A Spoonful of Sugar helps the Healing Potion Go Down

A few months ago, my family and I went to see a movie in the theater.

Growing up, going out to see a movie was a magical experience, for a few reasons:

  1. We didn’t go to see very many movies, so when we did it was a treat!
  2. Popcorn…slathered in butter…pure decadence…
  3. The enormous screen. These were the days before 55 inch 4K ultrahigh definition televisions were even a whisper of a shadow of a dream.

Now that I’m an adult, I sometimes go to more movies in a month than I went to see in an entire year as a child.

And I can buy movie-theater butter popcorn that I can pop in my microwave.

And I’m never more than a few clicks of my smart TV’s remote away from watching tons of movies on Netflix.

But when I went with my family to that theater a few months ago, I again had a magical movie experience. No, we weren’t seeing the latest Marvel superhero movie (although those do tend to be wicked awesome!), we saw a movie from a different Disney franchise.

It was…Mary Poppins Returns!

Seriously! Sometimes we say that something, “Made me feel like a child again,” but this movie didn’t just make me feel like a child again, I actually was a child again! I was a child again, mesmerized by the fantastical mixture of live action and animation that so captured my imagination when I saw the original Mary Poppins 30ish years ago.

However, there was one thing that jumped out at me about this movie, one thing that I consciously realized that I probably wouldn’t have if I had watched this as a child. I realized that Mary Poppins was helping the Banks children process complex emotions about grief and greed through their imaginations.

I think that we adults often forget this. Kids do it all the time, playing with legos, playing with dolls, playing with pieces of paper that are actually racecar spaceships that can transform into lions.

Our imaginations are incredible tools to help us work through the ‘stuff’ in our lives. And this is one of the huge gifts of playing Dungeons and Dragons. It is a game of imagination, and not just our individual imaginations, but our communal imagination as a group comes together to create and inhabit whole new worlds. These are worlds where the fantastical is ordinary, where a well-timed joke can be as effective as the mightiest swing of a warhammer, and where players have the chance to live into a new reality.

I’m looking forward to our upcoming Pastors and Dragons: An Adventure of Spiritual Imagination retreat, where we will have the opportunity to exercise our communal imaginations for the sake of ourselves, our ministry settings, and the world. Who know what dreams and visions may come from this experience? When imagination is involved, the sky’s the limit! (Well, maybe the Elemental Plane of Air is the limit…or would it be the Ethereal Plane?…the Astral Plane?…)

Announcing the 2019 Pastors & Dragons Curriculum!

We’ve been hard at work honing and preparing some really amazing learning sessions for this year’s Pastors & Dragons continuing education retreat. Each session will dial in on a particular aspect of the correlations between adventure, imagination, and spirit.

Self-Reflection through the Player Character

We’ll engage in the character creation process while asking, “How do we bring ourselves to the characters we imagine?” Whether as a reflection, an exaggeration, or challenge to grow, the characters we play on the tabletop are an opportunity to reflect on who we are, what we fear, and who we want to become.

Adventurers, Assemble!

In D&D you join a party of adventurers to explore fantastic and often dangerous locations. But what happens when you take that method of collective exploration and apply it elsewhere? We’ll engage our imaginations in collectively exploring the foundational stories of our faiths and our lives.

From DM Prep to Ministry Preparedness

What are some best practices for preparing to run a D&D adventure? What can the prep work we do for tabletop adventures teach us as we do the prep work for ministry? Whether it’s pastoral care, small group leadership, meeting facilitation, or presiding at worship – a bit of the right kind of prep can really pay off in a great experience for everyone.

More than Meets the Eye

How can Dungeons & Dragons strengthen our empathy muscles? We’ll open our eyes to the complexities of our real life stories. Then we’ll spend some time practicing using stories to help us enter into the experiences of others.

Fandoms: A Model for the Future Church

How can fandom help us better embody God’s unfolding story? Geek communities provide a fascinating new lens for how we can understand our faith communities. Cultures of imagination meet cultures of spirit and share a lot more than might be expected.

Read more about Pastors & Dragons: An Adventure of Spiritual Imagination and register to attend the best church/nerd retreat around.

Announcing Pastors & Dragons 2019!

We’ve been hard at work recently getting the logistics in line for our next retreat and now we are excited to announce Pastors & Dragons: An Adventure of Spiritual Imagination!

In 2019 we’ve leveled up and will be enjoying a new retreat center with a ton of additional amenities. Manicured trails and gardens… a pool, sauna, and spa… and chef prepared meals…nothing rustic here! It’s also a lot closer to the Twin Cities metro area, making transportation even easier.

For 2019 there’s also a new addition to the retreat organizing crew – Pastor Ben Loven! Ben has been a great friend, is an awesome minister, and is an equally avid D&D player. He brings his own unique perspective on how Dungeons & Dragons and ministry intersect, and will be sharing a bit about it in posts here in the coming months. Welcome Ben!

Retreat Reflections

It’s been a minute since the Pastors & Dragons Retreat this past summer, but those August days of gaming and learning still stick with me. When I came back from the retreat we had something of an onslaught of funerals that dramatically increased my workload for over a month. Add to that preparing for and experiencing the birth of my first child (and all of our church’s fall programming), and you can see all the ways life and death can interrupt my writing here.

But there are still things to say.

The Pastors & Dragons retreat was a definite success! We had attendees from East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast converge in Minnesota for four days and three nights of gaming and learning together. It was a time of instant community and memories that I’ll enjoy for a long time. But don’t take my word for it – here’s some of what the participants had to say!

“Loved the improv games, they set a good stage of collaboration.”

“I loved the A.C.E. game. It was very good for energizing people and fostering collaboration.”

“I love exploring how our D&D characters reflect us in a variety of ways.”

