Faith-based Beginning Experience: Weekends create space for divorced and widowed persons to heal

Beginning Experience weekends create time and space for divorced, widowed and legally separated persons to delve deeply into the emotional aftermath of the loss of a spousal relationship, so they can grieve. While organized through the Catholic Church, the program is non- denominational but with a Christian focus, and open to all faiths. Central Minnesota hosts two BE weekends each year, held in a wooded setting on a lake. 

Scholarships are available — no one gets turned away for an inability to pay. (See box.)

“I first attended BE as a divorced person 30 years ago,” said Kathie Pflueger, of St. Cloud. “My faith was strong but shaken during a troublesome marriage. After my divorce, I was mad at God and the world and believed I could grieve on my own. That first weekend and the healing afterwards prepared me for a second need for healing.

“Prior to COVID, my second husband of nearly 24 years died very suddenly of a heart attack. We were alone, in a snowstorm and I was alone to grieve. But because I’d worked through the process, I had renewed my faith. I called on the Holy Spirit and did CPR,” Kathie said.

“Without that strengthened relationship with God, I don’t know how I’d have made it through the pandemic, but I was serene — the Lord had prepared me with the tools of Beginning Experience. Hope and trust in God became my operative words. When COVID was finally over, I couldn’t wait to go to BE again.”

Scott Klein’s cousin was a BE team member who suggested he consider the program after his divorce. “Because of her recommendation, I filled out an application on the website. It was the best gift I could have given myself.”

Later, Scott, from South Haven, faced his son’s suicide, selling his home and buying one with a fiancée, and ending that relationship within six months. “My BE family helped me with those losses — an absolute blessing to have friends like that as I processed my grief and healing began.”

Connie (Cardinal) Adelman, then from rural Benton County, felt lost and hopeless with her marriage coming to end. Worse, while she recovered from a bad car accident, her spouse had an affair. “I prayed to make our marriage work but didn’t know where to turn. My pastor gifted me with the weekend — BE changed my life totally.”

From left, Connie (Cardinal) Adelman, Tim Adelman, Kathie Pflueger and
Scott Klein are Beginning Experience participants who have trained to serve as peer ministers for the program. (Photo by Bill Vossler)

Kathie, the current Central Minnesota BE president, said, “Death or divorce ends a life together. This great loss creates changes for people, some of which are quickly realized and others which people may be totally unaware of. Our purpose is to facilitate the process, enable hurting people to love themselves, others and God again and be healed. They become free to let go of anger and grief, live in society in healthy ways and bring hope back into their lives.”

On a BE weekend

To get the most benefit, participants should ideally be through the anger stage, a few months after their loss, prior to a weekend.

Scott said, “Without a partner, people struggle to see who they truly are. They’re vulnerable and need a lot of trust. It’s hard to take the time for that inward look, to reach down and allow those painful emotions to surface. On weekends, we shut out distractions that keep us from searching our deep emotions.”Tim, Kathie, Scott and Connie have also served on BE teams as peer ministers, going through training to do so. A priest trains with them and attends as much of the weekend as possible.

Participants listen to impactful presentations that explore various aspects of the grief journey, dealing with anger, guilt and trusting God and others. Through reflecting on their own experiences — individually and in confidential, supportive small groups — participants are encouraged to look in new ways at their current circumstances, reevaluate themselves and move forward with hope.

“Weekends can be intense with a gamut of painful emotions. You begin to reconnect your relationship with God. You might have felt like you’re a sinner not loved by God, because so much had happened in your life or you didn’t know how to forgive yourself or someone who’s hurt you. BE shows you that God loves you,” Connie said.

“On weekends, we balance this emotional work with fun simple activities,” Scott added.

After a weekend, team members reach out to participants by phone to check how they’re doing. They schedule a reunion to bring them together. Then participants meet the larger BE family — alumni from other weekends — and can connect at dances, home get- togethers, bonfires, camping and at Summertime by George in St. Cloud.

“The best part is these relationships, this big BE family,” Scott said. “Each person understands what you’re dealing with.”

Connie agreed. “In this new family, everyone has your best interests at heart. They ‘get’ you. People develop lifelong relationships — they become our closest friends.”

Working the BE program results in better coping skills to deal with loss and anger, more effective parenting and better relationships with others and family, Kathie said.

Tim and Connie met at a BE dance but didn’t really talk until several months later.

Tim said, “In order to work on your own healing, it’s recommended not to start a relationship or date until 90 days. We took time to develop the friendship and have been married for nearly a year.” The Adelmans live near Becker.

Scott said, “It’s gratifying to show new people this BE path. None of the ways I might spend time are as important as helping others through this. Numerous BE alumni have told me they’ve grown so much that the person they are today isn’t even close to who they were when they first came.”

“It doesn’t matter if you were divorced or widowed 12 months ago or 12 years ago. If you’re struggling to move through life, BE can help you move forward,” Connie said. 

Tim added, “In one word, BE is life changing.”


WHAT: A peer ministry for people grieving the loss of a spouse through death or divorce

WHEN: Oct. 6-8, 2023; April 5-7, 2024; Oct. 18-20, 2024

WHERE: A wooded setting on a central Minnesota lake Scholarships are available. For more information, visit Minnesota will host the international 50th anniversary BE convention in 2024, open to anyone who’s made a retreat.

Author: Nikki Rajala

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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