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Welcome! The Women and Religion Movement is alive and well in the 21st Century. A grassroots project started by lay leaders in the 1970s as an effort to promote examination of religious roots of sexism and patriarchy within the UUA and beyond, UU Women and Religion officially began as a task force following the unanimously-passed WOMEN AND RELIGION RESOLUTION at the 1977 UUA General Assembly. Although the Task Force was eventually sunsetted, the movement still exists in UU communities that hold Women & Religion programs and gatherings for those who identify as women. It exists at the UU General Assembly, where UUW&R brings our Store to the Exhibit Hall and occasionally hosts a gathering. And it lives in the hearts and lives of people who have been touched by the many changes inspired by this movement.

"We do not want a piece of the pie. It is still a patriarchal pie. We want to change the recipe!" -- Rosemary Matson



Spring 1996

This Guide was first produced in 1991, and copyrighted, by Barbara Child, then Co-Chair of the Florida District Women & Religion (W&R) Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association. It has been "guide extraordinaire" and foundation for many wonderful, successful annual conferences and semi-annual retreats sponsored by W & R since then.

This revision grows not so much from the need for major change (for most of what is here is still Barbara's original work), but rather to add and fine-tune in some areas where time and experience have changed the "way we do things."

In a March 4, 1992 edition, Barbara gives her thanks to Mary Goolsby, Joyce King, Sandra Schulman, Jean Siegfried and Kate Throop for their several contributions and suggestions, and dedicates her work to "Andrea Schuver and Susan Stephenson, who first showed me what a Joyous experience a women's retreat can be."

She points out further that while the guide is written with women's retreats and conferences in mind, it is adaptable for men's events or for events for women and men together. (Copies of this Guide are available at $5 each. Contact webweaver@floridawomenandreligion.org for more information.)

For this 1996 edition, I would add, from each of us who have enjoyed the sagacity and practicality of this Guide, heartfelt thanks Barbara — and Blessed Be.

Mary Howard Cadwell, May 31, 1996


Putting on a retreat is a great experience. It is even better if you can get things taken care of ahead of time, so that the retreat is enjoyable for you as well as participants. This checklist of decisions to make and things to do is designed to save you headaches and help you get everything taken care of in plenty of time. Feel free to use it as a Guide only: adding or altering to fit your unique situation. Make notes to pass on to others, if you wish.

(You may also find it helpful to browse through the Conference Procedures section: many ideas are interchangeable between Retreats and Conferences.)*


   1. Decide on retreat dates.
   2. Decide on retreat site and reserve it. (Note: most sites require an advance deposit to guarantee the space.) (See Appendix A for sample retreat center brochure.)
   3. Consider these issues in choosing a site:

    * Is its location central? Convenient?
    * Does it offer the space you need for full group activities, for smaller workshops, for recreation?
    * Does it offer the sleeping arrangements you need, including both camping facilities and nearby hotel/motel, as well as on-site rooms?
    * Can accommodations be made "handicapped accessible?"
    * Does it have an attentive staff on call?
    * Does it provide meals and have the flexibility to accommodate vegetarians and others with special dietary needs? (See Appendix I for ideas.)
    * Does it offer the privacy and security necessary to make participants comfortable?
    * Is the space adaptable for offering child care? For infants/very young child "baby-sitting" and for older children in a "youth camp" type program?

*References made throughout this handbook to local "society/societies" denotes any UU church/fellowship/congregation/society, etc.

4- Review W&R (and/or District) policies on retreats, re:

    * Child care requirements.
    * Financial arrangements.
    * Scholarships.
    * Vendors and sales.
    * Use of wine/"spirits"

5- Decide whether to have a co-facilitator(s). Consider the advantages:

    * Share the work.
    * Test ideas.
    * Share the fun.
    * Provide more variety in presenting activities at the retreat.
    * Troubleshoot more effectively.

Consider these issues in choosing a co-facilitator(s):

    * Are your working styles compatible?
    * Do you have different skills and interests that will complement and balance each other? For example, it can work well if one of you is the "big picture" person and other the "detail" person. If one of you has never facilitated a retreat before, it helps if the other one has.
    * Are you in the same town? If not, can you get together easily and often, at least by phone? e-mail?
    * Are you both interested in the same retreat theme?

