Yesterday I was invited to guide part of a retreat for the team of Greenwich YFC. The retreat itself was at West Malling Abbey which is a place about 25 mins ‘down the road’ but a place I never knew existed. Living there are an Anglican Benedictine community of nuns and when I arrived I was kindly shown around by Sister Shona.
As soon as I entered the heavy oak gate I could sense the power of God in this place. It was so calm and the surroundings so beautiful and well kept, you could not help but notice the presence of God in a real and tangible way. The Celts spoke of places where the sky was thin. I found one of those places today and will definitely be returning here, if at all possible, for my next private retreat. I fell in love with West Malling Abbey.
To start the retreat I introduced the team to ‘the journey’ which is based on Mike Riddles ‘God Zone’. I actually did this for the very first time when Jonny led a bunch of London YFC workers through the experience and have used it wit most of my teams since. The pictures below show how I set it up in the chapel – although you do need a bit of imagination.
I love doing ‘the journey’ because it really makes me think where I am with God and reminds me that no where is the wrong place, and that all the places are quite normal and experienced by all. The zones, very briefly are:
Mountain tops: high experiences when we excited and know where we are with God and all enthusiastic (returning from festival mode!)
Dark valleys: coming down from the mountain and wishing we were back/trusting we need just to move on
Deserts: were we struggle and sometimes question God’s existence as he feels pretty absent from our lives
Rivers: times of joy and washing
Lakes: times to chill out with God and just bathe in him
Sea: for me the scariest when we just have to let go, trust, and say ‘take me where you want’.
As a group of people we placed some glass beads to indicate where we were on the journey and explained that to the ret of the group. It was amazing to see how many of us were in more than one place, and how many of us were in both different and similar places. It too, became clear that the journey is something we experience continually in our lives.
Following this we had a time of prayer during which we became conscious that we were holding on to stuff that we needed to give (back) to God. To symbolise this we gave these varying things to God symbolically by wrapping a few grains of incense in paper and watched the incense smoke drift skywards in the quiet of the chapel. It really did look as if we were allowing dreams, fears and burdens to be slowly released to God.
Today seemed more special in these activities because of the wonderful location we had and the 500 years of history of worshipping God in this place. I also want to thank the Greenwich team for such a warm welcome and acceptance of me which made the whole morning very easy to guide – you are a great bunch of people and I hope to spend time with you again.
A final exciting and challenging thought for those that question the value of communities that ‘retreat’ full time. I noticed that there was a labyrinth cut into the grass. It seems this developed from a conversation between Hugh (director GYFC) and Sister Shona, as she was looking for something that they might use to engage with young people. It could just be that through trying something ‘new’ and inviting young people to experience it that this little group of nuns could influence the lives of far more young people than traditonal churches that have to continue to try the same old ways each Sunday. The thought made me smile. Just the fact that they are asking the question shows God is truly at the centre of this community.