OWENSBORO, Kentucky — Megan was “at first super-excited” when she learned about the concept of a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat, “but as the date got closer I got nervous,” she said.
Rachel’s Vineyard, an international program that started in 1995, now offers weekend retreats worldwide that aim to bring healing for women and men suffering from the effects of abortion.
Megan, who asked that her last name not be used, said she almost turned around on her way to the retreat.
But she decided to continue and found it to be a positive experience that she said helped her deal with repressed emotions from her experience with an abortion 30 years ago.
“Coming through the retreat, I found that God forgives,” she told The Western Kentucky Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Owensboro.
Today, Megan is part of the team with Rachel’s Vineyard of Kentucky.
“I’ve always wanted to help people who were in my situation, but I didn’t know how,” she said. Now she feels she can “make a difference in other people’s lives.”
Father Ben Cameron, a priest of the Fathers of Mercy religious community based in Auburn, Kentucky, helped start Rachel’s Vineyard of Kentucky and is the site leader of the western Kentucky team.
He said Rachel’s Vineyard team leaders are usually laywomen, but he has remained in this role since the team’s beginning in 2005 and knows a number of fellow priests who also serve in Rachel’s Vineyard’s healing ministry.
The priest said the retreat design can help people process other types of grief, such as miscarriages or even knowing someone else who experienced an abortion.
Ultimately, the purpose of the retreat is “helping men and women open their hearts to Jesus Christ as the healer,” he said, adding that “it is not just emotional, but a spiritual journey of the heart.”
“I’ve seen people come in very hardened, perhaps hateful of men, and walk out completely different,” he said.
A typical retreat has a team of six or seven people, including a facilitator, a priest, a professional therapist, a person who does the audio/visual, and one or two people who lead the readings, meditations and prayers.
Although the founder of Rachel’s Vineyard, Theresa Karminski Burke, is Catholic, the program offers a Catholic version and an interdenominational version.
The priest said generally, more women come than men, but it is always open to both. Participants also must be at least 18 years of age but that “you’re never too old to make the retreat.”
Cameron said that if someone has a person in their life that had an abortion “that person may be hurting deeply. They don’t feel they have permission to grieve.” He said “offering to go and make the retreat with them may open the door for someone — saying ‘I would love to walk this with you.'”
In fact, hopeafterabortionky.com, the website for Rachel’s Vineyard of Kentucky, encourages people to consider inviting their spouse or support person to accompany them on the retreat.
He said Rachel’s Vineyard has found that many people who had abortions also had been sexually abused which led Burke to develop a sister retreat in 2005 called Grief to Grace, for individuals to find healing who have endured physical, emotional, sexual and/or spiritual abuse.
Sometimes people bring their stories of abuse to Rachel’s Vineyard and it can help them heal, “but for some, the trauma is so deep that they need something more,” he said.
Ministering with Rachel’s Vineyard has shown him “some of the most powerful experiences of being a spiritual father and shepherd. It’s made me so much more cognizant of the pain and trauma that people experience.”
Megan encourages anyone who might need to attend a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat to consider signing up, stressing: “God is forgiving and he will accept you in his open arms. You are worth it. You don’t need to carry around this burden anymore.”
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Barnstead is editor of The Western Kentucky Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Owensboro.