Thursday, 10 February 2011

Retreat lengths

For how long a period should any priest be away from his or her parish on retreat?

I’ve just booked five nights away in the autumn to give me four full days. My guess is that this quite normal, and it will hardly inconvenience any parish arrangements or cover.

I’d have to say that some years I’ve not made this provision at all, that such an annual gesture is quite a minimalistic contribution to deepening my spirituality, and that I can hardly parade my devotion when the number of days when I even arrive for Morning Prayer early enough for some silent mediation first is probably outweighed by the number when I don’t.

Neverthless, I wonder whether an expectation that we’d each regularly do something much more significant which disrupts our own life and parish life would be more fruitful and give a much clearer message to ourselves and to those to whom we minister about what we are about.

The question came to my mind when I was asked to do some proof reading or consumer testing on the new clergy handbook shortly before it went live on the diocese’s website at the beginning of the month; the process of introducing new tenure arrangements for most clergy on that day required the publication of such guidelines.

I just happened to notice that it says we are ‘encouraged to take time for an annual retreat’ but ‘it is suggested that this should not exceed six days’ whereas I know the national Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of Clergy developed several years ago in anticipation of the new tenure arrangements also speaks of ‘an annual opportunity to make a retreat’ but adds ‘of at least a week’s duration’. The subtle difference may actually be significant.

Meanwhile, we are told that it is the combination of the heavy weight of snow on evergreen branches a short while ago, the drying out in the weeks since, and the high winds of the last week which has made bits fall off many fir trees in particular, including these ones along the western edge of St Nicolas’ churchyard.

We’ve put up notices warning people to keep clear. We’ll have a tree expert in next week to assess the whole churchyard where little work of this sort has been done in the last few years. We’ll then need to begin spending money on anything which is actually dangerous making a further dent in the church’s limited Fabric Fund.


Revsimmy said...

The difference between "not more than six days" and "at least a week" seems to me to be significant, and not in a positive way. At least a week, means an opportunity to give yourself fully to the retreat, having had at least one weekend where there was no responsibilty for services and preaching to worry about. As a guideline it takes seriously the need for spiritual refreshment and acknowldges that their own spiritual welfare is important part of an ordained minister's responsibilities. "Not more than six days" gives the impression that the retreat is something to be shoe-horned into the gap between two Sundays, with the practical implication that for at least part of the retreat the minister will have to be thinking about those Sunday responsibilities (unless one has them firmly tied up before the retreat).

This seems to me to send to clergy and laity alike the message that retreats are a bit of a luxury rather than an important part of spiritual life and development.

Peter Mullins said...

Yes, that is very close to what I was feeling my way towards saying. Is the message 'this is an indulgance which shouldn't get in the way of things in the parish' and 'this little bit of spiritual exercise shouldn't tax you too much' or is the message 'this is a crucial activity which should take priority over parish convenience' and 'please consider doing something which streches you further than you'd first think'. Thanks!

Peter Ede said...

Leaving aside the issue of 6 or 7 days it seems to me that clergy should role model to congregations healthy living, which will include space for spiritual growth. So I encourage you to take your retreat with a clear purpose but afterwards share with your congregations what value it has been to you. By so doing you may encourage others to follow your example. In these days of increasing stress and hectic living we need role models of people who demonstrate how so set priorities.