Twenty years ago, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary graduate Delcy Kuhlman started Still Waters Retreat Center in Buchanan, Michigan. Spectrum asked Delcy and Still Waters’ current co-directors, Robert and Sarah Fusté, how Still Waters began and how it serves visiting retreatants.
RD: What is the mission and function of Still Waters?
DK: Still Waters is a retreat house that values the timeless need for silence, solitude, and spiritual companionship in order to help people better hear God's voice and experience his transforming life. We offer space for guests to enjoy these gifts for a few hours or a few days.
RD: Delcy, what happened in your spiritual life that inspired you to open Still Waters?
DK: I had been seeing a spiritual friend for about one year when she said to me, ”Delcy, I think that you are ready for a directed retreat.” My office mate told me of a Mennonite retreat house relatively close to home, so I made arrangements to go there for four days of silence alone with God. I had never been silent for a day, let alone four. After talking with the director, he offered me a passage of Scripture to spend time praying and meditating over. I slept, I read, I walked in the woods and sat under a tree. I struggled to stop and be still and yet it was wonderful. When I left that place, I knew I would never be the same again. I cannot explain what happened, but it seemed I had responded to God’s words, ”Be still, and know that I am God.”
I returned to the retreat center (called “The Hermitage”) many times, and each time the longing to share that quiet gift with others of my own Adventist faith tradition grew. Within a year my husband Tom and I began the search for a place to establish a retreat house. The search covered two counties and took two years. When we were led to this place we knew we had found the spot. It had all the needed elements: a retreat space with separate living quarters for us, a shop with a hoist for my mechanic husband, woods, fields and small lakes. The owner wanted much more money than we had to offer, but after several months he said, “Well, I have even been talking to the Man upstairs, and I guess I’m supposed to let you have it.” Our hearts were overjoyed.
The retreat house idea was mine, but Tom was the one who named the place. One evening before we moved in he said, “Psalm 23: He leads me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul.” So Still Waters it became—a place for souls to be restored.
RD: A few years ago you stepped away from the directorship of Still Waters. What is your current role there now?
DK: My role has shifted since Rob and Sarah came on board as co-directors. They take care of the inside work so I have more time to be available to those who desire a directed retreat and to be a spiritual friend/companion for many others who long to be more intentional in their walk with God. As a spiritual companion, I walk with people in an age-old process called spiritual direction. Some people are alarmed by that term, assuming that the spiritual friend is going to try to direct another individual. My role as a companion to the seeker is simply to help them be reflective and to listen for God in the midst of the ordinary circumstances of everyday life. God, the Holy Spirit, is the only real director. I can ask questions that might challenge the person I’m speaking with, like, “Did you hear what you just said?” “How does that connect with the choices you are making?” “Do you realize how what you say reflects your picture of God? Does that picture match what is found in Scripture?” I can help people see and experience the God who knows them best and loves them most. Above all, I can pray for people, accept them just as they are, and help them hear the Shepherd’s voice inviting them to come closer to him. I truly cannot not imagine work more joyous than taking the hand of a seeking person and placing it in the hand of God.
RD: What do you and your husband do as co-directors of Still Waters, Sarah?
SF: We wear a whole lot of different hats. We take care of everything from the cooking and cleaning to the marketing and planning to leading spiritual formation groups and directing retreats. Delcy continues to participate with us in offering spiritual companionship, and she and her husband do a lot of the yard work as well.
Along with the daily grind of managing business, we see ourselves nurturing sacred space—surrounding our work and retreatants with prayer and being intentional about our own spiritual journeys while seeking to live more faithfully in the balance that we invite others to live into.
RD: How did you meet Delcy and how has your interest in Christian spirituality developed over the years?
SF: I met Delcy in the spring of 2001 while enjoying my first silent retreat. I was a graduate student at Andrews University and I was looking for a place to get away and be with God. What a delight to find Still Waters right in my backyard!
Robert and I met while taking a course at Andrews called “Introduction to Discipleship.” We were both desiring more in our walk with Christ, and we were drawn by the honest and practical nature of the course. It was the beginning of finding words for our longings.
Eventually we joined a discipleship group with Delcy at Still Waters that lasted for six years. It became a spiritual community for us, a place to know God and ourselves better. It was also a safe place, since Delcy is a Seventh-day Adventist and very sensitive to the fears that many Adventists experience while beginning to learn from people of other denominations and faith traditions.
In 2007 we began to feel called away from our careers and found the doors open for us to spend a year as work interns at the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our experience at the CAC was a deepening one. We participated in daily prayer and the joys and challenges of living in community with six other people of different ages and backgrounds. The ecumenical experience opened our eyes to many of the prejudices we had been unaware of in ourselves, and it helped us to see the richness of our Adventist heritage as well as its weaknesses.
