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Spirituality to be explored at retreat


Saturday, March 01, 2003

By George Jaksa

Davison Twp. - Two highly regarded Detroit-area spiritual leaders will probe spirituality and religion March 13-15 at the LouHelen Baha'i School Retreat and Conference center here.

The retreat, called "Inner Presence - Blessed Community: Spirituality and/or Religion," is being planned by the Michigan Area Covenant Community for Spiritual Formation. Open to the public and limited to 50 people, the retreat still has openings.

Leading the Thursday-through-Saturday retreat will be the Rev. John Biersdorf and the Rev. Bruce Rigdon.

Biersdorf, 72, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and was the first president and dean of the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit. Rigdon, 66, an ordained Presbyterian minister, recently became president of the seminary after serving as senior pastor of the Grosse Pointe Memorial Church.

The clergymen observe that more and more Americans say they are spiritual but not religious while others assert that the United States is still a Christian nation and Christianity is exploding across the southern half of the planet, bringing a new Christendom with the world center of Christianity in Africa.

Biersdorf said Islam is also growing rapidly.

Diane Eck of Harvard Divinity School claims the United States is the most religiously diverse nation in the world, while Phillip Jenkins, a Pennsylvania State University scholar, argues on behalf of Christianity.

Biersdorf and Rigdon will ask retreat participants: What does spirituality mean to us, and is spirituality at the center of our faith walk and spiritual formation?

Or is religion, community and tradition where we find sustenance?

Or is it some new interweaving that sustains and grows us in this time and place?

Registration for the retreat will begin at 6 p.m. March 13, and the retreat closes with lunch March 15.

Biersdorf, now pastor of Point of Vision Presbyterian Church in Royal Oak, will open the retreat with a dialogue with participants and an explanation of the background of spirituality. It will be followed by prayer meditation, contemplative prayer and soul-healing.

On March 14, Rigdon will approach the topic from an Orthodox spirituality while Biersdorf explores the edges of contemporary spirituality, how participants' interest in spirituality developed and explore seeking integrity in the faith walk and participants' own discovery of the presence in God.

Rigdon, who will close the retreat March 15, has led numerous trips to Russia for the National Council of Churches to study and talk with members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Another trip is planned this fall.

Described as an outstanding storyteller, Rigdon is a frequent presenter at retreats and workshops across the United States.

Biersdorf is a spiritual counselor who for many years has taught prayer, meditation, spirituality, energy healing and spiritual guidance. He has been a parish pastor in California, director of the Department of Ministry at the National Council of Churches, and has taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York and at Yale Divinity School.

He helped create the Ecumenical Theological Seminary. A former officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, he is the author of several books, the most recent "How Prayer Shapes Ministry."

Biersdorf of Lathrup Village recommends that before participants arrive for the retreat they read "The Next Christendom," a 2002 Oxford publication, and "A New Religious America," published by Harper in 2002.

Both men have been conducting retreats for the past 12 years on spiritual development, including worship, silence and spiritual development. The retreats, for both the general public and clergy, have been held in Weber Center at Siena Heights University in Adrian, but were switched to LouHelen because Weber is closed for renovations.

Registration is $200 for a double room and $225 for a limited number of single rooms. Checks in the full amount made out to West Michigan Conference Treasurer are to be sent to Barbara Birdwell, registrar, 1921 Haverhill Ave., Portage MI 49024.

Confirmation, directions and a retreat schedule will be sent upon receipt of the fee.

*** George Jaksa covers religion. He can be reached at (810) 766-6332 or

©Copyright 2003, The Flint Journal (MI, USA)

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