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.