A time to retreat

The Revd Georgie Simpson on the benefits of taking a retreat.

The Gladstone Library is home to 250,000 printed materials. Photo:  The Gladstone Library.

The Gladstone Library is home to 250,000 printed materials. Photo: The Gladstone Library.


Hilary Hanson from the Society of Mary and Martha, with some of the community’s Grey Face Dartmoor sheep. Photo: Sarah Horsman.

For many of us, going on retreat is not self-indulgence but a basic need. And there are many reasons for recognising that a temporary withdrawal from ‘normal’ life is both natural and necessary and we are merely being kind to ourselves if we ensure that it happens. Some questions which may prompt us to take this further:

Do I yearn for some peace and quiet in which I can be myself?
Do I long to be in closer touch with the beauty and wonder of creation?
Do I need time to rest my weary body and mind and recoup some energy?
Do I want to get a better balance in my life?
Do I need time away from everyday life to reflect on the past, present or future?
Do I want to become more self-aware and deepen my relationship with God?

Throughout the centuries, men and women have needed to seek refuge from their daily routine in order to nourish their bodies, minds and souls. This is a practice regularly employed by Jesus throughout his ministry. Following the wonderful affirmation he received at his baptism, he withdrew into the desert to try and discern the shape and character of his ministry. Only then did he emerge back into the life of human beings and begin to teach and heal bodies and souls. He frequently escaped into the hills, avoiding the growing crowds who made increasing demands on him, in order to recharge his batteries, refresh his spirit, and discern he was in tune with his heavenly Father.

But retreats are for everyone, for Christians, members of other faiths and those with no faith, and there is a wide range from which to choose, to suit every possible need. Monasteries, convents and retreat guest houses tend to offer appropriate hospitality and guests are welcome to join the brothers or sisters in their prayer time. You may be looking for complete silence, or simply a warm welcoming tranquil environment, preferably surrounded by beautiful scenery and offering some therapeutic walking, resting, reading and prayer.

There are themed retreats, individually-guided retreats, silent, unstructured retreats and a huge range of places from which to choose, both in this country and abroad. For those of us who have never experienced the joy of a good retreat, a Quiet Day may be a good first-step option. Perhaps the most important move is to resolve to taste the benefits of a retreat, choose where to go and for how long and book your place – something to look forward to in your diary. Leaving behind the distractions that plague our ‘normal’ lives, even leaving behind friends and family, for a limited period, can lift the weight of stress and fatigue. Perhaps the biggest bonus from this sort of experience is that it offers opportunities for us to listen to and hear the voice of God, too often crowded out by clutter, but which never stops trying to engage in dialogue with us deep within our hearts, and which enables spiritual growth and a closer relationship with the One who made us and loves us.

The Revd Georgie Simpson is the Director of the Oxford Centre for Spiritual Growth, based at St Michael at the Northgate in Oxford. www.ocsg.uk.net

The Retreat Association recommends

Here are some retreat suggestions for the year ahead:

If you have never been on a retreat before there are retreats for beginners. The Monastery of Our Lady and St Bernard in Stroud offers a ‘Taster Retreat for Beginners’ in May.
St Cuthman’s Retreat Centre in Coolham, West Sussex offers an ‘Introduction to silence’ weekend in June. The House of Prayer in East Molesey offers a ‘Retreat Day for Beginners’ in November.
If going away is too daunting a prospect, you may like to consider attending a quiet day. St Columba’s House in Woking, Holland House in Pershore, Ladywell Retreat Centre in Godalming and The Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) based in Abingdon offer quiet days throughout the year.

A number of retreats offer the chance to explore or develop a particular hobby. Launde Abbey in Leicestershire offers a weekend exploring photography, poetry and prayer in April and The Well at Willen, Milton Keynes, is holding an Icon workshop in August. Lent and Easter can be a good time to get in touch with your reflective side and there are plenty of retreats to choose from providing the opportunity to travel further afield. St Oswald’s in Whitby (pictured above) and Llangasty Retreat Centre near Brecon include Lent retreats in their programme. Why not celebrate Easter at retreat centres such as Ammerdown near Bath or Othona on the Dorset coast?

These are just a few examples of the retreats on offer this year.

For more information contact the Retreat Association: 01494 569056, www.retreats.org.uk

Alison MacTier, Executive Director of the Retreat Association.

