19 December 2014
Why more evangelicals are going on retreats
Once a practice found predominantly within the Catholic tradition, an increasing number of British evangelicals are taking time away from the hustle and bustle of modern life and heading on retreats.
For many, the beginning of a new year is the perfect time to get away from it all;to clear their heads, reflect on the past 12 months, spend time in God's presence and look ahead to what He would have them do in the coming year.
"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty." (Psalm 91:1)
Keith Hagon is executive director of CCI UK,which has for the past 30 years provided membership services to centres, including those offering retreats, and organisations involved in Christian residential ministry as well as resources for people looking for a place to go.
Keith, who became a Christian while working at an international bank in the City, said they are seeing more evangelicals going on retreats and quiet days.
"There is more openness and interest now from the evangelical wing of the Church as people have come to appreciate the depth and breadth of our heritage," he says. "Interest in contemplative spirituality is on the rise, perhaps particularly as more Christians see the need for space and time in which to listen to God and be refreshed in their faith."
He added that the definition of retreat has widened over recent years, along with the venues that can accommodate them. Retreats in their current form are thought to have been started by Ignatius of Loyola – a16th century hermit, priest and theologian who founded the Jesuit movement.
"There is a lot of choice, from silent to guided, themed and group. As a result, more venues offer retreats and more people are taking them up."
Helen Calder, the Alliance's executive director: finance &services, went on her first quiet day at Highmore Hall in Oxfordshire in 1987 and since then has been on at least 50 or 60 retreats and quiet days at more than 10 venues.
"I appreciate returning to familiar venues," she says. "In recent years I've spent time at St Andrews in Edenbridge, which has now sadly closed, and Penhurst Retreat Centre near Battle. I particularly appreciate their peaceful, rural settings. Sometimes I attend a led retreat and sometimes I spend all the time alone to pray, plan and review, to read extended passages of the Bible or a Christian book and to discern how God is directing my life.
"I also use a retreat as an opportunity to journal, paint, walk and sleep. It's great to leave behind the distractions of everyday life and to have someone else prepare my meals. It always gives a refreshed sense of perspective, usually makes me feel closer to God and helps me to recognise God's sovereignty in fresh ways.
"As an evangelical this has become an essential part of my devotional life. I'd recommend anyone to try it and to experiment with what spiritually nourishes them."
With so many retreat centres around the country to choose from, the choice may seem overwhelming. So how do we pick the best centre for us? The decision is pretty simple, says Keith, and the CCI website can provide you with hints and tips on choosing where to go.
"Evelyn Underhill wrote that a retreat centre should provide food and warmth in a comfortable environment. That leaves the retreatant free to focus on finding God. The particulars are down to location, choice of style and cost."
Once the decision is made, retreats can prove a pivotal point in discerning God's will for your life and finding space to hear him.
"Taking time out for refreshment, whether physical, spiritual or emotional, opens us up to new experiences of God and enables us to create opportunities to reflect on who and where we are. A retreat has the potential to create a greater sensitivity to the presence of God in the ordinary, amid the pressures of our over-busy and noisy lives."