As we continue to grow, Spring 2018 has seen a number of new activities introduced into the RHC programme, alongside others developing further from last year. It is very encouraging that this has meant ever more people coming this way, and in the space of just a couple of months 9 Abbey Square has started to take on a little more character of a retreat space as more events have taken place here even ahead of us knowing this would be our likely future home. (Click here to read about longer term plans for a permanent base.) So from the dark days of Winter to the longer days of light at Easter, it’s been a time of change and growth.
We started with Pilgrimage Walks (read more and see pictures here) at the time of the Spring Equinox, Candlemas and the Feast of St Werburgh, Chester’s ‘patron saint’. These popular activities offered for the first time the opportunity for reflective walking, which will feature more often in our future programmes. A few days later saw our first Reflective Evening in number 9, when Claire Egan, using the Book of Job, guided us so thoughtfully through a consideration of the ‘desert experience’ and how it can lead to new ways of encountering God. This evening use of the rooms in number 9 has been continued in our Thursday Conversations series on 'Pilgrimage', as a group meets regularly to share quiet time and conversation inspired by the beautiful resources published by ‘Shoreline Conversations’ (click here to go to their website). Our Hub evenings last year also offered reflective conversation; now, these short series give the chance to explore in more depth over a period of weeks. Again, look out for more of this – on different themes – in coming programmes.
Monthly Short Retreats on Fridays have continued. These are in some way the backbone of what we do, offering the kind of day we’d like many more opportunities for in a permanent and comfortable retreat house. This year, these days have been based in number 9 rather than the Cathedral Cloister Room (where they were held last year) – with a little more flavour of a retreat house. Starting with guided reflection and closing with shared conversation, the time in between is for participants to spend as they wish, maybe with the resources on offer, either still in number 9 or wandering across to the Cathedral or into the city – and increasingly, after Easter, outside.
Another regular monthly event is the Cathedral Contemplative Prayer on Monday evenings, in which RHC joins. Held in the ancient setting of St Anselm’s Chapel, in the Cathedral and entered from Abbey Square, these times of shared silent prayer are times to stop other things for a while and sit with God.
Our March Soulful Saturday saw us in a new venue: the beautifully refurbished main space in Wesley Church Centre on St John Street. Not only was this a wonderful space for the day, but being there also expanded RHC links with other communities on the city. The Wesley community hosted us generously, and many on the day commented on how both the setting and the hospitality (including lunch…) added something important to the retreat. We were there for another ‘first’: our first Singing Retreat – ‘Peace be with You – Songs and Reflection’. Led by Ella Speirs, we took inspiration from the retreat house blessing which begins with the words ‘Peace to this house’, and spent the day in song, silence and conversation as we entered more and more deeply into what ‘peace’ is. Song can be a special ‘way in’ to deeper experience, and we look forward to more of it.
Activities before Easter ended with something more familiar when we welcomed Aleta Doran back for another mosaic workshop, this time inspired by the borders of the Cathedral nave mosaics. Absorbed in creativity for a couple of hours, we were able to take away the fruits of our afternoon’s labours.
Another creative activity – but this time for fundraising – was marmalade making! Again out in the community, this took place in Hobson’s Café in Hoole Community Centre and was generously prepared and guided by café manager and local caterer Amy Edwards. This ‘first’ for us is in some ways not a first at all, inspired as it was by the fundraising marmalade-making of the old retreat house, its resident nuns and their friends. And like them, we too have an ongoing need for funds to enable retreat in the city and all the good things it brings.