CLERGY in the Church of England are expected to go on retreat
once a year. The 2003 report Guidelines for the Professional
Conduct of the Clergy states that "the officers of the parish. . .
should ensure that their clergy have . . . an annual opportunity to
make a retreat of at least a week's duration." In theory, the cost
- including travel - should be claimed as a legitimate expense.
There are no statistics on how many clergy actually go on
retreat. One priest in London says that he has never been on
retreat in more than 30 years of ministry, and he does not know
anyone who had.
"The demands of inner-city parish life make it very difficult to
take time off," he says. "Even when I go on holiday, I get calls
every day from parishioners asking for help, and if I didn't
respond, it would alienate me from the folk I serve. Most of them
never take holidays, let alone go on retreats."
In contrast, the Revd Bruce Batstone, currently Rector of
Hornsey, in north London, has made a habit of going on a four-day
retreat every January, with a longer, individually guided retreat
every two or three years. He also tries to go to a retreat house
for a day every month or two, "to be immersed in a bit of
"To me, it seems essential to have some kind of 'desert time'
when you go away and are alone with God. As a priest, I would feel
that if I wasn't doing so regularly, I would be letting down my
parishioners. The important thing is to be open, and allow God to
do with you as he wants."
The Archdeacon of Hertford, the Ven. Trevor Jones, believes that
regular retreats are a necessity for the clergy. "When I am dealing
with parishes in vacancies, they give me a long list of their
expectations of their new priest; and I always ask them: 'So, if
you want all this, what are you going to give them in return?' If
clergy are expected to give so much, they need to have time for
spiritual nourishment themselves."
The Revd Liz Baker, director of The Well at Willen, recalls the
very first day at The Well of a group of Evangelical clergy who are
now regular visitors: "None of them had ever been on a retreat. We
sent them out on a two-hour prayer-walk with some texts, mainly
from Thomas Merton, and by the end of the day they were completely
converted to the idea. They all said: 'We were just exhausted by
trying to feed everybody else. We need feeding ourselves.'"
The Revd Alison Christian, who became warden of Launde Abbey
after 20 years as a parish priest, says: "Very often, when clergy
get exhausted, they don't pray any more. We also give up on prayer
because we haven't been helped to pray, and then we tend to try to
run faster and faster - as if we could get anywhere by running
Sheldon specialises in a "12,000-mile service" for clergy, to
keep them on the road without breaking down. The deputy warden, Dr
Sarah Horsman, says: "Sometimes, clergy come here who are really
not on speaking terms with God any more, and it's very common for
people to have quite a strong experience of renewal."
The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, who is
president of the APR, says: "I believe it is vitally important for
Christian people to go on retreat, and make space for spiritual
recreation through prayer and discernment. In a culture of
obsessive busyness, it creates space for God to break through into
our lives - to transform and remould us with different