RD: Delcy, you have an M.Div. from Andrews University, but you also did work in spirituality through Shalem Institute. What was that like?
DK: The longer I was involved with spiritual direction and life at Still Waters, the more I realized that my previous learning had been mostly intellectual. Now it was beginning to slip into my heart in a way I had never experienced before. I was starting to experience God’s love for me in a way that actually gave me strength for the difficult parts of life. I was also hearing God’s call to the ministry of helping others hear him and know him intimately.
Shalem Institute offered a two-year extension program in spiritual guidance with readings from the spiritual classics. I began to learn about other believers who also searched for God, and I realized that my own void was a common one. I spent considerable time writing reflection papers, which was much different from writing research papers during seminary. In those, I had always struggled to make a connection between my readings and the needs of real life. But in the reflection papers I was asked to observe the faith journeys of others and then spend prayerful time reflecting on the ways that God could speak to me through their sharing. It was not like having someone teach me theology. Instead I was listening as people shared how God had met them in their struggles and changed them in the process. I had grown up with the idea that to share one’s faith a person must teach doctrine backed with sufficient proof texts. But I began to see that the only faith a person can share is the faith that has grown in his or her heart as God has met that person in his life’s struggle, in her pain.
RD: Sarah, what kinds of special directed retreats have you hosted at Still Waters in the past?
SF: Several retreat leaders have led people in topics such as “Refreshing our Prayer Journey: Multiple Intelligences and Prayer,” “An Evening of Hand Drumming: Drumming as Prayer,” “Developing a Rule of Life,” “Painting and Praying,” “Telling Your Life Story,” “Abba, Look at my Picture – Collage as Prayer,” “Pray and Play” and more. Robert has also co-led a couple of retreats elsewhere on themes of male spirituality: “Spirit of Man: Four Male Archetypes – Warrior, Sage, Lover and King” and “Wounded Lover: Pursuing Sexual Wholeness” (this last one will be taking place on Oct. 1-3, see http://www.hermitagecommunity.org/woundedlover).
RD: What kinds of people come to Still Waters for retreat?
SF: We have high school students, folks in their 70’s or 80’s, and everything in between. We welcome students, stay-at-home moms and dads, teachers, plumbers, retirees, etc. Some come with wounds and need a safe place to commune alone with God. Pastors and spiritual leaders come knowing that stepping back will help them be faithful to their families and professions. Folks may come desiring renewal through silence and solitude, or they may be thirsty for spiritual community, desiring spiritual companionship. We get to meet people from a variety of denominations and faith traditions who are seeking a deeper communion with God in quietness and nature. Most come to Still Waters on personal, individual retreats, but we also host groups.
RD: What are your dreams for Still Waters?
SF: We dream that Still Waters might become a community where several interns can live together while growing in discipleship, providing hospitality, tending an abundant garden of food for residents and guests, engaging the community in ways that flow out of their gifts, and just sharing life together in an intentional, prayerful way. We dream for Still Waters to be able to sustain itself financially over time so that we (or our future directors) can devote full-time attention to carrying out all the dreams we have for this place. We dream that Seventh-day Adventists and people all denominations and even the “un-churched,” might know that God longs to enjoy time with his children just to be. We want Still Waters to be a place where individuals can find space to do this. We also dream that Still Waters might become an even more ecologically sustainable place that honors God in its care for the earth.
RD: Do you currently accept interns at Still Waters?
SF: Yes! Right now we are actually looking for a volunteer intern. This person will have the opportunity to engage our mission by carrying out a variety of tasks like cooking, gardening, welcoming guests, maintaining the library, etc., while also enjoying participation in a spiritual companionship, morning prayer, and possibly a discipleship group.
People in life transitions (career shifts, retirement, school gap year, sabbatical or various other personal life changes), may find that a volunteer internship can provide space for renewal on life’s journey. If you want to learn more, or know of someone who might, please check it out: www.stillwaters.org/internship.
RD: How does one go about visiting Still Waters for a regular retreat? What does it cost?
We ask for a suggested donation of $60 for a 24-hour overnight retreat, which includes three meals, a private bedroom, linens, and use of the shared spaces as well as the outdoors. Retreating out in one of our cabins can be done for the same suggested rate. Some people give more, which makes it possible for us to serve those who give less. A day retreat is $30, and other rates (for directed retreats or group use) are available on our website: www.stillwaters.org/rates.
Read Delcy's spirituality article, Discerning Truth, here.