Retreat House Chester is all about offering non-residential retreat in the city. This makes many of the good things of retreat available to more people than might go on traditional retreat – and it also helps us all recognise that it’s in our everyday living – here, in the city – that we can explore and develop our reflective nature and spirituality.
For this July weekend of events and reflective space ‘inspired by where we are’, we tried something new to us: hosting a variety of events simultaneously in different locations. A pop-up on Saturday in the Cloister Room of the Cathedral offered activities and resources to about 200 people who passed through. Here, we developed the ‘Reflective Chester’ activities we started at our June pop-up outside in Abbey Square and which we will continue in other locations and on Facebook: encouraging simple ways of noticing, reflecting and sharing on our city living. Our community mosaic project also featured, celebrating the ripple effect of retreat as well as its characteristics of both diversity and community. Display and free resources to take away were available: about retreat in general; about Retreat House Chester as a venture for the city and region; on the monastic heritage of Chester, through a self-guided reflective walk; on pilgrimage – especially the local Two Saints Way, again through a self-guided walk; on reflective living, especially in the city; and a poetry project for the Retreat House drawing on local inspiration. Our hope was that people might be inspired to increase their awareness and understanding of 'retreat' and how they might integrate it in their own living, whatever their circumstances, and how it is something for us all.
As well as the busy Cloister Room, there was the peace of St Anselm’s Chapel, again in the Cathedral. This space is reserved for quiet prayer and reflection, and on this busy Saturday we left cards to help with this, drawing inspiration from the Benedictine heritage of the Cathedral. These were well-received, and we’re delighted that the Cathedral is looking at ways of using these simple reflection cards more permanently.
While these free drop-in events were taking place, we were also hosting workshops in our rooms in Abbey Square – a place right in the middle of the city which lends itself beautifully to reflection and peace. All three workshops (two on Saturday and one on Sunday) drew on Chester itself as a resource and shared a common theme of ‘Noticing’: noticing what is around us and within us – and maybe noticing, too, the presence of God. The mosaic workshop, led by Aleta Doran, started with taking notice of mosaics in the Cathedral before an absorbing and creative couple of hours spent mosaic-making in marble and glass. The two afternoon workshops – one drawing on poetry, led by Avis Palmer; the other on contemplative photography, led by Claire Egan – both included some time out and about to ‘notice’ through jotting or taking photos. By noticing in this way, and then sharing our reflections, we discovered meaning simply by engaging with where we are. To enhance this, we were guided gently by those leading the workshops, all local people with skills, knowledge and enthusiasm to share. ‘Peaceful… Absorbed… Exhilarated… Blessed…Contented… Opened up… Stimulated… Refreshed… Energised…’: these are just some of the words people used to describe how they felt after the workshops. It seems it was a very good way to spend part of a weekend.
Retreat is a centuries-old practice and common across cultures – which suggests it is about something fundamentally human. As this July weekend showed, in 2017 retreat is available to us here in Chester, perhaps more easily than you think.
Our thanks to Cheshire West and Chester Council for a grant from the Diversity Events Fund to support the free resources and activities at the Saturday drop-in of A Chester Retreat.