Getting away from it all: my first rural retreat
Alex Taylor writes about his first experience of going on a rural retreat at With, a youth-focused community based at a former convent in Ditchingham.
I’ve never been on a retreat before.
I’ve spent time in cities as a kind of urban retreat; using art galleries and museums, watching the world go by in parks and cafes; but I’ve never gone to a rural location, with little stimulus aside from a couple of books and some questions to spark my thinking.
With this in mind, I was feeling apprehensive as I pulled into the drive of With, a Christian community serving young people based at All Hallows Convent in Ditchingham, Norfolk. Would I get bored? Would God actually speak to me? What would the people of the community be like? How would mealtimes work?
With is run by Jamie Cutteridge and James Fawcett, having won the chance to take over the convent when the nuns realised they could no longer manage the site and decided to run a Dragon’s Den style competition.
The vision is for a new religious community whose life of prayer is focused on young people, and a spiritual retreat centre for young people and those people who work with them. The community is led by the Revd Jutta Brueck, with two community members currently full-time on site (there are plans for up to 12).
When I met first Sarah, Beth and Jutta, I realised that I needn’t have worried. They had been praying for me before my arrival and were happy to answer all my questions (yes, even the ones about mealtimes) over as much coffee as I wanted. My room was in the community house, Lavinia House. I had my own lounge to spend time alone but was welcome to use the communal dining and sitting rooms if I wanted. I could join in with the rhythm of the community or not; it was my choice.
What struck me was the physical quiet (I live on a main road), but also the spiritual peace. There is some ‘other’ quality when you come to a place where God has been worshipped and prayed to for a long time – perhaps you have felt it when entering a cathedral or abbey. The buildings and the grounds seemed to be a sacred space, set apart.
And just as I shouldn’t have worried about the practicalities of the visit, I had nothing to fear on the spiritual side either. God did meet with me and speak to me (as if He wouldn’t!) and I did make progress on my journey with Him. Yes, this was done through some silent prayer, study and reading, but also through chatting with community members, a long walk, and a trip to nearby Southwold (and the best Eccles cake I have ever tasted).
Although we’ve only just come out of lockdown and restarted our day-to-day activities, it was difficult to carve out a few days to spend on retreat. It was totally worth it. It can be easy to fall back into our old attitudes of “nose to the grindstone”, “just get things done” and “need to justify my salary” but taking just two days out of my schedule was worth a whole month of ‘doing’.
If you are someone paid to work in a church context, I recommend you explore opportunities to go on retreat. It’s not only beneficial for you and your own walk with God, but also ministry you do. When that’s on offer, why would you turn it down?
Alex stayed at With Community as an individual retreat, which cost £50 per night, including all food. You can take groups of young people for group residentials and retreats (from £35 per young person per night). For more information, visit the With community website.
Photo credit: Tomasz Filipek on Unsplash
Alex Taylor is part of the children's and youth team at the Diocese of London. He is an experienced children's and youth worker and writer.
Read more from Alex Taylor