Cursillo in the Last Frontier

Posted by Father Gary Herbst on

Cursillo was sweeping the lower 48 back in the 70’s and church people were hearing about it.  Cursillo stood for short course in Christianity, a 3 day retreat, that moved people in a powerful way.  Folks up in Ketchikan wanted to be included.  They wanted their own version of it to happen right at home where local people could attend.  To do it they had to send a group of people down to California to take part in a 3 day weekend.  They came back with lots of stories to tell and a wonderful experience to share.  But then when it was time, a team of folks from California flew up and joined with them to present the event locally.  Cursillo started in Ketchikan the way it began other places.  A local church turned over their facilities for 3 days and everyone came and stayed at the church.  The parish hall would be turned into a dining hall and the Sunday school rooms became dormitories.  The chapel could be used for talks and for worship.  

When I arrived they had been having Cursillos for at least 5 years with men and women going on separate weekends.  I invited the group to combine sexes and it worked just fine.  Of course it was all interdenominational and folks from all the churches in town joined in, Baptists and Methodists and Roman Catholics and Lutherans and you name it all together.  

After 4 or 5 years of doing this in the ecumenical way, word came down from national Cursillo that we can’t be mixing up the denominations.  If we kept it up they would yank our charter and we couldn’t call it “Cursillo”.  So we prayed about it and looked around and found a Methodist version of Cursillo called “Walk to Emmaus” that would allow an interdenominational mix.  It was nearly the same as Cursillo and people loved it.  So there I was giving talks about “prevenient grace” which is a John Wesley thing and celebrating Methodist communion, but it was okay.

Folks in nearby British Columbia participated as well.  Somewhere, I think I still have some beaded little gifts that were shared during the weekend.  The beaded items were made by the sweetest little native ladies you ever met.  Canadian churches have lots of native folks in them and they were drawn to Cursillo as well.  The ferries ran over to Prince Rupert a couple of times a week and they could come and go on the ferry.

Ketchikan is very multi-ethnic as well and I’ll never forget the wonderful Filipino foods that were served:  Chicken Adobo and egg rolls.  Trying to find a quiet place to sleep is important too and I think I slept in the Lutheran church copy machine room at least twice.

At the Lutheran church, talks were a challenge to give, because listeners were easily distracted by a noisy float plane flying by the window or a view of passing fishing boat.  We started putting posters on the windows and that helped a lot.

Working to bring in the Kingdom of God is a challenge wherever you are and especially when it’s a far flung place like Ketchikan.  Down here the challenges aren’t quite so daunting but the same effort is still needed.  What have you done lately to bring in the Kingdom of God for someone?  What little bit of heaven on earth have you offered them?  It could be as simple as a piece of pie for a lonely or suffering neighbor.  There’s a world waiting for your gifts if you’re willing to reach out to it.

Peace, Fr. Gary

Tags: cursillo, ecumenical, ministry