image: W777 Photography by Will Hay
We are very proud of being a charity here at Retreat House Chester. Our Full Annual Report and Accounts are available on the Charity Commission website, but you can read the main part of it on our website by clicking here.
We’re looking forward to all sorts of new developments in 2019 - please come back to find out more.
It seems the sun has shone in Chester this year for most of the days from Easter to August. At RHC it’s been a time of walks and workshops, quiet time and conversation, poetry and mosaic, and spiritual exploration including ancient wisdom, Celtic ways, medieval mysticism, monastic rhythm, and contemporary living. From the water of life to walls of the city, we’ve found ways to be soulful, by ourselves and with others. In other words, we’ve been doing what RHC is set up for: retreat in the city, to find, experience, explore and connect.
In April we were glad to join with Chester Cathedral in welcoming a day on Benedictine spirituality as together we explore how the monastic heritage of the cathedral, Abbey Square and the city itself can be better known and experienced today. The monastic wisdom of living in balance and with rhythm has been an emerging theme these months for RHC – especially in our quiet days offered in the new initiative ‘A Week of Days’. Offered in May and July, these days gave a way of spending time at RHC in your own quiet way while marking the passage of the day in three short times together. This quiet experience of rhythm and balance in a lovely setting - a kind of Christian mindfulness - has brought a special peace, and we look forward to more of this in the developing programme. For those who ask, “Can I come and just be here?” these days (or part days: it’s up to you…) are what you might like to try. Our ‘Short Retreats’, which have been running now for about a year and a half, offer a little more input for guided reflection as part of the day’s quiet time. We hope that offering both led retreats and looser quiet days means there will be something here for many.
Our continuing Soulful Saturdays too have offered variety, and give a rhythm to the months. As well as the April Benedictine Day, we’ve spent time with Celtic spirituality while absorbed in creating our own Celtic-inspired mosaics (in May, led by Aleta Doran); we’ve explored how the spirituality of a medieval mystic can still mean something for us today (June, led by Avis Palmer and in anticipation of Chester’s 2018 Mystery Plays in the medieval cathedral setting); and we’ve found inspiration in Chester’s city walls in a poetry and writing workshop (July, led by Julia McGuinness, and a Sunday afternoon for a change).
At RHC we believe that ‘retreat’ is a thing we do just as much if not more than a place we go to – so while the retreat house itself is important as a physical place to retreat, it’s about learning how we can ‘retreat’ wherever we are by turning aside now and again from our everyday demands and distractions to engage with something deeper, in order to nourish and help us in our living. So as well as being here, we’ve been out walking too! Our popular and memorable first Mindful Nature walk with Simon Fry took us into the city (in an April shower) to engage with where we are and learn how to tune into the present moment even in the midst of a busy city. Our Pilgrimage Walk in the surprising blazing heat of June, and led by Catherine Green, saw hardy walkers taking ten miles to the rural outskirts of Chester and back, considering the Water of Life by visiting two local ‘wells’ – the heat of the day and the straightness of the much-travelled Greenway path adding considerably to a sense of pilgrimage and companionship.
Being in the company of others as we make our own spiritual journeys is reflected too in our times of conversation. A series of reflective conversations, hosted by Clare Black and Rob Croft, gave a chance to consider ways in which we ‘glimpse God’ and we felt enriched and encouraged by these gentle evenings together. On another reflective evening, theologian Claire Egan guided us – again, gently – through a consideration of the Wisdom tradition, especially in relation to the natural world. Always, we find, reflection alongside others is quite different from reflecting on our own, or trying to.
As well as all these programme events, there have been encouraging activities regarding future developments. A team – or ‘community’ – of local experienced retreat guides has been forming, who will be able to offer one-to-one conversation (sometimes known as spiritual accompaniment) in guided retreats here at RHC. We have been pleased too to offer two very mini retreats to local groups of carers, and are now actively planning to offer such an experience to other specific groups in the community. And volunteer Chrissie Taylor saw the next stage of her project ‘Retreat House Poets’ when we welcomed a collection of poetry by local people here to Abbey Square. This collection, in turn, will be part of a bigger project ‘Reflective Chester’ which we are now starting to plan.
At the heart of all of this is people. All our activities continue to be supported by our team of volunteers, who assist in the office and at our events. Local people have led events for us, sharing their knowledge, experience and talents. And we continue to welcome both ‘new’ and familiar visitors – those coming our way for the first time and those returning. We hope that you’ll be able to come this way when we open again in September for retreat in the city – and please spread the word of what’s going on.
We were delighted by the launch of this collection in July. This report appeared in the local press.
A collection of poetry by local people has been welcomed to its home in Retreat House Chester.
Retreat House Poets is the name of an initiative undertaken by Chrissie Taylor, a Volunteer with the Chester charity which offers retreat in the city, based in Abbey Square right next door to Chester's original retreat house. Involved with writing groups in Chester, and remembering with fondness the former retreat house, Chrissie was keen to invite local people to provide their own poems for a collection to be kept in the new retreat house when it opens. "When Chrissie asked people for their poems of local interest and with a spiritual perspective," said Co-ordinator of Retreat House Chester Clare Black, "little did any of us anticipate the volume of enthusiastic responses, nor the sheer quality of the contributions. We are very grateful for the generosity of these poets in allowing us to use their poems to inspire those who come the way of Retreat House Chester, and of course to Chrissie who has worked on this volunteer project for more than a year. Poetry has its own way of speaking to us and we are truly glad to have the poems of local people here to speak to others."
