A report-back from the May Day Retreat

This report-back was included in this month’s Friendly Fire newsletter

An update from the collective

We had every intention to put out a May newsletter. We also had every intention to patch together a report-back that reflected the experience of the 30 or so retreat attendees. But here we are in June, with no such report-back. We’re sorry.

I’ll give a brief report-back here, and you can also listen to us talk about it on the Magnificast episode about the retreat.

  • A few days prior to the retreat, some organizers came together for prayer and preparation. Various small disasters, including sickness and cars breaking down, threw us for some loops but we made it through. This was a theme for the retreat.

  • The night before the retreat, some people arrived early. We made dozens of peanut butter jelly sandwiches – some with only jelly, some with only peanut butter. These, along with bananas, chips, and water bottles, were fed to folks during the May Day demonstration.

  • On the morning of May 1st, we gathered together for registration, sign-making, and prayer at a church in Center City, Philadelphia. After, we made a short march towards City Hall with a banner that read All Cops Are Apostates while chanting Eat the Rich / Feed the Poor.

  • The demonstration was a rally at City Hall, organized by the Liberation Project. Other organizations present included the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Philly for Real Justice, and the Radical Education Department. This was an all-day occupation. We hung out, ate together, and had various teach-ins, which included one of our retreat’s very own speaking about faith communities divesting from the police.

  • After the occupation, a number of participants left to get to the cabins we reserved outside of Philadelphia. Others stayed in Center CiIty a few hours longer and participated in other marches/demonstrations.

  • Our way back to the cabins included several logistical disasters, from bad directions being given to being locked out of the cabins. The joy of being safe and together mostly dissipated the heaviness from hours of confusion and chaos. As soon as we got in, people started cooking and food was served sometime past 9PM. Many stayed up late, talking, laughing, and getting to know each other.

  • The next morning we had a time of silent worship, and in small groups we read Mao’s “Combat Liberalism.” We had interesting conversations about spiritual and communal discipline, how Mao’s words felt in tune with Paul’s, and the need for self-crit. Soon after there was an incredible presentation from some members of Second Acts, a radical Christian direct action group, on liturgical direct action.

  • After lunch, we had optional workshops on consensus decision-making, transformative justice and accountability, body-work and healing, and an open conversation that was very tender, encouraging, and honest. Much of this conversation was about our struggles as followers of Christ and people of faith who hold revolutionary convictions. There was a powerful sense of solidarity.

  • After dinner, we worshipped, had an awesome sermon on the apocalypse, and were led to a time of open prayer. For over two hours, participants prayed, held Light, wept, laughed, and experienced the presence of God. At around two hours, Hye Sung was exhausted and prematurely asked, “Are all hearts clear?” There was a resounding no.

  • The next day after breakfast we had a communion service with bread and wine. A participant led us through. There was a sense of Spirit moving as she read: We join our voices with Angels, Archangels, all the Company of Heaven, and with the voice of all slaves, all outcasts, all the downtrodden who are your prophets who will not be silenced but rise up in insurrection to sing with gladness, all who choose not to be ashamed but who dance with joy before the throne as we praise you with one voice. We responded, confidently: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of Power and Might, Heaven and Earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. We then passed the cup and bread to one another. For some Quakers present, this was their first time taking part in the Eucharist, or any sacrament.

  • After communion, we had lunch and folks started leaving. Some participants stayed at the cabins an extra night.

Post-retreat reflections

  • The organizers regret that we did not recognize that the ancestral land we met on is Lenape territory. We would like to recognize this now, and express gratitude to be able to organize towards liberation on their soil.

  • We also apologize for providing little information on the campgrounds, how to get there, as well as on the actions. For next year, we are committing to organizing rides and providing more information – including for travel, the actions, and lodging – at least two weeks prior to the retreat.

  • We were blessed to have an intergenerational retreat, including the presence of a participant’s baby. This child was a source of much joy among participants. We were also blessed to have been a majority-queer space – one participant even said, “I spend a lot (most) of my time in queer space but this was by far the queerest space of all time.” Several people noted that there was a very nurturing, tender presence all throughout the retreat. That said, most participants were white.

  • We loved the political and theological diversity – wobblies, Marxist-Leninists, DSA members, pan-leftists, Catholic Workers, Quakers, tongue-talkers, holy laughers, contemplatives. It broadened our sense of revolutionary vision, opening up our imagination(s) to the movement of the Spirit.

  • We organized a conference call post-retreat to discuss the future of the Friendly Fire Collective. We named our vision as being a network of cells, communities, and individuals committed to the apocalyptic work. We named that we desired to be a pastoral presence to the Revolutionary Left. We named the three areas of work for the collective as 1) providing spiritual care, 2) creating agitation and propaganda, and 3) action-mobilization. We committed to meeting weekly for prayer and once a month to business. We will soon be creating a new process for people to become Friendly Fire co-conspirators.

  • We celebrate the friendships made, the wisdom shared, and the brewing that is occurring post-retreat. A group in Philadelphia, inspired by the retreat, have committed to forming a covenant community. We pray others groups committed to worship and providing support and care for liberatory work begin forming.

As previously mentioned, will be deciding the process for becoming a member. If you have any interest in getting involved, or are in the Philadelphia area and would like to connect to the forming community, you can reach out to us at friendlyfireinfo@protonmail.com.

If you feel led to give, we are also still raising money to pay off the retreat. You can donate on our GoFundMe.

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