We believe in the dignity and value of every human life.
We believe God made human beings mysteriously wonderful.
He gives to each the freedom to choose-To be faithful To forgive To praise Him
To live a responsible and joy-filled life To love Him and one another.
We recognize similarities and differences among people and know that the differences are sometimes cause for fearful separation.
We believe that to face those differences, and to learn to celebrate them We need God.
We believe that Jesus calls us to celebrate all of life – every moment.
Our relationship with Jesus invites us towards a hope that with our own eyes we will see ourselves as co-creators of the Kingdom on this earth.
HEC is about broken people (all of us) coming together to try to live briefly a Gospel centered life. Anyone who participates is welcomed.
Handicapped Encounter Christ
as perceived by it’s founder, John L. Keck
HEC is a Christian Retreat. It is a specific kind of Christian Retreat. It is an Encounter Retreat.
HEC is Gospel centered and therefore for adults. It is spiritual in nature. It is about our inner lives and our relationship with God. It is not about disabled rights nor psychotherapy. It includes all people on an equal basis. It is not necessarily about or for physically different people, although it does emphasize that those among us who have physical challenges are welcome at this retreat because on many traditional retreats people with physical difficulties who need help are not accommodated.
HEC is about broken people (all of us) coming together to try to live briefly a Gospel centered life. Anyone who participates is welcomed.
Leaders and speakers on a HEC are selected by a consensual process.
This process includes;
- Experience in a spiritual lifestyle – Gospel living;
- Ability to share, in an organized manner, their thoughts and pertinent experiences;
- Physical differences or degree of perceived physical differences has nothing to do with the selection process.
To be more specific as to what New York HEC has done for the past:
Annual Business Meeting
Each year there is a business meeting.At that meeting, we look first at where our spiritual journeys have led us and talk about how HEC has played a part in that during the past year.We then look at the goals that we set for that year, and talk about what got done and what did not.Next we spend a significant time in prayer. After lunch, we talk about goals for the next year (Jan. to Jan.).Committees are formed after goals are set. These include:
- A Director Selection Committee:
Their job is to meet, pray, and call folks to direct one of the 4 retreats each year.
In this selection process we generally try have;(1) one very experienced person who has directed in the past;
(2) one person who has directed 2 or more times;
(3) one person who has directed once; and
(4) one new person who has never before directed.The directors for each weekend have full responsibility for that weekend which includes all fund raising, supplies, selecting speakers, etc. (It has always been our policy to begin each retreat at ground zero.(On those rare occasions when there has been money left at the end of a retreat over and above the cost of the retreat, the money has been given away to either another HEC community who is having difficulty or to a needy cause. e.g.InSeptember,2001, $200 was sent to the funds for victims of the September 11th attack).
- A Spiritual Growth Committee:
This committee plans days of reflection and prayer in various areas of our region.
Out of this committee’s past work has grown some monthly and biweekly gatherings for prayer at some of the group homes.All adults who wish to live a Gospel life are welcome.Responsibility is shared among all participants.It is a great way of getting new folks to join us on a HEC.
- A Social Committee:
This committee plans our social events which include an annual picnic, and dances and parties throughout the year.
- A Newsletter Committee:
Responsible for collecting news, organizing the newsletter, and getting the newsletter out.
- A Transportation Committee:
This committee is responsible for getting rides for the 4 retreats each year for those who need help in that area.
HEC: A Varied Community
HEC has a wide variety of interpretations and styles as well.Just as the New Testament is common to all Christians,there are many differing interpretations of the New Testament.Each interpretation has a specific name. e.g. Roman Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodists, etc. However if Christians are not New Testament based or uses additional holy books as their base, (such as the Mormons) these books are not called the New Testament. As in the case of the Book of Moroni (A book considered holy by Mormons), it is not added to the New Testament used by all Christians, but is called “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”.Folks who change the thrust of HEC or change it’s basic principles, should probably think about selecting a name that more closely describes their principles.
Themes of HEC Experiences
There are three different levels of retreat experience that are called HEC. Each level has an overall guiding principles, and themes that lead participants towards those guiding principles.
I. The Initial Level
What most folks call HEC. – (3 ½ day retreat)
- HEC must always be Gospel Based
- It is good to be people -God created everything, He saw it as good.