“Overall it was an amazing value for the money. I would strongly consider doing it again.”

“I loved having some afternoon time to myself to rest and reflect and read.”

“Good for PCs and players!”

“Apocalypse is always fun to think about! Now I have a lot of new ideas!”

“Wished Tiamat to the Far Realm. 34/10 would do again.” 

“Awesome! A riot! Enjoyed the experience.” 

“As someone who usually has the DM role, it was a ton of fun for me to actually play. I also enjoyed interacting with all the different ministry people and building relationships with people who serve in different theological contexts.”

“Even though I didn’t volunteer, I appreciated the improv exercises. It got me thinking in different ways and was a nice way for us to start to gel as a group.” 

“The Noah adventure was on of my week highlights. I loved the adventure as a whole and I loved riding unicorns with NOAH! Amazing.”

“The Managing Group Dynamics session was very helpful for me.”

“Sharing in a variety of theological/denominational backgrounds was helpful to push me out of my ‘Lutheran comfort zone,’ aid me in continuing to think outside the box. Also, the variety of gameplay experience and new encounters was fun!”               

“The highlights were the gaming sessions (obviously). I was impressed with how well 12 people around a table could work.”                

“All the gaming sessions (+bonus free time games) were awesome.”           

“Highlights were playing with everyone. The small group sessions were amazing and so much fun. The large group games were beautiful chaos.” 

“The highlight was how D&D was a common language that brought us together. Plus it was a great group of loving people who felt like friends quickly.”             

“I had a great time DMing for the first time!”

“Meeting everyone and seeing what pastors’ lives are like. The games were really fun but connecting to people, laughing, and the comraderary and joy was really the best.”        

“Level 20 – INCREDIBLE”           

“Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful retreat! :)”                                                

“Thanks a million for running this. It was an absolutely amazing week.”                               

“Being able to think about my personality and see how I play that out in my characters was cool.”

“You couldn’t have picked a better location. Hiking was amazing here.”                                           

“The afternoon free time was absolutely necessary and appreciated! I hate going to continuing ed events where every single hour is programmed. We need time to decompress and do what we want to, even if that was playing more D&D!”

I personally learned a lot from leading this retreat. I echo many of the things said by others, but my main takeaway is that the gaming table is one of the last places of neutral ground where we can come together. This is especially on my mind after our most recent election day where it seems that we’ve seen evidence that our society is only becoming more and more polarized.

Attendees at the Pastors & Dragons Retreat came from across the spectrum of Christian experience and beyond, including non-Christians as well. Leaders from oftentimes antagonistic denominations came together to share and play. Bonds of friendship formed. Community happened.

All that I hear about these days is how divided we are as a people, but at the Pastors & Dragons Retreat we were one people united by our common love for this game that can do so much.

This was only the first Pastors & Dragons Retreat. We are already in the process of preparing for the next one – coming August 2019! You can find more information about our 2019 retreat and sign up by clicking the link below.

Looking ahead: 

Over the next few weeks I will be working on polishing and releasing the adventures that I ran from the retreat. Each explores a part of scripture or themes of faith in an inviting experiential way. I’m excited to share them with a broader community in the hopes of igniting imaginations for how Dungeons & Dragons can be a tool for ministry.

Pastors & Dragons: A D&D Retreat (2018)

Pastors & Dragons

In August of 2018, the Dungeon Master Pastor, Rev. Rory Philstrom, led other clergy and people of faith on a first-of-its-kind, 4-day, 3-night Dungeons & Dragons retreat. With a mixture of gaming, learning, and Sabbath rest, this retreat explored the connections between life, ministry, and the world’s greatest roleplaying game.

If you want to hear how it went – click here to read what the participants had to say.

The first retreat went so well that we’re doing it again! If you want to join us on our next Pastors & Dragons retreat click here. 

Pastors & Dragons: A D&D Retreat
Shire in the Woods, McGrath, Minnesota


This retreat was full!


Pastors & Dragons

ROLL INITIATIVE!

Each day afforded hours of Dungeons & Dragons play, with daily game sessions run by Rory, the Dungeon Master Pastor.

We engaged in a variety of play styles and explore all four tiers of play. People brought beloved PCs to the game or created new favorites. In addition, we explored the character creation process as modes of self-reflection and storytelling.

We also had opportunities for people to try their hands at the DM seat for the very first time, as we mined the art of Dungeon Mastering for lessons in how to lead a community, engage others, and foster a high invitation/high challenge environment.

GAIN EXPERIENCE.

Each day also featured time for plumbing the depths of the tabletop roleplaying genre for lessons in life, faith, and ministry.

Engagement topics included:

  • Creating Complex Imaginations and the Art of Empathetic Practice
  • Facing Personal Fears on the Fantasy Tabletop
  • Self-Reflection through the Player Character
  • The Purpose and Use of Apocalypse
  • Storytelling
  • Managing Group Dynamics
  • Fostering Collaborative Improvisation and Collective Exploration

TAKE A LONG REST.

At Shire in the Woods, the natural surroundings provided a rejuvenating backdrop to finally get the rest that is so hard to find in our day-to-day lives. Located 18 miles east of northern Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota, the retreat center is tucked away at the heart of the Solana State Forest and has the Soo Line South Trail running right alongside it.

Some relaxed with a good book indoors while others took a stroll in the surrounding woods. There was more gaming, a labyrinth, a nearby swimming hole, a rose garden, a labyrinth, a beaver pond, a frog and turtle pond, tree swings and hammocks.

There were many amazing options for some real life exploration and rest, and enough time in the schedule to take full advantage of it all.

THE OCTAGON

octagon-thumb-15
The Octagon was a unique structure and a great home base for our retreat.