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Retreat houses face struggle to survive

01 November 2013

By a staff reporter


Closed: Offa House, the Coventry diocesan retreat house and conference centre. The house is now on the market, the Chartered Surveyors and estate agents Andrew Granger & Co announced on Monday

Closed: Offa House, the Coventry diocesan retreat house and conference centre. The house is now on the market, ...

A QUARTER of all retreat houses fear closure in the next few years. Up to a half believe that they will not be financially viable in a decade's time.

The first survey of about 80 Christian retreat houses found that they are struggling to survive in the face of high maintenance and energy costs, and lower demand from lay people for retreats.

A poll by the Association for Promoting Retreats (APR) found that proportionally more clerics than lay people take retreats, and that lay people often think that retreats are not appropriate for them, or they are not able to take time out for a residential stay.

Two diocesan retreat houses - Offa House in Coventry and Glenfall in Gloucester - closed this year, owing to financial pressures, and many other retreat houses say that they fear the future. Retreat houses are trying to adapt by offering more quiet days for those who can't commit to longer stays.

The survey of wardens of retreat houses was released at the APR's annual meeting last weekend. Delegates backed the findings and said that the financial challenges facing them were considerable.

The chairman of the APR, the Revd Timothy Blewett, said: "This survey takes the temperature of a vital aspect of the Church's ministry to the nation. Our retreat houses are working extremely hard to devise programmes that reflect the spiritual needs of the Church and beyond, and to promote those events widely.

"While it is the nature of most retreat-house wardens that they undertake these labours quietly, these survey results are a wake-up call for the Church. If we take the contribution of retreat houses seriously, then we need to get behind them, through prayer, financial contributions, and attending their events."

The APR promised to work this year to promote the value of retreats amonglay people.

Mr Blewett said that there was a "great need in people" to go on retreats."In parish churches that recognise this and encourage people to deepen their spirituality, there is a rise in the number of people attending. Where prayer life is active and retreats are happening, there is a growth in the church. Retreats are the Church's best kept secret - we need to shout about them."

The APR has launched a bursary fund of £10,000 to enable people to try going on retreat by subsidising the cost of a place. The scheme allows retreat houses to apply for up to half of the costs of a retreat for an individual, and individuals can benefit from up to one grant each year.

New programme. Launde Abbey has just released its new programme for retreats and quiet days, which includes walking, gardening, and creative holidays, as well as more traditional retreats.


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