6- Decide on a specific theme and a title for the retreat that expresses it.

7- Begin to line up needed support persons:

    * Registrar. (See Appendix D: Retreat Registrar's Job Description) This is the person to whom participants will send their registration forms and payment. This person will also be assigning bed space; therefore, it is good to choose
    * Chikd Care Workers: Decide on appropriate age categories: you need separate workers and different programs for (1) infants and toddlers, than for (2) elementary to early teens. (Consider at what age boys are no longer welcome at a women's retreat and at what age you want to include older teen girls as program participants or as child care workers.)

8- Check on deadlines for articles in district or other appropriate newsletters.


   1.  Prepare a brief notice for publication in District newsletter (Sunshine). If it is feasible, send this notice to individual congregations to publish in their newsletters or Sunday morning bulletins. (W & R Area Communicators may be helpful in getting information out to local congregations.) This notice should include:
          * the title (theme) of the retreat and name of sponsoring organization.
          * the dates and place.
          * names of facilitators.
          * a name, address and phone contact for questions.
          * information about when to expect brochures and registration forms.
   2. Confer with registrar and co-facilitator about
          * deadline dates for registration/late registration (probably 10 days before retreat, but expect numerous late registrations.)
          * fees needed to cover retreat costs. You or registrar should verify current rate schedule with site manager.
   3. Design registration form in consultation with registrar.
   4. Registration form should include: (NOTE: check in advance on local hotel/motels & list one or two choices, with phone numbers and rate range, for those who prefer to stay "off site.")
          * name, address and phone number of registrar.
          * deadline for registration (and consequences of late registration: possibly rooms assigned "first choice to first-register")
          * consequences for registration cancellation: i.e., $15 cancellation fee for cancellations received less than 10 days from date of retreat.
          * conditions for scholarship aid (e.g., up to 50% of fee), deadline for applying for scholarship and who to call/write to make request.
          * spaces for registering person to write in name, address and phone.
          * space to write in preferred roommate (if registrar wants to assign rooms ahead of time.) An alternative system is to choose appropriate rooms for facilitators and child care staff, set aside space for mothers with children, and then have remaining participants choose their own rooms when they arrive: first come/first choice.
          * space to write in special dietary, medical or physical needs. (NOTE: retreat notice should include any plans for vegetarian or other special menus. Be sure site can handle special dietary needs before offering that option.)
          * cost of retreat, including:
          * . to whom checks should be made payable. (Consult with Treasurer.)
          * whether payment must be made in advance, or at retreat itself.
          * differing rates for adults, children, infants (including specific ages)
          * differing rates for on site rooms, own RV, tenting, "day only"
          * whether registration fee covers all costs: e.g., any additional charges for workshop materials or snacks/wine, etc.
          * opportunity to add extra money for scholarship aid for others.
          * conditions for selling arts & crafts, or other items, at retreat. (See Appendix B: Sample Retreat Registration Form)
   5. Prepare retreat brochure to be distributed with registration form. You can save money if you include the brochure in a newsletter mailing (i.e., W&R Womanspirit). If you are going to do this, you need to consult the newsletter editor about size of paper and format for folding. The brochure/newsletter announcement should include:
          * a cover design/picture to reflect the theme
          * a brief note about the theme
          * a brief note about the facilitators.
          * a general schedule of events, including "check-in" time and any pre-retreat activities available, such as use of pool, hiking, etc.
                o NOTE: the more general your schedule, the better, because you will likely want to make changes as you work out the details of the program.
          * address and phone of retreat site, driving directions and map.
          * information about what to bring: linens, towels, musical instruments, etc.
          * information about child care/youth camp arrangements.
          * announcement to the effect that: "no perfume be worn at retreats and conferences due to allergic reactions among the participants."
          * space for mailing label if the brochure is separately mailed rather than included in a newsletter.


