will lead a retreat in Seoul, South Korea, in conjunction with the International Lutheran Council Conference for leaders from 34 Lutheran church bodies on six continents.

Grace Place also has grown programmatically. This year, the ministry debuted an interactive, Web-based continuing education program that participants use to build on retreat strategies after their mini-sabbatical ends. 
 
Two July retreats in Aspen, Colo., (one each for pastors and educators) are full, but the following Grace Place retreats still have openings:

  • Educators retreat, July 20-24, Trego, Wis. (discounted rate for Thrivent members);

  • Educators and pastors retreat, July 27-31, Trego, Wis. (discounted rate for Thrivent members);

  • Midwest pastors and missionaries (who are home on furlough) retreat, Aug. 3-7, Trout Lodge, Potosi, Mo.;

  • Single church workers retreat, Sept. 2-6, Snowmass, Colo. (open to both LCMS and ELCA rostered, commissioned, and professional church workers); and

  • Iowa pastors retreat, Oct. 5-9, Camp Okoboji, Milford, Iowa.
  • To learn more, visit www.graceplaceretreats.org or call (314) 842-3077. For information about making a Grace Place gift, contact Grace Place Chief Development Officer John Diefenbach at jdief@graceplaceretreats.org.

    Posted April 29, 2009

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