Thursday, 5 March 2015

Ingredients of a Retreat

Last weekend I joined a Lent Retreat held at Holland House in Worcestershire hosted by The Baptist Union Retreat Group and it's got me thinking - what are the ingredients necessary for a good retreat?!

Well, I'm sure people come to retreats with vastly different expectations and from very different contexts - so perhaps no single retreat could possibly offer all the essential ingredients - in fact the truth is it's not only what's on 'offer' that's important but what bring ourselves.

That said, last weekend did, in my view, offer all of us who attended some very precious ingredients.  So I have a little list and here it is:

A Snappy Title:  Always a winner - it gets you interested (well interested enough to book a place anyway!) and sets the theme to be explored.  This retreat was called 'Praying Our Goodbyes'.

A warm welcome:  That was offered to us by Holland House.  It's a charming old building full of character but more than that the staff are constantly gracious and helpful.  In addition there is the physical context of a comfortable sitting room, well stocked library, quiet chapel and a walk down to the river.  Add the provision of three delicious meals a day and who wouldn't want to go on retreat!

An engaging leader:  We were fortunate to have a former President of The Baptist Union The Revd John Rackley to guide us.  John provided just the right amount of engaging and stimulating introduction.  He then left us to do the work of thinking it through and applying it to our lives.  There's a great art in that - say too much and it all becomes an indulgent lecture, offer too little and folks are left adrift.  John also made himself available for any private conversation if folks had any issue they would like to discuss  - and, as someone who took him up on that, I want to say how much I appreciated both his time and counsel.

The gift of silence:  We offered that to each other at various points of the weekend.  Sharing a meal in silence is actually a very companionable thing to do because you discover there are so many ways to communicate without using words!  To be honest I was very hesitant about last weekend's silence for some reason - I entered it with a grudging resentment!  Yet by the end I was reluctant to come out of it!  You somehow need to let the silence settle - and then it seems to do its own work and in that space I think God can speak more clearly to us.

A Journey:  Every retreat is a sort of journey and I regularly come away from them astonished at the paths taken.  It's also true that in a collective way we gather on the Friday evening as 'strangers' yet by Sunday lunchtime we are saying our goodbyes as 'friends' - and it's that sense of 'sharing' a retreat which makes it both a personal and group experience.

I think as I look back on Lent 2015 this last weekend at Holland House will have been a very important stage on the road to Easter.

With best wishes,

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