   1. Start fine-tuning your program of activities. If you have a co-facilitator, you may want to start by brainstorming together.
         1. browse through several resource books
         2. talk to facilitators of prior retreats and see if evaluations done by participants will give you helpful ideas.
         3. think back to activities which seem to have gone well at other successful retreats you have attended.
         4. you may want to add other persons to your planning/facilitation circle at this point, to generate more ideas or to lead/facilitate specific parts of the retreat.
   2. Consider these suggestions:
          * Assume that you will need to spend several sessions with your co-facilitator refining the program. It takes thinking time as well as talking time. Each time you go back to your plans, you will find things to change.
          * Assume that everything at the retreat will take longer than you thought it would. Therefore, plan fully, but be ready to take things out when you have too much.
          * Remember that retreats usually differ from conferences in the significant respect that a retreat is on one theme and offers everybody only one activity at a time. Conferences, though they also usually have some general theme, offer lots of workshops with more than one thing going on at once, so that participants make choices among options at certain times.
          * People come to retreats expecting lots of "down" or free time. If you try to keep them at an activity too long, they grow weary. They may leave the activity or not show up for the next one. You may want to try to prevent this by having short activities and lots of breaks. Or you may want to convince yourself that it is fine if some people opt out of attending all the activities you provide. (Convincing yourself of this may be easier said than done!)
          * Remember that people operate on different internal "time clocks." Think about ways to offer early morning programming (e.g., matins, yoga), as well as "into the night" programming. Consider how to honor needs of some to gather and drum/talk/dance late into the night, while others cherish truly quiet time.
          * When you are planning activities, keep in mind that some people will be having reunions with old friends, and they will be totally at ease. Others will be new. They will know nobody or almost nobody. They need to be made to feel welcome and at ease.
          * If the retreat begins on Friday evening, people will arrive at different times, some tired from driving, some frazzled from the work day they have just completed. Assume people's heads and hearts are in different places. They need an opening activity or ritual to get them to relax, focus, and get ready for whatever you plan to do.
          * Most people who come to retreats are receptive to whatever you plan for them. You can expect them to be eager participants, but they need clear directions. Giving them too many options can end up in confusion.
          * Whatever you plan, you need to be willing to revise to suit the needs of the group. Remember that it is THEIR retreat. If they get interested in talking about something or doing something, try not to cut them off or force them down a track where they aren't ready to go.
          * It is good to have some things for the group to do together in one circle and some things for small groups — possibly with reporting back to the whole group. Remember that some people will be more comfortable about speaking up in a small group than in a large one. On the other hand, it works very well to have at least a couple of activities in which you go around the circle and have all participants speak, not only to introduce themselves but also to answer some question or finish out some sentence. Some people speak more easily when it is established that it is their turn and the subject is something that they are sure to know about. In open discussions, it is harder for those people to speak up, especially if there are some "eager talkers" in the group.
                o Always respect the right of anyone to "pass" — to not speak.
                o Keep in mind that going around the circle for each person to speak can take a long time if you have a lot of people.
          * The people at your retreat will probably have lots of talents, some hidden and some not. You may want to provide opportunities for people to display their creativity, either in showing and selling their arts and crafts, or in performing or leading others in such activities as early morning birding, or yoga at the end of the day.
          * If you need to have a business meeting scheduled at the retreat, try to have it at a time that does not interfere with the activities or mood of the retreat: possibly over breakfast, or announcements made at the beginning of the morning session, or right after the retreat is over. (Warning: people tend to want to leave at the end of an intense weekend, or have little energy left for important business.)
          * Consider the power of ritual as a force for building community. Opening rituals bring the group together, helping to leave the rest of the world behind and focus on the retreat theme and space. Closing rituals cement and solidify, allowing participants to gain from the retreat experience, while releasing it to move back into their everyday life. (See Appendix E for resources on ritual.)
          * Be cautious about use of incense and other highly aromatic materials in your rituals. These may create problems for those with allergies.
          * Think about incorporating music into your retreat. If you can get someone to play the guitar and sing, or someone to beat a drum, that can be a fine way to bring people together. You may want to have a theme song, or theme chant, for the retreat and have the group sing it several times. Chants are generally easy to teach and lend themselves well to repetition. (See Appendix E for resources on chants.) Consider also setting aside "after-program" time in the evening for drumming and other informal musical experiences. And, be sure to invite participants to bring drums, rainsticks or other musical instruments.
   3. Get other people who will be attending the retreat to take care of some things. This will lighten your load, and it will get more people actively involved.
          * Someone(s) to bring light refreshments for the registration hour(s) and later (or next day)"happy hours." Keep in mind policies on and appropriateness of wine/spirits at different times in your program. Plan to have baskets for donations whenever refreshments are served. (See Appendix I for menu thoughts.)
          * Someone to look out for shy people and make them feel at ease.
          * Someone to line up talent for talent show if you are having one.
          * Someone to help newcomers find their way around the facility, or to assist anyone with physical difficulty.


