Although Deacon Carl Nord was raised Catholic, a negative experience in the Church as a young adult left him feeling excluded. He turned away from the Church and the community. He even doubted whether God truly existed.
“I basically was an atheist,” Deacon Nord said.
In 1991, his wife, Nancy, was going through a difficult time after her brother died by suicide. Some friends encouraged her to attend a Koinonia retreat.
“Nancy had some friends who urged her to go because she needed some healing,” Deacon Nord said. “They had found similar healing at Koinonia.”
Koinonia, pronounced ‘coy-nuh-knee-uh,’ means “Christian community” and is derived from a letter of St. Paul describing the early Church. Koinonia retreats are a community experience in Christian living designed especially for adults. It is a Catholic retreat program sponsored by the St. Cloud Diocese and open to people of all faiths.
Nancy’s experience at Koinonia was so profound that the first thing she said when she saw her husband was, “You have to go on this retreat.”
Deacon Nord admits he was more than a little skeptical about going on the retreat. He didn’t want to go. But he decided to attend for his wife’s sake and planned to just “hide out” in a corner. The first night he was there, he already felt the Holy Spirit working in him.
“At first, it was really difficult. Conversion itself is hard. But by the end of the second night, after seeing people who actually believed what they were talking about and professed it, their faith was so apparent, it began to change me,” Deacon Nord said. “By Sunday morning I was ready to have that spiritual emptying, the dying to ‘self.’”
“And the other thing was that they included me without question, and for me that was a big thing,” he added.
After the retreat, Deacon Nord shared his experience with a friend.
“My friend said, ‘Well, they scared you into becoming Catholic again.’ And I said, ‘No, they loved me back into it.’”
Deacon Nord fell so in love with the program that he continued on as a volunteer, leading and directing numerous weekends. It was through the program that he also felt he heard the Lord calling him to the permanent diaconate. Deacon Nord was ordained a deacon in 1998.
“I continue to do weekends at least once a year now because it helps regenerate my spirituality. When I came in, I was an atheist. I didn’t have faith in anything. I didn’t believe in anything. But like I said, it was the inclusion. For me, that was an important thing,” he said.
According to its website, Koinonia has a two-fold purpose: to provide a time and a place for adult Christians to experience the reality of Christian community, fellowship and sharing; and to provide a depth of faith-sharing support that allows and challenges inner renewal for each participant at his or her own level.
The theme of the Koinonia weekend is the Paschal Mystery, the death and resurrection of Jesus. The first day includes the celebration of Lent. There is a communal penance service and the opportunity for individual confession through the sacrament of reconciliation. The second day focuses on Easter and the implications that the Resurrection brings to the life of each Christian.
Pentecost is celebrated on the third day by examining individuals’ roles in the Church.
“People should go if they’re experiencing a dryness in their faith. They should go if they want to find out what the Catholic Church really can be. They should go if life in general is getting them down and they need the kind of comfort that Jesus can bring. They need to go if they think their faith is just good and they want to make it better. Especially they should go if they think that the Sunday Mass once a week is all they need,” Deacon Nord said.
The Koinonia retreat format also includes the mission of renewal.
“Depending on what God calls you to, the renewal part involves a joyful engaging in your parish. It will help you to renew the wonder of the Mass, renew your outlook on the world in general. It will help you to renew your love for your family,” he said.
Deacon Nord added that many people come to the weekend as skeptics, but he said it’s rare that anyone leaves without a change of heart.
“There have been people who have experienced changes in their relationships with their spouses. We have a lot of people who come on these weekends who are suffering from addictions of one kind or another. People come with all kinds of brokenness,” he said.
“The object of the weekend is to have an experience of Jesus Christ and to draw closer to him,” he said. “And I would say that most people accomplish that.”