More than thirty people gathered to welcome the collaborative collection of fifty or so poems to Abbey Square, including poets not just from Chester but also from North Wales and deep into Cheshire. Acting Dean of the Cathedral Jane Brooke called in to view some of the poems on display. Chrissie Taylor said of the project: “I’m delighted that my own love of poetry and reflective words has encouraged this project Retreat House Poets. Meeting so many local poets has been an inspiration.”
Same route. Two consecutive days. Two groups. Two different weathers. Christleton to Chester along the canal, through the park and the city centre to the cathedral. Reflective walking...
On the feast of Candlemas and the feast of St Werburgh - 2nd and 3rd of February - we set forth on our first events for 2018, and our first ever Retreat House walks - guided with depth and a lightness of touch by Catherine Green. Celebrating a walking towards the light, as winter looks towards spring, and with our own hopes and prayers, we walked our part of the Two Saints Way, a pilgrim route linking Lichfield and Chester. There were times for both silence and conversation, with stopping places to hear a poem or two along the way reminding us of the joy of noticing, of being part of creation, of journey. Prayer and the lighting of candles ended our pilgrimage - and then it was time for lunch.
It was only short - but sometimes by stepping out we engage with what's there.
‘A way of spiritual conversation in groups, through resources, facilitation and training, with Mark Davis, Founder of Shoreline Conversations’
Continuing our habit of asking someone who has come along to our Soulful Saturday (a different person every time!) to write a website piece about it, we're glad to have received this piece on our November day.
How delightful these Soulful Saturdays are. The more so this one, conversing with someone who facilitates conversations!
The setting in the cathedral Cloister Room helps but also the obvious attention paid to informal welcome and careful preparation. Less obvious, those subliminal pointers to the quality of the space into which we are entering. Pointers that whisper how deeply talking together matters, how deeply attending to each other matters, how deeply the divine ear is listening.
The gentle programme opened with reflective worship - ‘Walk carefully as you come here, for God is here before you.’
Mark introduced ‘conversation’ – a word that has its roots in ‘keep company with’. He suggested conversation:
as a graceful way of communicating which allows people to share their truth in love
which can risk tentative self-disclosure
in which we who are prepared to be changed by what we may subsequently discover.
We reflected on ‘good conversation’, how it flourishes and the role of a facilitator. We considered spiritual dimensions of conversation.
We practised conversation using one of the resources Mark has created for groups, ‘Glimpsing God’. Very helpfully he observed that conversation is not about what we get out of the resources but what the resources get out of us.
With Mark as our facilitator we quietly read the beautiful resource materials and silently reflected for 20 minutes. From this we each made our own reflective offering and shared the conversation that emerged for 45 minutes. Finally, we offered back what each wanted to remember, to take away from this conversation.
Our programme closed in worship.
I came home awakened and changed by the sharing of silence and words and stories and people and love.
Retreat House Chester will be offering further conversation opportunities in 2018: more on this when we publish our programme.
Our October Soulful Saturday was something new: a day with a focus on a particular area of work. Exploring ways of tuning in to deeper listening, there was a special focus on when we engage with others one-to-one - perhaps especially in a pastoral or therapeutic setting. 'Very informative and useful', 'encouraged', 'refreshed', 'affirmed', 'very welcome day... thank you': these are just some of the words used by those who came, to describe the day entitled 'I stop... to hear the second music', led by local writer, counsellor and workshop leader Julia McGuinness.
It was the kind of day that stays with you. Rich in content and presentation, and always gentle, the day was a guide to deeper listening - to ourselves, to another, to God. We were treated to variety: poetry, free writing, speaking and listening exercises, plenary conversation, consideration of helpful listening skills, exploration of different contexts for listening one-to-one, centring prayer, and prompts on how to follow up this day for ourselves. The notion of the 'second music' (from Annie Lighthart's poem) - that beneath what is happening we might tune in to what is going on - ran through the day. It's maybe possible to describe the day itself as a beautifully composed piece, which - like music - can linger and enrich our living, perhaps bringing about change. Those who were there considered that there might be change for them: 'a deeper acceptance of self...a better understanding of others', 'job change / career change', 'insight into avenues I can explore to develop skills', 'use of some ideas in my role'.
It was a generous day as Julia brought to it her experience: her wisdom as an experienced counsellor, her creativity as a writer, and her skill as a workshop leader. She found a way of engaging us whatever our own experience: whether we work in listening one-to-one or whether we were there simply because life involves listening. Thankful for it all, we hope she'll come again.
Believing that people need good places to find and offer accompaniment, Retreat House Chester is keen to offer ways of one-to-one listening in 2018. If you would like to be added to our mailing list for news on this, please get in touch.