   1. Gather any materials you will need, and make sure you keep receipts for all expenditures. (See Appendix H: Retreat/Conference Financial Statement) Retreat materials commonly include:
          *  pencils or pens and writing paper
          * newsprint and marking pens, masking tape, scissors
          * name tags or materials for participants to make name tags
          * round table to use as center altar and interesting cloth to cover it
          * candle
          * sacred objects to put on altar
          * copies of handouts, such as retreat activities schedule, readings or songsheets
          * bell or other instrument to call people together
          * materials for display, such as books, Women and Religion newsletters, UU Women's Federation membership brochures, etc.
          * Make an hour-by-hour plan of activities, indicating exactly who is going to do what, when and where. Include any readings.
   2. Make any posters, diagrams, or other visual aids you will use, including signs to welcome retreat participants and tell them where to "check-in."
   3. Compose an evaluation for participants to complete at the end of the retreat. Keep in mind that the simpler the form, the more likely people are to fill it out. If you are truly curious about how participants react to some specific features of your retreat, then you will want to ask questions about those features directly. Otherwise, your form might just ask a few questions:
          * What were your expectations for this retreat, and did it meet them?
          * What did you like best about this retreat?
          * What did you like least?
          * If you were designing the next retreat, what would you like to see included? left out?
          * Other comments?
   4. Check with registrar on number of people expected so you have enough handouts, etc. Assume you will have a few late registrants and a couple of cancellations.
   5. Have the registrar assign you and your co-facilitator a room together, with no one else in it.


   1. You or registrar should check with site manager(s) to give number of participants expected and any other information needed.
   2. Reconfirm that menu is as you wish. (See Appendix I for suggestions.)
   3. Sit down with your co-facilitator and any others who have particular parts to play in the program. Make sure you go over everything about the retreat so everyone understands and everything is in order.


   1. Try to get to the site a few hours early even if you don't think you have much to do there ahead of time. The idea is to prevent last-minute surprise problems and to be relaxed when participants start to arrive.
   2. Ask the registrar to arrive early too. Welcoming and directional signs should be set up and the sign-in table ready before anyone else appears. Be prepared that some people may want to change their room assignments. Try to accommodate people who will have difficulty walking, or climbing steps, by assigning them bed space as close to the meeting space(s) as possible.
   3. As soon as you arrive, check in with site manager(s) and find out if there are things you need to do or to announce to the group. (It's a nice touch to introduce site manager(s) to the group early in the retreat, for welcome and announcements. Sometimes site managers are interested in being part of various group activities.)
   4. Check out your meeting space:
          * Set up chairs as needed.
          * Learn from site manager(s) where all light switches are and how to operate heating or air conditioning and PA systems.
   5. Put up posters near registration table and one or two other spots with detailed time schedule, to supplement handouts. This will save you from answering the same questions many times over!
   6. If your program involves other people taking parts, such as lighting candles in a ritual, or doing a reading, begin to line those people up as they arrive. If you are asking someone to read something, it is a special kindness to give them a copy to read over and become familiar with well in advance.