The Door asked a variety of retreat centres to tell us what they can offer to visitors:

 Los Olivos in the Sierra Nevada. Photo Guy Wynter

Los Olivos in the Sierra Nevada. Photo Guy Wynter


THE Society of Mary and Martha at Sheldon in Devon is run by a community offering specialist resources to people in ministry at times of stress, crisis, burnout or breakdown. But there are also plenty of retreat resources open to everyone, and you shouldn’t wait until things get tough before benefitting from this beautiful retreat on the edge of Dartmoor. Full programme of led retreats plus lots of good spaces like the Pig Pens and Hen Runs for private individual retreats. Good for groups too.  www.sheldon.uk.com bookings@sheldon.uk.com 01647-252752.

THEOLOGICAL college, Ripon College Cuddesdon, offers retreat stays all year round alongside a programme of guided retreats.  Located in the pretty village of Cuddesdon just 5 miles from Oxford, you can stay in the community and choose to participate in as many of the aspects of the life of the College as you wish.  In term-time you can share in the busy life of the students, joining them for worship, lectures and meals.  Or go in the vacations to enjoy the peaceful setting with the option of joining the Cuddesdon Sisters in their daily rhythm of prayer and to meet with them for spiritual direction.  Alternatively, guided retreats for one, two or three days are centred around a theme, such as Reconnecting to the Earth or Poetry and Prayer, and you become part of a warm and welcoming group.  www.rcc.ac.uk/retreats

THE Centre for Reflection at Aston Tirrold, near Didcot is affiliated to the Quiet GardenTrust and primarily our aim is to encourage prayer, stillness and reflection; there is a Mediterranean garden with sculpture, water feature, herb garden and poustinia which all go to make it a peaceful place to be. The Centre is available for hire for events and church groups and offers the use of our 18th century church. It is well equipped with a main hall, quiet room and well equipped kitchen. Our regular open groups include film, mediation, writing and art drop-in days. We do not offer residential facilities. For Aston Tirrold URC: www.aturc.freeuk.com; for the Centre for Reflection: www.reflect.freeuk.com or contact coordinator@reflect.freeuk.com.

THE Los Olivos retreat centre is a beautiful farmhouse set in the heart of the majestic Sierra Nevada National Park in southern Spain near the city of Granada. It is an inclusive Anglican retreat that runs a range of courses and retreats between March and October each year. Many of the retreats involve a creative element such as music or poetry. The centre’s mountain location gives access to excellent walking routes and the unique natural beauty of this UNESCO protected biosphere. Offering authentic Spanish cuisine and the chance to really get away from it all in truly stunning surroundings, you can find out more at their website www.haciendalosolivos.org.
‘GUESTS are received with loving care and courtesy, as Christ was welcomed by Martha and Mary at Bethany.’ This is part of our rule at the Sisters of Bethany on the south coast. Too busy to pray? No time to relax? Too tired to sleep? You need a retreat. You can pray, relax and rest with the Sisters of Bethany. You can reach us by public transport, relax in the garden, stroll down to the sea and visit the shops and the two cathedrals as well as sharing the life of the Sisters. To discover a lot more contact: House of Bethany, 7 Nelson Road, Southsea, PO5 2AR, Hampshire. Email: ssb@sistersofbethany.org.uk Visit our website www.sistersofbethany.org.uk

GLADSTONE’S Library, located in Hawarden, north Wales, is Britain’s only Prime Ministerial library and the national memorial to the great Victorian statesman, and four times Prime Minister, William Gladstone.
It is home to a unique collection of more than 250,000 printed items and offers a comfortable, sociable and stimulating environment together with resources for creative study including renowned collections of theological, historical, cultural and political materials.
The library was founded by Gladstone in 1894, he was eager to share his personal library with others and especially to those wanting to learn who faced financial constraint. He would allow bright children and young adults of the village of Hawarden to use his collection. His desire, his daughter Mary Drew said, was to ‘bring together books who had no readers with readers who had no books’.
Open to the public for 50 weeks of the year, Gladstone’s Library now has 26 boutique-style bedrooms, its own coffee shop/restaurant Food for Thought, and is home to a variety of courses from learning Hebrew to weekly courses such as Britain’s Religious Crisis.
To find out more about Gladstone’s Library or any of its events visit www.gladstoneslibrary.org email enquiries@gladlib.org or call 01244 532350.

SCARGILL House in Yorkshire is set in its own 90 acre estate, with a walled garden, meadow, woodland and high limestone terracing close to the River Wharfe in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. It is home to a resident ecumenical Christian Community offering warm hospitality and welcome to guests attending one of their programme events, staying as part of a group or just popping in for tea and cake.

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