Our postal address (and registered address) has changed to Retreat House Chester, 9 Abbey Square, Chester CH1 2HU. This is where our office is.
This is because the Cathedral used to look after our post and their office has now moved. This is good news - because it brings opening the retreat house a step nearer as the Cathedral works on the buildings of Abbey Square.
So remember: 9 Abbey Square!
St Beuno’s is a large residential retreat house near St Asaph, North Wales, well-known for its silence and Ignatian spirituality. St Ignatius emphasised a Christian spirituality which finds God in our experience, and our September Soulful Saturday showed us what this means. One of the participants gives a personal outline of the day here...
Although across the border in Wales, St Beuno’s is just a forty-minute drive from Chester. Given that St Beuno’s draws people from across the world to its retreats, we were delighted to welcome members of their Outreach Team to run a day for us here in Chester. Ged and Clare led us through aspects of Ignatian Spirituality in a very helpful and gentle way. Together we explored different methods of personal prayer: lectio divina (slow engagement with the words of Scripture), imaginative contemplation of Scripture and the examen (a reflection on our experiences).
Our first spiritual exercise was lectio divina based on Psalm 102. We were guided to prepare ourselves for entering into this prayer. The psalm was read aloud three times and we read it slowly to ourselves whilst being open to God leading us through prayer and prompting us with particular sentences or phrases. Each person will be drawn to the words that mean something special and personal to them. Having exited the prayer slowly, we reviewed our experience in reflection and shared the parts that had come to us.
The second spiritual exercise was imaginative contemplation of Scripture. The story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well was slowly read to us a couple of times, with gentle prompts to help us imagine the scene and perhaps enter it ourselves. Then some stayed in the room in silent reflection, while others ventured to some other space - including the sculpture of Jesus and the woman in the cloister garden. It was a special experience, engaging imaginatively and personally with the Gospel story.
After lunch we were guided through the spiritual exercise of the examen: to review the day with the Lord. This centuries-old daily review of our experience is gently structured to help us notice the things for which we are glad and the things which might need help or attention. We recognized how helpful – and important - this could be.
To have such helpful presentation and then to experience what we had learned was such a rewarding time, particularly to share in a group situation. My own impression is that we had some amazingly powerful silent times as we were engrossed in these spiritual exercises.
At the close, we were reminded of the value of imaginative encounters with God, of the mystery of God and the dignity and mystery of all people, and to seek to experience the presence of God everywhere.
So many thanks to Ged and Clare for such a special day.
We've just posted details of our Chester Retreat (in July) on our Programme pages. Why not take a look?
April is a good month for Retreat House Chester. In April 2016 we held our first Launch event; and now, a year on, we are able to celebrate our First Birthday. Although the project had two years of research and planning behind it, and was registered as a charity in August 2015, the sunny April evening when we first welcomed almost a 100 people is when things really got going.
Now, in April 2017, with a programme of events underway, it’s been really good to welcome both those who are discovering RHC for the first time and those who are returning. Our hope is that the variety of events and timings means that over time folk can find something that appeals and that they can get to.
Weekday evenings see Contemplative Prayer (a monthly Monday) as we join in Chester Cathedral’s time of simple input and shared stillness in the beautiful and ancient setting of St Anselm’s Chapel, and a Thursday Hub (also monthly) of conversation on themes for reflective living. With a simple presentation on the theme, and then time for coffee and conversation, so far our Hub themes have been ‘Retreat’ and ‘Discovering Silence’; in April we will be exploring sustainable living with the theme of ‘Permaculture’. We are glad to get out into the city and hold these at the Quaker Meeting Rooms just off Frodsham Street.
During the day on weekdays there’s monthly Open House, when you can call in to our rooms in 9 Abbey Square to find out more about Retreat House Chester – say hello, have a coffee, find resources and maybe spend some quiet time. Our mostly monthly Friday Short Retreats (but a Thursday in July!) based in the Cathedral are proving to be valuable times of shifting perspective a little as we take a few hours out of our normal routines to find some quiet and some stillness alongside others and alone, with simple resources to help with prayer and reflection.
And at the weekend, Soulful Saturdays provide varied workshops and reflective days drawing on Christian spirituality, led for us by a range of visiting retreat-givers and facilitators, in the Cloister Room of the Cathedral, a smaller and more retreat-like setting than our big Launch events of 2016. One of the best things about these events is that they bring together people from a diverse range of places and communities. Some have come alone, and some with a friend or partner. Their positive feedback is a real encouragement, and we hope that folk take away something meaningful for their own living. We try to post a short piece about each Saturday event in the News on our website – so that those who weren’t there can still benefit a little from the day.
Take a look at our Programme pages on our website to find out more about what’s happening as we work our way through each month with weekday and weekend events, daytime and evening.
RHC is all about making retreat accessible in ways that fit with how we live. We want to be able to do this through a non-residential city-based retreat house – with so much more happening there than we can currently offer. So alongside our programme we are busy fundraising, and are very grateful for the wonderful support of donors. We are a good part of the way along this path (more news soon…) but as we celebrate our First Birthday the hope of retreat in the city is becoming real. Why not try one of our events to celebrate?