Rebooting Creativity Week

Laity Lodge Revitalizes a 35-Year Tradition

When Steven Purcell, Executive Director of Laity Lodge, decided to relaunch Creativity Week this summer after an 8-year hiatus, he knew expectations would be high. The retreat had been a longtime favorite of guests since its inception in 1973.

Two truths guide the week, then and now: Everyone is creative, and everyone is welcome.

“The value isn’t in the thing itself. It’s in the doing of it.”

—Annie Parsons (Guest)

This summer, people of all ages and abilities arrived at the Lodge, self-professed “non-artists” sharing space in workshops with professional painters, sculptors, writers, and more. Creativity Week veterans also returned such as Julie Roseberry of Fredericksburg, who brought pictures of early retreats to share with everyone.

One guest, Annie Parsons, came on the first anniversary of what she describes as a life-changing event. “The best response to pain is to create,” she told fellow guests. “I just want to add to the beauty.”

So Annie signed up for woodworking with Casey Reed Johnson, a sculptor, designer, and furniture maker. In the class, guests carved cedar bud vases with knives and chisels. Some guests even burned the wood before sanding and oiling it to reveal the vase’s unique character.

“As I was carving my piece down,” Annie says, “I noticed these cedar mulch spots that Casey pulled out to reveal scars in the wood. He told me I could carve them out if I wanted to, but it made me think: The scars are what make it unique. Like us. I thought, I want to celebrate imperfections and welcome scars and weakness because the result is beautiful.”

“Rediscovering the mind’s ability to play, to turn your mind off and just be.”

—Susan Isaacs (Writing & Improv)

Guest speaker Cam Anderson, who normally spends his days as Executive Director of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA), hoped guests would experience such revelations.

“There is a point where art-making and spirituality become the same thing,” Cam told guests.

His goal at the retreat was to “encourage artists in their calling, especially in the community of faith, to see their calling as a holy calling.” Regardless of whether guests claimed to be artists or not, he hoped they would all, like Annie, learn from their experience of engaging the world as artists and creators.

“What artists do in the studio and what Christians do on their journey toward God are very closely aligned,” he explains. In many ways, creative practices share characteristics with the spiritual practices we adopt as people of faith—delayed gratification, focus, training the mind, hand, and spirit.

“Making art well,” says Cam, “requires the same kind of discipline and attentiveness as spirituality.”

“I am learning to see the beauty in a small and faithful life as opposed to a busy and stressful life.”

—Liz Grizwold (Guest)

As it turns out, making art well is also a hilariously good time. Guest Melissa Ciavarra says art helps her “not take things so seriously.” Actor and writer Susan Isaacs invited her workshop participants to “rediscover the mind’s ability to play.” She also reminded everyone, “The truth can be funny.” Guest Liz Grizwold couldn’t have agreed more. Her goal for the retreat? “I’m here to play.”

Fun and encouragement was a defining characteristic of Creativity Week from the beginning. Howard Butt, Jr., in 1984 told one group of artists, “There develops an atmosphere of mutual encouragement. That mutual encouragement is creativity itself.”

Over the years, Howard actively modeled encouragement and playfulness for guests even during the darkest times, like one night when a violent thunderstorm took out power in the Great Hall during a piano concert. Moved by the storm, pianist David Tolley began playing excerpts from Phantom of the Opera, which was still new at the time. Howard Butt was so excited that he stood on the couch in his shoes and cheered.

It’s no wonder that Mr. Butt’s daughter, Deborah Butt Rogers, always chose to visit her parents during Creativity Week. “This is the retreat that I enjoyed the most,” she remembers.

“Opening yourself up to this process, opens you up to something bigger, something beautiful.”

—Andy Gullahorn (Songwriting)

This year, Brandon Dickerson, a director at the Lodge, started the retreat with Howard Butt’s original invitation to guests in 1973. On opening night, Brandon told everyone in the Great Hall, “Let the child within you come out and play.”

And play they did. Each day began with a morning meditation and discussion, and then guests spent all day, every day, creating. They could sign up for two workshops a day, including painting, woodworking, writing and improv, jewelry-making, songwriting, and building a “sacred space.”

With so many opportunities, Brandon reminded guests that Laity Lodge is a place of freedom and grace. “We have an agenda,” he said on opening night, “but we don’t have an agenda for you.”

Guests said they were grateful for the chance to slow down, play, and create, and they looked forward to carrying these practices back to their daily lives, local communities, and immediate families.

“Laity Lodge is thrilled to bring back what was a highlight of guests’ summers from 1973 to 2008,” says Dickerson. The Lodge looks forward to continuing the tradition again in summer 2019.

“It’s amazing how open and vulnerable people are when you listen to them. It’s sad because listening takes time and we’re all so busy [in our everyday lives].”

—Melissa Ciavarra (Guest)

Did you know? You can see these and other past retreat photos at along with summaries and streaming audio.

Article by Marcus Goodyear.

More from this issue

Echo Valley 2020

Echo Valley 2020 will bring $5.6 million dollars in improvements—including new cabins, landscaping, planned outdoor group programming space, and infrastructure updates—to support our larger camping groups.

How Dwight Lacy Left an Impression

Dwight is a rock-solid part of the Foundation’s story—and he’s also one of the changing things, as he embraces a new season of life.

Creativity Brings Us Closer to our Creator

You may not know this about me, but I’m a sculptor. My favorite medium is sand.

Soul + Food

In the Echo Valley kitchen, Wylie Shellhouse keeps menus and delivery schedules posted alongside church bulletins and an Orthodox icon printed on wood.