Women of Distinction: Former Crystal Lake pastor runs retreat for those grieving

Lisa Orris lost oldest son in motorcycle crash

Lisa Orri inside AROMA Coffee & Wine in Crystal Lake in December ahead of a Blue Christmas event she planned for anyone in the community dealing with sadness and grief during the holidays.

The feeling that Lisa Orris was meant to counsel, pastoring others, started sometime in her late teens.

She tried to push away the feeling, but she couldn’t deny that gnawing sense, even as life unfolded in front of her while she got married and had children.

“I fought it for a long time,” Orris said. “I think I always knew I had a calling.”

It took friends and their continued nudges before, as a busy mother of three, she made the decision to enter the seminary and pursue a master’s of divinity degree.

“I was 38, had three children. It took four years and a lot of sweat and tears,” she said.

A few years after completing her degree in 2012, she was invited to serve as a pastor at Hope Church in Crystal Lake, and it wasn’t long before she launched Hope’s Closet, a free clothing pantry for local families.

Then, her whole world crashed.

In 2015, she was with her family when they learned that her oldest son, Billy, was killed in a motorcycle crash. The pastor who worked tirelessly for others said she felt the bottom had fallen out.

As she coped with her sorrow and grief, she said, members of her church provided support and strength.

“They pastored me. The table got turned, and the people became the pastor, providing their love and support,” Orris said. “They helped me to get back up.”

She found strength to return to her role as pastor for Hope Church, but in 2021, she decided it was time to close her chapter at the church and pursue the calling she felt to minister to those facing grief.

Inspired by a beautiful home on Silver Lake in Oakwood Hills, she opened Silver Lake Retreat.

Orris is among the latest recipients of the Northwest Herald’s Women of Distinction Awards, honoring those who have made an imprint in the community and their respective fields.

Grief doesn’t come with instructions or an expiration date. In her climb from despair, Orris has learned about herself, about grief and about her own ability to counsel others who also find themselves coping with grief.

Orris recalled her own feelings of despair in the loss of her son and said: “I had no hope. I was done. I was ready to run as far away as I could. People held hope for me.”

Through counseling, she has worked through her emotions, and even as she learned how to travel through life with grief, she continues to care for others with support and kindness.

Award recipient Lisa Orris speaks during the Northwest Herald's Women of Distinction award luncheon Wednesday June 7, 2023, at Boulder Ridge Country Club, in Lake in the Hills. The luncheon recognized 10 women in the community as Women of Distinction.

For the past eight years, she has hosted Blue Christmas services, the last three years at AROMA Coffee & Wine in downtown Crystal Lake. Orris said that this past year, the event was standing room only.

“The room was filled with hurting, broken people, but there was a sense that, ‘You’re not alone,’” Orris said. “We have to embrace hope for the future.”

As a funeral director for 12 years, Kate Dopita has compassion for those grieving in loss, but she said beyond individual counseling and a few church-based programs, there is a lack of resources for those who find themselves lost in grief.

[Lisa Orris] has a way to make connections. Through the loss of Billy, she is able to hold space for other people’s loss.”

—  Amanda Nehring, a board member for Silver Lake Retreat

Dopita said Orris has a way of making people feel comfortable to express their feelings and offering space for people to work through emotions.

Orris said loss and the feeling of pain is universal, and it often is a starting point when she counsels those coping with grief.

Last year, Orris began working with The Break, a youth and teen center in Crystal Lake. She provides an opportunity for young people to share their losses, listening as they talk about the deaths of friends and family, or losing loved ones to suicide, substance abuse and health issues.

Her gentle nature and her experiences create an ability to connect with those of all ages.

“She has a way to make connections,” said Amanda Nehring, a board member for Silver Lake Retreat who has worked with Orris since her days at Hope Church in Crystal Lake. “Through the loss of Billy, she is able to hold space for other people’s loss.”

For some, she is a mentor and a friend – someone there when the day is rough to lend a hand, and someone there to celebrate a special moment.

Randi Fike, a co-leader at Silver Lakes Retreat, said Orris isn’t trying to fix anyone. Rather, she creates a safe space where individuals can make space for emotions that are so often pushed down behind a mask of pretending to be OIK.

“I think a lot don’t have a place to go or a space to deal with the emotions,” Fike said, adding that grief is an experience that affects all humans.

Serving as a resource for those grieving isn’t the path Orris imagined, but for her, it is a calling.

“I feel very blessed and grateful,” Orris said. “My mission is guiding people through the journey of grief.”

The Northwest Herald is accepting nominations for its 2024 Women of Distinction awards through March 1. To be considered, a nominee should exhibit at least one of the following: provide leadership in her field of expertise; serve as a role model and/or mentor; advocate positive social change; and give back to her field and community through time, talent and resources. The application is available at shawnews.secondstreetapp.com/2024-Women-of-Distinction.