Feeling the need to retreat?


Spring is the time to start thinking of where we might escape to for breaks this year. Retreats can provide an unusual and restorative getaway. The Door explores a selection of different types of retreat. 

Retreats off the beaten track

by Serena Hutton

A retreat house in northern Portugal. Photo: retreatsbeyonddover.org

In recent years I have joined retreats taking place in parts of Italy hitherto unknown to me. In one case the retreat was held in a Franciscan monastery on an island in the Adriatic north of Venice; in another, in a diocesan retreat house in the south of Italy near Lecce. In spite of the relative proximity of Venice in the former, and of Bari in the latter, the locations of the retreats were distant from cities and tourist routes. Such places offered havens of tranquillity and peace.

Programmes were organised to allow full-day excursions to places of outstanding interest, either religious sites, areas of outstanding natural beauty, or of especial historical significance. Interwoven with these days of activity were days spent in the retreat centre giving opportunities for listening to talks or homilies. One series of talks was illustrated with images of the figure of Christ by artists over a period of 10 centuries. There were opportunities provided for visits from local groups of craftsmen who make the Presepi di Grado or sculptural representation of the crib scene that are a permanent feature of churches in Italy. On one occasion we even had a new sacred opera performed for us based on the story of canonised Martyrs of Otranto.

But the heart of the retreat lies in the liturgies and worship of the participants with the host community. When there were no excursions, the day’s routines were built around the celebration of the Mass in the retreat house. When we were visiting other places, we shared Mass in other churches, so the heart of our purpose was never overlooked or ignored. In this was the focus of our faith, our prayers, and our sense of community. A retreat may suggest silence and regulation but the only requirements were space for quiet and opportunities for reflection. There was much peaceful and harmonious conversation. Friendships grew naturally in such settings.

There was no compulsion about attendance at any events, and there was always an opportunity for walks in the beautiful countryside surrounding us. For the more energetic, swimming was an option. One huge joy, for me, was sharing differing traditions of our faith and the welcoming of different commitments we brought to our experience. There were ordained and lay Anglicans on both retreats. Enlightened attitudes and generosity of minds and hearts united us. Few can have remained unmoved by the welcome extended to us, and the shared participation we enjoyed. For those of an ecumenical cast of mind, retreats such as these prove a great blessing, and welcome hope in a divided and troubled world.

The Revd Serena Hutton has permission to officiate in the Aston and Cuddesdon Deanery.

Finding space in the land where Jesus taught

by Sarah Meyrick

Many people who visit the Holy Land do so as part of a pilgrimage. And anyone who has travelled with a group knows that there’s so much to cram in during the space of a week that there isn’t always enough time to linger.

Setting sail on the sea of Lake Galilee. Photo: Sarah Meyrick.

I’ve been lucky enough to help run four pilgrimages, three as part of my work supporting Bishop John when he was the Bishop of Oxford. Each has been special and memorable, if not always entirely straightforward. (There’s a well-worn saying that in the Middle East you have to ‘expect the unexpected’.) More recently, I have twice taken a few days’ annual leave to return to the Holy Land on retreat, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Rather than spending just a couple of days in Galilee, before being whisked off to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, it is a great treat to relax into a whole week at the Pilgerhaus, a delightful retreat house just metres from the Sea of Galilee. Jesus lived most of his life within sight of this most iconic stretch of water. The peace in this place of unspoilt beauty is almost tangible. What better place, then, to reconnect with our faith?

A retreat allows time to linger, reflect and rest by the lakeside where Jesus spent three extraordinary years teaching, healing and gathering his friends around him before heading for Jerusalem. Bishop John has designed the ‘Slow Galilee’ retreat to be gently guided, with plenty of space. After a Biblical introduction in the morning, the group visits one of the lakeside sites, just a stone’s throw away: Capernaum, the Church of the Multiplication, St Peter Primacy, the Mount of Beatitudes. After lunch, it’s back to the Pilgerhaus for a quiet afternoon before a further reflection. Supper, sunset and Compline complete the day.

People have their own special places, where the veil between heaven and earth is at its thinnest. I have never yet been disappointed by setting sail on the lake and singing ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’. Or by the Eucharist at the water’s edge at Tabgha. Or by the wonderful acoustic in the little chapel at the Pilgerhaus, which makes all our voices sound heavenly.

Sarah takes time out by the Sea of Galilee

As the week progresses, you feel yourself unwinding and resting in the love of God. It’s a time to rebalance, work on ‘stuff’, adjust your priorities. Life seems clearer, somehow.
Such has been the response to this format that Bishop John will be repeating it this year and next, and adding a variation for 2018. ‘Slow Jerusalem’ will offer a similarly gentle retreat within the walls of Old Jerusalem. The week will incorporate visits to Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, the Via Dolorosa, the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb amongst other sites, alongside plenty of time for quiet reflection, reading and prayer.

