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Association for Promoting Retreats

16 May 2014

THE Association for Promoting Retreats was conceived in the drawing rooms of Bloomsbury, in 1913, by a group of Anglo-Catholic clergy and ladies of leisure, originally to run weekend retreats for working women.

The inspiration was a recent book by a young Jesuit, Fr Charles Plater, Retreats for the People: A sketch of a great revival, which told of the success in France and Belgium of intensive three-day lay retreats based on the first week of St Ignatius's spiritual exercises. Fr Plater saw these as a way to create "a nucleus of Christians . . . impregnated with the apostolic spirit", who could reinvigorate the Church and transform society.

The first initiative of the Association was to buy a 20- bedroomed house in west London, which it named St Ursula's. It opened its doors as a retreat centre in August 1914, just as the First World War broke out. The committee considered turning the building into a hospital, but decided that opportunities for silent reflection were now all the more important.

In 1920, the APR launched a magazine, The Vision, which publicised to its readers the growing number of retreats available to them. Today, that dream of a society transformed has faded: the magazine is now published by the ecumenical Retreat Association, and is more plainly titled Retreats.

"What is really encouraging is that the APR is trying to go out into the Church much more, to engage with people much more, and to enable as wide a range of people as possible to go on retreat," the chairman of APR, the Revd Tim Blewett, says.

The APR now seeks to "encourage the exploration of different expressions of Christian spirituality, facilitate renewal and growth in spirituality, encourage training in retreat leadership and spiritual direction, promote the value of retreat and the work of retreat houses, and encourage the provision of opportunities for quiet and reflection within the context of everyday life".

Primarily Anglican, the APR works alongside similar organisations from other denominations in the Retreat Association. To encourage people to go on retreats, it offers all new ordinands a year's free membership; and last year, in its centenary year, it launched a £10,000 bursary fund. Retreat houses in membership can now apply for up to half the cost of a retreat, or quiet day, for people who could not otherwise afford one.

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