- Difference Separates people, but should be cause for celebration. We must not see our differences as bad.
- All people are broken.
First day and ½-What does it mean to be people?
- People feel
- People have feelings about themselves
- People are complex creatures
- All people are incomplete/ broken
- Jesus, God and Man, chose a human form
- Human beings change
- People forgive and are forgiven
- People grow from self-centered into other centered
- How does God see and value people?
- Communication with God – Prayer
- What does it mean to choose a Christian lifestyle
- Community is an aspect of Christian life.
- Christians are called not to judge one another or anyone.
- Living Christianity brings peace.
- Making Decisions and Taking risks
- Living a Gospel life style:Practical applications
- How do we support each other as Christians
- Commissioning to go out and live.
II:HEC for HECers:
(3 ½ day retreat for those who have already experienced one or more HECs )
- Because I am serious about choosing a life of love, I must take steps to
enrich that life, and how I believe must permeate all my daily decisions and interactions with others.
- I am part of a believing community.
- I have a private and person spiritual journey, and although I get support from fellow believers, I need to take steps to enrich my own spirituality.
- First evening:
- Why do we come together?
- How do I generally react/respond when in a group?
- First full day:
- What have I discovered in my own spiritual journey?
- The role of scripture and prayer in my spiritual life?
- Second full day:
- What does Christian Community mean?
- What do I want from a Christian Community?
- What do I bring to a Christian Community?
- How do I affirm others in their spiritual journey?
- How can I be affirmed in my spiritual journey?
- Third full day:
- Celebrating individual and Communal life?
- Sharing with others in a nonjudgmental way.
- being refueled for the journey.
III. Beyond HEC for HECers
2 and ½ day retreat for those who seriously wish to develop leadership in a Christian Community as we as a group, [HEC] have come to know it. This retreat is only offered once every few years when there seems to be a calling by the community for such a retreat.
- Understanding commitment to a Christian Community.
- Recognition of personal spiritual growth and how that relates to a Christian community.
- Making a personal plan of action for myself.
- A letter explaining why one wishes to be part of this retreat.
- Assuming responsibility for payment of cost for this retreat.
- Study of at least one Gospel before coming to the retreat.
- First Evening
- choosing your own group for the retreat.
- selecting your own partner for the retreat.
- The importance of prayer.
- Our own spiritual journey to date.
- First Full Day
- Being called by the Gospels
- Discussion groups and/or workshops on aspects of Christian Life
- Differing values
- Individual and Communal prayer life
- Last Full Day
- Defining and solving problems – personal and communal
- Celebrating All of Life
God moves in all our lives. Most often it is only when we stop and look back over events and changes in our lives, that we begin to recognize those movements, and allow that they might be the results of something other than our own efforts. HEC came into being because of God moving years earlier. We had passed the days when obvious color differences were a cause for legal separation of peoples into inferior and superior, but had not yet moved into an understanding of valuing the seemingly useless. That was our world in the 1960’s. Indeed, we thought ourselves progressive.
In the summer of 1956, a telephone call about a summer job, for believers, might have been made by the hand of God. The recipient of that call was an all too typical teen age boy eager to make money. The call was from one of his former teachers asking if he would like a summer job. The response was “How much?”. Twenty-five a week plus room an board was enough to tempt the boy into leaving his $.25 per hour car-hop job, and say “yes” to the big money.
Only after arrival at this camp did he really understand that it would be a camp for Crippled Children. Twenty minutes after beginning work, he was in love. In love with the kids, the situation, his coworkers, and life. This job brought him life – in a richer, fuller way than he had ever known it. It was from friends at this job that the possibilities of attending college first entered the realm of reality in the young man’s life. A friend there, at camp, helped him get a scholarship – a grant covering books and tuition. The children of the camp provided the major. He realized that if he went to school, he could finish in time to help some of the very kids he had come to know – as people in trouble, not as poor “crippled things”. So off to college – a wondrous awakening to difference. A place where being himself was not only all right, but some folks even celebrated it. Could it have been God saying “What I make – all of it -is good!”?