   1. Give people a chance to introduce themselves. (Invite everyone to wear their name tags throughout.)
   2. Thank the people who have helped with preparations behind the scenes. Introduce site manager(s) if appropriate.
   3. Give people an idea of what to expect during the retreat, and assure them that they are free to opt out if they would rather nap or walk or do something solitary at a given time.
   4. Explain about the importance of freedom to speak frankly, or to not speak — and about confidentiality.
   5. Give people a chance to ask questions about plans for the retreat or whatever else they need to know.
   6. Hand out participant list, with addresses and phone numbers of everyone present.*

* FLW & R policy: The participant list prepared at each event will indicate that: "This list is only for the personal, non-business use of each participant." (2-11-96)


   1. Try to talk with as many participants individually as you can. Sit with different people at meals. Learn names. Listen. Above all, don't hang out with your co-facilitator exclusively or your own old friends. It's worth it to keep newcomers from thinking there is an in-group and they're not part of it.
   2. When the whole group is meeting together in one circle, if possible, don't sit next to your co-facilitator. If the two of you have to talk loudly enough to hear each other across the room, you will be more sure everybody else can hear too.
   3. When small groups are meeting, see if you and your co-facilitator can each be part of a separate group. Above all, try not to exclude yourselves from the group, or in any way give the impression that you are watching rather than participating.
   4. Watch out for those who try to monopolize discussion. If you are leading the discussion, try to make sure everyone who wants to speak gets a chance. Avoid letting the discussion turn into a dialogue between you and someone who has responded to your comments.
   5. Try to meet privately with your co-facilitator for a few minutes of "debriefing" after each session. Give each other support and suggestions. Consider what you have observed so far about the group. How is the pacing? What needs fine-tuning or adjusting?


   1. Have a closing activity or ritual that will bring a sense of closure to the group.
   2. Consider having this closing include a chance for participants to share something about what they have gotten from the retreat.
   3. Encourage participants to complete the evaluation form before they leave.
   4. See if someone will write an article about the retreat for your district's newsletter (Sunshine), for your W&R newsletter (Womanspirit), or for UUWF's newsletter (The Communicator).
   5. Remember that you are responsible for checking out with the site manager(s). Make sure they are paid. Make sure you leave the place as you found it. (It's a nice touch to invite the site manager(s) and kitchen crew into your final gathering for a round of thanks.)
   6. Give yourself a pat on the back. Give your co-facilitator, and everyone else in reach, a hug. You have just completed a big job and, hopefully, had a good time while your were at it.


   1. Those who make special contributions, including site manager(s), will appreciate a note of thanks from you.
   2. The treasurer will appreciate your turning in your expense list as soon as possible, though you may need to wait for phone bills to come to complete that list.
   3. The people who facilitate the next retreat will appreciate it if you turn over to them any unused materials, anything useful you learned on the evaluation forms, and any changes/additions you made to this manual!


Conferences, like retreats, usually have a general theme; however, the theme of a conference can be related to a talk by a keynote speaker or a special guest who may take charge of a significant portion of the program.

Conferences usually offer some programs for all in attendance to be together plus a variety of concurrent workshops. Most of the suggestions on the previous pages are adaptable for conferences as well as retreats.*

Following are some procedures geared especially for conference facilitators.


  1. If there is a local facilitators' committee, rather than a single facilitator, it is wise for the committee to take time at the very beginning of the planning process to assess their individual working styles and to establish directly what their decision-making and communications processes are going to be. A team of two is usually preferable to one facilitator; two is often preferable to three.
  2. If may be helpful to have an early meeting with leadership of the sponsoring organization, including the treasurer, to establish working relationships and responsibilities among them. Previous conference facilitators may also serve as valuable resources.
  3. It is important for the committee not to try to do all the planning and on-site work themselves, but, instead, to involve as many members of the local society as possible.
  4. If there is a committee of facilitators, only one name and phone number should appear on the conference brochure as an information source — preferably a phone number served by an answering machine. Advertising multiple numbers is an invitation to inconsistent information, duplication of effort, and confusion.
  5. A copy of all procedures, governing policies, and guides should be given to each member of the facilitating committee, not just to designated chair/co-chairs.

* The differences between retreats and conferences may be related as much to the setting as to program specifics. Conferences arc more often held in a "formal" setting, such as local UU society. Retreats are more often held in a less formal, relaxing setting, removed from ''normal" activities. For example, for many years, FL District W&R has held semi-annual retreats at UU In the Pines, a retreat center, while conferences are hosted by a different UU society each year.

