Minsteracres’ retreat team are well into their stride now with this year’s theme ‘blessed are the merciful’, borrowed from the pope’s call to make 2016 the year of mercy.

Their delight in their work is evident both to the retreatants (more of that later) as well as they themselves. “A retreat is a treat,” says Elisabeth van Dijl, one of the team who recently delivered the retreat to an ecumenical group of women from Selkirk in Scotland.

“Every time you give a retreat it is slightly different,” says Sr Therese O’Regan, a member of the Minsteracres community and one of the team.

“The Selkirk ladies were a mixed group a mixed group of 16 ladies, mostly Presbyterian, but including some from Baptist, Methodist and Catholic traditions, some of whom were curious and slightly anxious about coming to a catholic retreat centre.

“They told us that they originally knew each other through their work in Churches Together in Selkirk and finally decided it was time to take a retreat together.

“We in turn were worried about the weather, which was awful, so we had a big fire going in the parlour when they arrived and gave them tea and cake. That cracked it! They loved the welcome we gave them and settled in really quickly.”

Myra Ward, one of the group from Selkirk says, “We are a group who decided to go on retreat together to get to know each other better, have time to reflect and be in a lovely place.

“We didn’t know quite what we were going to be faced with, and for most it was their first retreat so there was an element of uncertainty. In the end we very quickly felt at ease and everyone came to all the sessions.”

Myra was very positive about their whole experience of Minsteracres. “From the very beginning when we got in touch about a retreat everyone was very flexible and very willing to meet our needs. They said that it was our retreat and we could do as we wanted. We conducted our own worship on the Saturday night and a session on the Sunday morning, but all the rest was provided by the retreat team.

“The content was good. It was thought provoking as well as interactive and tactile. Sessions were held in different spaces too which added variety.”

This experience very much reflects the approach of the team. Although the framework is fixed, how each retreat is delivered is fluid and flexible so that it is appropriate for the group. Each team member makes a personal interpretation of the material.

“One time recently, we received a party of ministers and Elisabeth gave them a special session clarifying the different ideas and meanings in the Greek and Hebrew roots of the English word mercy,“ says Anne Darlington, another of the team.

The tailored approach definitely touched a chord for the Selkirk ladies. “People are asking when we’re booking again!” says Myra. “The attraction is the space and the grounds – if you want to be alone you can.

“The food is nourishing and all the staff, from the kitchen and dining room to the office made such an effort for us.”

When they got back to Selkirk, some of the ladies were involved in the naming of a new community café. “Someone who hadn’t been with us at Minsteracres suggested calling it the open door. That had been the theme of the retreat, so it felt exactly the right name!”

We are looking forward to greeting the ladies the next time they come south of the border, and in turn they have invited us to visit them.

There are three more opportunities to take part in one of Minsteracres’ ‘blessed are the merciful’ retreats on 3rd – 5th June, 9th – 11th September and 16th – 18th September. Go to www.minsteracres.org/come-on-retreat/ or call 01434 673248 to book your place.