After college, a job. Not with the kids from camp, but with other kids. Kids in St. Louis. A special school, kids divided by disability and educated for the convenience of the professionals separately from other children. He was hot stuff, a professional. Marriage followed, and he was going to live life like all the “normal folks” – children, a yard, a house, insurance etc.. Then life’s hurts. A divorce. Feeling again, like he did not belong. That he not only had made terrible mistakes, but that the life he so yearned for was beyond his grasp.
In desperation, He took the geographic cure, and moved to the east coast. In order to be accepted, he joined and became extremely active in a parish church. CCD, lector, right hand man to the priest, but always busy. Friends, respect in the community. lots of activity. Good stuff for one who was determined to “do” rather than to think. A place where one’s pride was not assailable. Get close, but not too close. Dance the dance of life with enough room between you and anyone else so as not to be hurt again. Work for God – get good notices from the folks, but never get too close to even God so that hurt would be possible again. A nice numb life.
An accident on the playground at work brought the whole question back to life – was what he did so important, or was who he was of value too? Years of recovery followed.
Days, weeks, and months of wallowing in self-pity, finally having enough relationship with God to vent anger. A screaming accusal of God. Why did you make me? Why am I here? Why don’t I fit into this world? The young man hated being so different, so useless.
Then a call (1971) to help out on a new retreat for Teenagers. TEC – Teens Encounter Christ. He went to be busy again, but there was enough relationship with God that indeed during that retreat, he heard loud and clear “God loves you as you are”. What fanciful and nurturing words! The young man was almost overwhelmed with the realization. Then the thought (God again?) – “If I have had all these chances at life, and I still doubt my worth when I have some trouble, what about those kids at camp. How must they feel – always different, always shut out” “Surely God speaks of them too when he ‘loves us as we are!'”
So, trying to believe his own worth, and at the same time wanting this truly good news to be shared with those who have been separated for their whole life, the young man approached the TEC Council with an idea. How about bringing together 15 able-bodied teenagers and 15 disabled teens, do a couple of minutes about physical care, and then have a retreat together. The idea was met with resounding fear from the council. “We would have to have medical staff present”. “They’re not sick, just different”. “The teenagers might be too afraid.” “They need to face that fear, and get over it”. The idea was taken under advisement.
By 1973 the young man had decided to be ready for the possibility of doing the combined retreat, so a team was assembled. A small team of adults who would guide the teenagers. The young man was persistent, and finally the Council agreed that this might be a possibility, if there was input from the Council, and if the retreat was primarily for the disabled and able-bodied folks volunteered to help.
The young man had learned from experience after experience that those who were “helpers” felt themselves in control, and indeed were powerful; while those being “helped” were in a position of being grateful, and were, in fact, quite powerless. But, it meant the difference between possibly sharing that Good News, or not sharing.
The original team (mostly the young man’s friends) was supplemented by some other folks, and in early January, 1974 team meetings began to take place. The concerns of the Council were concerns of control. The young man felt that at least one change in the schedule was necessary – that change – to include one talk about being Handicapped – to face the issue head-on.
A member of the TEC council, Diane Marafiotti was selected to represent the Council.
A Sister, Nancy Mehlem, was enlisted because of her expertise with disability. The young man, John Keck was part of the directing team, and a Priest, John Saltzman was selected to give spiritual direction. The four folks met a few times, and set up team meetings (never a strength for John Saltzman), and the actual planning began in earnest.
On April 22, 1974 after 18 months of planning, the first HECers gathered at Mary Immaculate School in Ossining, NY for the first HEC. The team had been working to re-arrange and make the building as accessable as possible from Wednesday evening April 19th. Ramps had to be made. A divider had to be constructed so that a dining area was made in the meeting room. Tables were painted. Lots of work and lots of prayer! At the last minute the cook had to drop out. A call went out and Don Howard, then an officer of West Point, was able at the last munite to get the National Guard to prepare meals for us. Jeeps, Walkie-talkie’s, and uniformed folks were also on the scene.
Sixty-two folks (besides the National Guard) gathered for the first HEC. Many blind students as well as physically different folks gathered with the “team”, and together we experienced the first HEC. What a God-filled weekend! It was apparent that we would need to do more retreats. The need was so apparent – the yearning for the good news was so present. Folks like Bill Reilly, Walter Johnson, and Melrose Buanaura really caught fire with the ideas presented. By the end of the first weekend, we had established the only really permanent feature of HEC – a waiting list for the next retreat. That list has remained a constant since 1974.
