When Angie Pollard confessed to friends that she’d love to have a short retreat, but never seemed to get round to it, they encouraged her to organise one
For a few years now I have been inviting women from church, most of them working full-time, to breakfast on a Saturday once a month. This is a little oasis, as we meet for a couple of hours, sharing our lives and encouraging each other as Christians in the workplace. We talk about serving God through serving our colleagues; about prayer; about witness; about being real as we follow Jesus. We also share aspects of our own personal journeys in faith.
One morning, I confessed that I often think of taking a morning to spend time with God at a local retreat centre, but never get round to it. I was somewhat astonished when, rather than just agreeing with me that our lives are so busy and that there is so little time etc, I was greeted with a chorus of: “Let’s do it!”
So we did. I booked a small conference room for a Saturday morning in June at Les Cotils Christian Retreat Centre in Guernsey, where we live. Appropriately called The Upper Room, it had windows round three sides with a stunning view over the sea towards the neighbouring islands of Herm and Sark.
Never having organised anything like this before, I was relieved when I discovered that there was no charge for church groups. What a gift! I sent out ‘save the date’ e-mails to the women who come to breakfast and invited them to invite friends as well. Then I panicked: would anyone want to come after all? How should I lead the morning? What format should it take?
However, as I prayed about our ‘quiet morning’, I found myself becoming less apprehensive and more and more laid back. So what if no one turned up? I knew my friend Rose was definitely coming and that was enough to make sure that I took the time to meet with God and make some plans.
I found a bountiful source of ideas for prayer through a blog I came across on Facebook; sermons, devotionals and daily readings all started to focus my thoughts in one direction, which I jotted down and worked together into something a little more coherent. A friend had organised a day retreat and kindly lent me her notes and background reading, which helped me form a timetable. Then Rose and I met together one morning to chat over our ideas and tie up the loose ends.
On the day
When the day came, Rose and I arrived half an hour before the morning was due to begin. We set out candles and flowers, contemplative readings and little cards of encouragement to take home, books, colouring and drawing materials, with some suggestions for using them.
I needn’t have worried that people might not come. With some last minute arrivals, there were 13 of us in the Upper Room: friends, acquaintances and strangers. We spent a few minutes reflecting on our theme – our relationship with God – before entering quietness. With soft music playing, many of us stayed in the room, but some wandered into other rooms or into the grounds for an hour. Then we had a chat over coffee before we started pondering our relationships with others. We gathered together for a final reflection, reading Psalm 118, before leaving at lunchtime.
A whole morning, where shopping and chores did not get done and families were left to fend for themselves, but it was not time wasted.
In the week that followed, I received e-mails saying:
“Powerful and renewing morning” ... “insightful food for thought” ... “absolutely wonderful” ... “Wasn’t sure how I was going to fit it in, but God took me there to hear him in the quiet” and, “although I only did the first part, I consequently had a wonderful weekend doing all the things I needed to do and more, feeling so relaxed...just lovely, I know for me that God had clearly planned what I was going to think about and read – and of course it was just what I needed to hear right now!”... “so good to have a time to get to stand still...”
We discovered anew that, when we give time to God, he honours this by meeting with us and empowering us not only spiritually, but emotionally and physically as well. Meeting together was wonderful: we’re now planning our next quiet morning!
12 easy steps to a wonderful morning
1 Choose a venue – If you are fortunate enough to have a retreat centre within easy reach: wonderful. Otherwise, your church may have a room, or someone might even make their house available to you.
2 Set a date – Once this is done, there is no backing out!
3 Plan with a friend – Two heads are better than one, as you bounce ideas off each other. Plus, you share the organisational load.
4 Don’t worry if no one else turns up – Even if it is just the two of you, you will have put time aside to spend with God which is, after all, the main aim of the morning!
5 Prepare with prayer – Ask God what he would like the morning to focus on.
6 Plan a brief ‘lead in’ to the morning, or session – Having a focus helps to start the quiet time. This could be a short talk, reading a psalm or other Bible extract, or listening to a song ...
7 Organise refreshments – Whether you provide these at the beginning, in the middle or even at the end before departure, chatting over a cup of tea or coffee relaxes folk and helps them connect.
8 Provide some resources, such as art and craft materials, books, pens, paper; and some simple objects for focus, like candles or a simple cross – Many of us find that having the opportunity to express ourselves creatively helps us pray.
9 Play worship songs in the background to set the mood – This may just be at the start, or perhaps to provide a backdrop for contemplative activities – some people find complete silence in a group too intimidating.
10 Produce a little ‘take home’ card – This may be a Bible verse or two, or a motivational text.
11 Be open and smile! – Honesty and vulnerability gives others permission to open their hearts. However nervous you might feel, your smile will put others at ease and promote a relaxed atmosphere.
12 Commit the morning to God – The primary aim is to encounter him; how it happens doesn’t matter.