Sarah Meyrick is the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Oxford.

Looking for something closer to home?

THERE are plenty of mini-retreats in the UK that are either inexpensive or free, offering the opportunity for space, quiet reflection and prayer.
One example is a visit to a Quiet Garden. The Quiet Garden movement is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The movement began in 1992 in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire. The founder was the Revd Philip Roderick. There are now more than 200 Quiet Gardens in the UK and more than 100 scattered across Europe, Africa, Australasia and North America. They follow Jesus’s example to withdraw to garden spaces to pray, and his invitation to us to ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ (Mark 6.31).

Quiet Gardens offer friendly, accessible and adaptable outdoor spaces as a local resource for individuals and groups to find warm hospitality and spiritual refreshment in low-key, low-cost ways, whether in the town or country. This year the anniversary is being celebrated with a Quiet25 project. A new course has been published to help people explore the benefits of silence. The Quiet25 activities and fundraising will facilitate even more gardens to be available for quiet contemplation to people around the world.

On Saturday 20 May, the main 25th Anniversary event will take place in London with speakers Revd Lucy Winkett (Rector, St James’ Church, Piccadilly), Revd Dr Andrew Walker (Director, St Marylebone Healing and Counselling Centre, London) and Revd Philip Roderick (Founder-Director, The Quiet Garden Movement).  To book a place at the event, or find out where there are Quiet Gardens local to you, click here or call 01494 578909.

There are also many retreat houses in the UK and in the Oxford Diocese. Katherine Eason, who works on Reception at Church House Oxford, recently experienced her first ever silent retreat at the Old Parsonage in Freeland. The venue is home to the Community of St Clare – a contemplative community of Anglican women – and the quiet days are run by members of the Third Order of Franciscans. Katherine says: “As the day was very loosely structured it allowed me time to set my own pace for personal reflection, to pray and sit silently, which I found surprisingly helpful. There was no agenda, just prayer. I would definitely recommend it.”

No booking is needed. Participants are simply asked to turn up at 10am on the day of the retreat with a packed lunch. Drinks are provided. A chaplain will be available to talk to throughout the day and a Eucharist takes place at 12.30pm. The days take place at St Mary’s Convent, Freeland, Witney, OX29 8AJ. 01993 881 225.

The Sunken Garden at Launde Abbey. Photo: Nick Preston.

A little further-afield is Launde Abbey, where Annie Cooper, an LLM in the Cotteslowe Team in Buckinghamshire, was about to go for the fourth time, for a Lent retreat, as this edition of the Door was going to press. “It’s the retreat house for Peterborough and Leicestershire. It is fabulous. There is no austerity. You can be spiritual but you don’t have to do it with discomfort,” said Annie. The bedrooms are en-suite. There is a chapel you can use all day, three services on most days and the most beautiful lounge, a library, a walled garden and parkland. It’s building up for people from our churches. First there were two of us, then three and now six of us are planning to go. There are all of the benefits of a nice hotel with God there as well.”
See www.laundeabbey.org.uk/ or call 01572 717254 for more.

Facts on retreats:

What is a retreat?
A retreat is just what it sounds like: the chance to step aside from life for a few hours or days, to rest and ‘be’ in a welcoming, peaceful place.

Who goes on retreat?
Retreats are for ordinary people at any time in their lives. There are no expectations on anyone going on retreat and you don’t even need to be a churchgoer.

What are retreat houses like?
Most retreat houses are in beautiful buildings with gardens. They vary in size and some have libraries, art rooms and prayer rooms that are available to use. Overnight accommodation varies from place to place: choose what is right for you.

What happens on a retreat?
Retreats offer the opportunity to find space, reflect and pray in peaceful surroundings. Sometimes they are focused around an activity, such as painting or photography. Sometimes retreats are guided, with input at set points in the day. Most retreat houses also welcome people who simply wish to spend time alone.

Can I speak to someone about my experiences on retreat?
Yes, most retreat houses offer the opportunity to talk to someone in complete confidence.

How long should I go for?
A retreat is usually anything from two to seven days. Some are up to 30 days, depending on the programme. There are also one-day retreats, usually called ‘quiet days’.

Is there a charge?
Retreat houses have costs to cover, including maintenance, food and accommodation and will usually charge. Sometimes you will be invited to make a donation.

Adapted from the Retreat Association website (01494 569056).

This is an older post. Please note that the information may not be accurate anymore.