  1. The sponsoring organization should make clear to the facilitators what the budget is for the conference.
    • How much money is available for expenses and honorarium for a guest speaker?
    • Do workshop leaders get an honorarium? If so, how much? Or, do they only get free registration for the conference? Or expenses only? Or no compensation?
    • What is the appropriate registration fee? Is it the policy of the sponsoring organization to keep the fee as low as possible or to raise it in order to pay speakers and workshop leaders more? The higher the fee, the more demand there is likely to be for scholarship money.
    • Is it possible to have some money available in advance as "seed money," for travel costs, food, supplies, or as deposit on facilities?
    • Is it possible for a participant to register at a reduced fee for one day or some other fraction of the conference? Managing partial registrations may be a headache. However, partial registrations may encourage local people to attend for less than the full conference (and may get some interested in attending future retreats/conferences at other locations.)
    • How much money is available for scholarships? What policies govern granting of scholarships? Should scholarship recipients be asked to work at the conference? What are the criteria? Are scholarships given on a "first ask-first get," or some other basis? What showing of need is required? Who decides who will get scholarship aid?
    • If the conference is being held in a society's building, is the society to be reimbursed for use of its facilities? If so, how much? Is it giving up normal rentals to accommodate the conference?
  2. The facilitators and the treasurer of the sponsoring organization should agree to whom registration checks are payable, and who pays for — or is reimbursed for which expense.


* With FL W & R conferences, the local sponsoring group generally receives all conference related money and pays bills through a designated account of that society. A final accounting and check for balance is given to W & R Treasurer. It is important that these funds be payable to and pass through an organizational account, not that of an individual (no matter how trustworthy that person!)

  1. Speakers and workshop leaders should receive a letter in the nature of a contract specifying what they agree to do, when, where, and what payment they are receiving, either as honorarium or expenses. A speaker receiving a substantial sum of money should be asked to sign and return a copy of the letter as confirmation.
  2. It is reasonable to ask a speaker who is being reimbursed for expenses to choose as economical an air fare as possible, In fact, it is wise to put this in the letter of agreement.
  3. Workshop leaders are entitled to know whether they will be reimbursed for supplies they provide.
  4. Some guest speakers like a lot of direction; others prefer to plan their own programs with as much freedom as possible. It is worth it to find out early what preferences a given speaker has. Above all, speakers and facilitators need to have a common understanding about how much freedom speakers have.


  1. How many workshops occur during the conference depends in part on the physical plant. If relatively few rooms, or only small ones, are available, it is possible to stagger workshops.
  2. It is important for people's comfort not to allow workshops to become over-crowded. One way to control the size is to make sign-up sheets with numbered lines for participants.
  3. If there are space limitations, it is possible to accommodate a popular workshop by offering it twice. (This also helps participants make fewer agonizing choices between interesting workshops which fall at the same time.)
  4. When planning workshops, it is good to offer a variety of options that will appeal to a diverse group, including thinking, feeling and artistic endeavors.
  5. Workshop leaders should be asked to turn in a form giving the title and a brief description of the workshop, a short autobiographical note, an indication of how they want their space set up (theater style, chairs in a circle, etc.), and equipment they need. (See Appendix J: Sample Workshop Information Form.)
  6. The conference program should include a biographical note on the workshop leaders as well as the title and short description of each workshop.
  7. Setting aside a space with refreshments, where participants can relax and get acquainted when they first arrive, can help to facilitate community-building.
  1. A press release should be mailed to interested societies, newsletter editors, etc., approximately three months before the conference, giving its dates, location, theme, and special guest speakers.
  2. The registration brochure should be mailed to the sponsoring organization's mailing list six or seven weeks before the conference. This may be separate from, or as a part of, that organization's newsletter.* If brochure is mailed separately, be sure to check if that cost must come from conference budget.
  3.  If it is feasible to have participants indicate workshop preferences on their registration forms, that advance information can help planners select an appropriately sized room and the amount of supplies needed for each workshop. (Understand that some participants will feel free to alter choices once there.)

* Such as FL District W&R Womanspirit.

  1. Volunteers usually need to be recruited personally. Asking for volunteers generally does not get them.
  2. Volunteers are entitled to know as precisely as possible what they will be doing.
  3. Volunteers are entitled to know reasonable deadlines for their tasks as well as approximately how many hours of work are involved.

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