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Time for God

27 January 2017

Refurbishments, new appointments, record-breaking numbers — Pat Ashworth provides a round-up of retreat-house news

David Birchall

Restorative: a view of the Loyola Sanctuary from the retreat-centre garden

Restorative: a view of the Loyola Sanctuary from the retreat-centre garden

DESPITE some recent closures, many retreat centres are flourishing in an age where the ever-faster pace of life can leave little time for contemplation. Many have invested in refurbishment and new facilities to meet demand and the higher expectations of guests in terms of accommodation.

Scargill House, near Kettlewell, in the Yorkshire Dales (www.scargillmovement.org), was resurrected in 2010 as a Christian retreat and conference centre run by a resident community. “We have been truly blessed to have been a home-from-home to more guests in 2016 than any other year since we reopened,” Linzi Blundell, a community member, said.

Work is in progress on putting in new windows, replacing beds and bedding, laying wheelchair- and buggy-accessible paths in the walled garden, extending the camping facilities, and adding extra bedrooms for the growing community, besides repairing, refurbishing, and redecorating many areas of the house. “Of course, this is just the fabric of the building: the soul of Scargill is far deeper than that,” Ms Blundell said. “At the heart of all that is offered here is a desire to serve Jesus through serving our guests.”

The beautiful retreat and pastoral centre of St Mary’s Monastery, Kinnoull, Perth (www.kinnoullmonastery.co.uk), closed for 14 months while extensive work was done on renewing the heating system and providing 34 newly furnished en-suite rooms. There is now step-free access throughout the building, a lift installed, and Wifi.

The Greenhouse Christian Centre, Poole, Dorset (www.the-greenhouse.org), (formerly Green Pastures), has a new name, a new leadership team, and an increased list of retreats for 2017; it has also undergone refurbishment of all the main public areas. More than 2500 guests a year are now coming through the doors. “The past two years have been an incredible testimony of God’s ongoing provision and faithfulness,” the director, Kate Strand, says. “Our healing roots are still very evident in what we do; but we have increased the number and type of led retreats we offer, and offer a fabulous venue for Christian groups to use.”

The Coach House, Kilmuir, in the Scottish Highlands, near Inverness (www.coachhousekilmuir.org), describes 2016 as “a very significant year”. It undertook two extensions, and the refurbishment of the existing building. This year is its 25th anniversary. It now has a beautiful sanctuary, as well as five en-suite and two standard bedrooms, and provides a homely environment that fulfils the dream of its founders for “a safe place for individuals in which to explore profound questions about God, life, and themselves; a place in which to rest, be nurtured, and restored.”

There has also been refurbishment at the Briery Retreat Centre, Ilkley, West Yorkshire (www.briery.org.uk): a renovation of the first-floor bedrooms, which takes the total of en-suite rooms to 18. Two more will be added this year. The centre welcomes a number of guests, from self-programming groups to parish and preached retreats.

Seekers of stillness and immersion in nature on retreat have a growing number of opportunities. In conjunction with the Ignatian Spirituality Centre, Glasgow (www.iscglasgow.co.uk), those wanting to undertake the 30-day silent retreat using the full Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius can now do it in Loyola, the saint’s birthplace, in the Basque country of northern Spain.

“The silence was a gift, and Loyola was beautiful. My eyes took in everything with awe and wonder,” one participant said. “Everything in nature I saw through a different lens, which led me to God.” Others speak of the privilege of being able to pray daily in the room in which St Ignatius had his conversion experience, and of an atmospheric walk at dusk through the 15th-century tower-house.

The Anglican Benedictine community of St Mary at the Cross, Edgware Abbey, London (www.edgwareabbey.org.uk), has long offered hospitality to people seeking quiet space, rest, and spiritual renewal. Sisters renewed their commitment of service in the religious life last year, on the 150th anniversary of its foundation. Sister Barbara Johnson celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of her monastic profession, and received the St Mellitus Medal for long service in the Church.

