Friday, 18 May 2012

Back from Derbyshire

Welcome to my 200th blog!

Yesterday I returned home from Derbyshire after a four day stay at The Hayes in Swanwick for the four yearly Retreat Association Conference.

It was a great time, shared by no less than three hundred and fifty of us. It was also possibly the best expression of ecumenical community that I’ve ever experienced.  Our badges simply stated our names and not whether we were from the Baptist, Anglican, URC, Methodist or Catholic retreat groups which make up The Retreat Association.  No denominational drums were being beaten; instead there was an almost tangible atmosphere of mutual respect and companionable journeying.

Over these last four days we listened to the main session speaker, none more thought provoking than Graham Sparkes on what God can teach us during ‘desert times’ in our walk with God.  We were led in worship by the irrepressible Graham Maule from The Iona Community and we attended a huge variety of small and stimulating workshops.  Yet maybe the best part was the meal table conversations – I had so many!  It was a pure delight to talk with third order Franciscans, Diocesan Spirituality Advisors, Brother Christopher from Ampleforth Abbey, Retreat House wardens and many folk from the Baptist Union Retreat Group.  I loved all these exchanges – however, breakfast was a little hard going on Wednesday sitting next to a retired high-church Anglican complaining about the changes to the prayer book – there’s only so much of church politics I can take over the cornflakes at 8.30am!

I came home last night grateful to have shared these last few days with such sincere people.  It all felt so different to the many ministerial conferences I’ve attended when a certain game of ‘one up-man-ship’ has been played out with questions like: how big is your church and how many baptisms did you have last year being asked over the coffee cups.  There was nothing like that this week.  Instead I sensed the gentle presence of God’s Spirit among us – a real pleasure in meeting new people and immediately feeling you were spending time with sisters and brothers in Christ.

So I thank God for The Retreat Association and the small part the Baptist Union Retreat Group plays in its life – and I thank God for meeting so many fellow pilgrims in Derbyshire this week.

With best wishes,


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