Always the question, “Are we doing the right thing?”. A wise John Saltzman helped us by reminding us that if we were indeed doing something that was of God, it would last. If not of God, it would die on it’s own.
God was as always amazing! Gathered in that room for HEC one, were the seeds of growth. And grow we did.
Our relationship with the TEC Council, at best always strained, was soon a major difficulty. It was becoming more and more apparent that HEC needed to go its own way – separate from the TEC movement. The separation came with a meeting of the TEC Council in November, 1974. Marty Rogers described the meeting as a baseball game in which John was the ball. It was decided that we go our separate ways.
A friend of John Saltzman, Pat Colfer had joined us from Washington DC for HEC #1. Soon she was bringing folks with her to the HECs in New York and HEC came to Washington. Don Howard and his wife Sara were transferred to Tucson, AZ. HEC spread there. Shawn Tracy was transferred to Villanova, and Philly HEC soon was to be a reality. Nancy Mehlem moved to Boston to work on her doctorate, and so Boston became a reality. All of these folks gathered in rooms for those first HECs – what wonderful plans God had for us! And we didn’t know it.
Soon after the break between TEC and HEC, Pat Colfer, Francine Nolin (Rogers), and John sat down and revamped the schedule which became essentially the schedule that we still use in New York. The process was certainly spirit filled. We ask ourselves what was essential – what we needed to cover, and the question “Why” was ever-present in those discussions. An extra half day was added because of the needs as we saw them, and the three and 1/2 day schedule was born.
After seven HEC’s, we added another level of retreat – the HEC for HECers, which moved us beyond the initial Good News that we were loved, and into or response to that love. Pat Colfer and John worked through that schedule. It wasn’t tightly knit, but rather grew as it happened. During the talk on “Being a Sinner” at a HEC for HECers, we were still worried about just what the reaction might be. The forgiveness liturgical experience with questions and abundant water came to be. We still use it.
The struggle between our own wills and the will of God seems ever present with HEC.
We continue to struggle, we continue to be poor and dependent. That struggle has enfleshed over the years, a Mission Statement for New York HEC; Principals of HEC; Goals of HEC; and Signs of a God-Centered HEC Community. (All included in the appendix.)
We look for the day when HEC’s will no longer be necessary. The day when all retreats will be open to all people. The day when those different from the usual are valued and included in the general population as equal members. That day has not yet come, but we still hope.
At present, a second generation of HECers has emerged (Mostly thanks to Jim Malone), and soon the reigns of leadership will be passed on to those who have come to us later and who are young and energetic and spirit filled. May God be with them, as he has been with us.
HEC’s Living and Dead:
When a group of well meaning Christians want to help the poor cripples. This gets old and some folks can after a while be quite demanding.
When egos and notoriety, and performance become more important than the common Christian life.
When people’s wills become preferred to God’s will.
When retreats become places where there is competition – among wills, or horror stories, or musicianship, or needs.
When the retreat becomes a forum for psychotherapy and psychodrama, and people begin to evaluate each others’ progress.
When there is an “us” and a “them”.
When the needs and wants of some take precedence over the common good.
When HEC becomes exclusive and clubby.
HEC’s thrive …
When Jesus, and only Jesus, is the central figure of the retreats.
When people are honestly striving to become more God-centered.
When the group takes responsibility for the retreats and other activities.
When people reach out to one another.
When petty hurts are forgotten and forgiveness is practiced.
When we recognize our oneness as children of a loving God.
When we truly believe that there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more than He already does, and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us less.
When we pray daily, alone and together.
When each of us takes responsibility for our own spiritual growth.
When we include without evaluation.
When we become willing to put our lives on the line for our beliefs.
When each of us does what we do best, and some jobs are not conceived as better than others.
When every human being is given the dignity of being a creation of God.
When we live ordinary lives for extraordinary reasons.
Join us on the next retreat:
For more information, contact us:
Handicapped Encounter Christ
2455 Hunterbrook Road
Yorktown Heights, New York 10598
or email us at: