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
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.