AT EPIPHANY HOUSE, Truro, the director, Janette Mullett, says
that there has been a growth in the number of visitors who have a
faith but who are not attending a church.
"Perhaps they don't feel they're fitting in, or can't find a
church they like," she says. None the less, they are seeking time
to come away.
Retreats that are not based on traditional spirituality are,
therefore, finding good audiences. The house offers a retreat based
around prayer labyrinths; and also "Spa for the Soul", which
features walking, meditation, and creative arts. "It's still a
Christian retreat, but it [takes] a more holistic approach," she
At Holland House, in Cropthorne, Worcestershire, the warden, the
Revd Ian Spencer, has seen more secular groups using the house over
the past few years: "Holland House is very popular with yoga and
mindfulness groups. . . they love it here. Our food is excellent,
and we're very happy to do veggie meals."
But the number of priests taking their congregation on retreat
has fallen. Mr Spencer puts the fall in clergy on retreat down to
the increasing numbers of priests who are running multiple
parishes. The clergy, he says, "haven't [always] got the capacity
to say 'Let's find a retreat house, come up with something to do,
and take everybody away for the day.'" Diocesan use of Holland
House, however, has grown.
THE Society of Mary and Martha, at Sheldon, in Devon, offers
specialist ministry to clergy and their families, but also welcomes
anyone who needs to get away. The warden, Dr Sarah Horsman, says
that visitors are tending to book at shorter notice, and want
shorter retreats. She attributes this to the busyness of modern
This presents logistical challenges, she says. "In the old days,
you could print the diary for the week, and be fairly sure it
wouldn't change. If it's going to change three times in a week, you
need to have systems in place." Sheldon has, therefore, installed
custom-built software to help manage bookings and keep the in-house
team aware of any changes. "We have a specialist ministry to clergy
under stress, and so being responsive is a major part of our
brief," she says.
Shorter visits are also popular at Ashburnham Place, in Battle,
East Sussex. It has seen a growth in the number of young
professionals coming from London, often in high-pressure jobs, who
need to get away.
Many are not part of a church, the general director, Paul
Wenham, says; but they "find a sacred space here where they can
engage with a God whom they still very much believe in". To support
retreatants, there is now a spiritual director on site: "People
could just come away for three days . . . and let those three days
unfurl very differently, depending on who they are, and where
INDIVIDUALLY guided retreats are in demand at Lee Abbey, in Devon.
Traditionally, solo retreatants would tend to be more mature
Christians, the business director, Rob Kitchen, says, but Lee Abbey
is seeing visitors on individual retreats "even at the
exploring-faith stage", he says.
The retreat house has adapted its calendar, therefore, to
accommodate more individual retreatants, and provides support from
its pastoral team and "known and trusted" freelance spiritual
Mr Kitchen says that there is a need to provide more en-suite
bathrooms and lavatories at Lee Abbey. The main house is,
therefore, set to close this November until March 2016, to let them
"en suite" as many bedrooms as possible, and modernise the other
ones, he says.
Rydal Hall, in Grasmere, Cumbria, has seen a large take-up in
one-day quiet days. The general manager, the Revd Jonathon Green,
says that "we can get up to 40 people. Four years ago, if we got a
dozen, we were doing well."
Retreat weeks are still popular here, but one-day visits are
more manageable, and offer a taster to the retreat experience:
"Some people will come on two or three different quiet days in a
year, but then on [a longer] retreat."
For some visitors to the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, in
Limehouse, London, even one day is too long. "We're getting an
increasing number of people asking to come for an hour or two," the
Master, the Revd Mark Aitken, says.
St Katharine's runs monthly "open reflective days", which run
from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but people can join for as long as their
commitments allow. Such days are "primarily orientated to those
desperately trying to carve out some space in their lives", he
Because Christian faith is not a prerequisite, more and more
people are coming who are "looking for things to do with well-being
and mindfulness, but who are not yet ready to move into a fully
Christian retreat", he says.
THE warden at Launde Abbey, in East Norton, Leicestershire, the
Revd Alison Christian, says that the retreat house has seen its
programme adjusted to help retreatants meet God "in a more
personal, possibly [more] intimate way".
This has resulted in fewer preached retreats. "People no longer
just want to be talked at. . . Knowing that people have different
personality types, you're trying, in a retreat, to give people
This may involve using images, music, or icon-painting, which
can be particularly useful in helping retreatants to explore
meaning in their lives. "That is what has been lost for many
people," Mrs Christian says, "a sense of meaning, and [of] what
they're doing here."