Anniversaries are always cause for celebration. Foxhill, Frodsham, Cheshire (www.foxhillconferences.co.uk), is soon to celebrate its 50th anniversary as the diocese of Chester centre for prayer, study, and mission. Work has begun on developing a new vision for this retreat and conference centre: it has a new director, the Revd Jonathon Green; a new assistant director, Chris Wood; and a Foxhill Development Group, led by the Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Libby Lane. Mr Green has been the general manager at Rydal Hall, the diocese of Carlisle’s retreat centre, since 2007, and expressed himself “delighted and privileged” to be at Foxhill at this time in the centre’s life.

Replacing Mr Green, in March, as general manager at Rydal Hall, Rydal, Cumbria (www.rydalhall.org), is James Richards, currently the warden at the Leeds diocesan retreat centre at Appletreewick, in Yorkshire. Rydal, a Grade II listed building, is set in 34 acres of woodland, and has magnificent gardens. In recent years, all 30 bedrooms have been refurbished to include en-suite facilities; a new campsite and tea room have been opened; and a hydro-electric scheme has been built that generates power for the hall.

Minsteracres Retreat Centre, Northumberland (www.minsteracres.org), is also preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. Besides offering space for individual and group retreats, and a programme of organised retreats and events, its outreach programme invites people on the margins to spend time at Minsteracres on environmental protection, beginning with its own 110-acre estate.

The centre, which is undergoing a phased refurbishment, is regarded as a lifeline for people affected by drug- and alcohol-dependency. And working in partnership with another local charity, Let’s Get Growing, the two-acre Peace Garden provides a therapeutic space. The centre is also developing a training programme that offers conservation and estate-management skills to young people, especially those excluded from mainstream education.

Launde Abbey, Leicestershire (www.laundeabbey.org.uk), is to have a new warden this spring: the current Archdeacon of Loughborough, the Ven. David Newman; and a new chaplain, Canon Helen Newman. They have both worked in the diocese of Leicester for many years, and have led numerous retreats and courses at the Abbey. “Our vision is for Launde to be a prophetic and sustaining resource, enabling the people of God to negotiate challenging times with courage, wisdom and hope,” they say.

Creative retreats report growing popularity. The Society of Mary and Martha, at Sheldon, near Exeter (www.sheldon.uk.com), has a new, purpose-built Art Shed, tucked away in a private, quiet corner with a view across the hills. It is available for anyone staying at Sheldon to use at any time.

“Messy play is just as important for grown-ups as for children,” the project leader at the Sheldon community, Sarah Horsman, says. “A really important part of coming on retreat is the opportunity to re-engage our creative imaginations, especially when we’re feeling ‘stuck’ with problems, or we’re in a phase of transition, or there are decisions to make and we’re not sure which path to take. It’s often amazing how quickly and fruitfully a shift in perception, or knowing, can take place, providing fresh insights and something tangible to hold on to for the onward journey.”

At Creative Retreats and Holidays, a retreat centre and working glass-studio in the medieval village of Chilham in the Kent Downs (www.creativeretreatsandholidays.co.uk), business has gone from strength to strength since its launch in 2014. It welcomes visitors for creative retreats that combine glass-fusing, stained glass, and glass appliqué with prayer and contemplation. It now has planning permission to expand and create a larger studio; while that is happening, the centre will continue to run Christian retreats, both at Chilham, and in conjunction with other retreat houses.

The Community of the Holy Name, at Oakwood, Derby (www.comholyname.org), has initiated and begun to host a programme of home-fostered events using both the convent’s day facilities and the residential guests’ cottage in the grounds: “2016 events were popular, and we hope for further study days and quiet days as well as weekend retreats at the cottage,” Sister Pauline Margaret says. Several retreats are already planned for this year, all led by members of the community.

Simon Holland is warden of Lee Abbey, in Lynton, Devon (www.leeabbey.org.uk), which celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2016. “Jesus commanded us to ‘Love one another’, and in so doing we build community — with each other, and the guests God sends. Lee Abbey throughout its 70 years has been constant in offering God’s welcome to thousands of guests,” he says.

“We look back, in this 70th-anniversary year, not with some romantic sentimentalism of days gone by, but with amazement and awe at the mercy of God, who has worked in many different ways in thousands of lives. This must surely unite us in a desire to rededicate all our efforts to serve him well, who came to serve us an,d in so doing, showed us the way to followhiim, reveal him, and obey his command to ‘Love one another,’ in the spiritual power-house that is Lee Abbey at 70.”

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