What is it about going on retreat which draws people back again and again? For those of us who shudder at the memory of long-ago school retreats, the answer from one of Minsteracres’ regular retreatants might be surprising.
“I know that I’m going to be fed spiritually. There’s going to be some teaching – deep and meaningful – not just scratching the surface,” says Jane Dixon from nearby Hexham.
“I come for growth and encouragement and to see what the Holy Spirit is doing, because I’m sure I’ll see it.”
Like many others, Jane says, “I know when I come here I’ll be accepted as who I am. There are no expectations. It’s a welcome not like anywhere else because no one is wanting something at the end of it.
“It’s the feeling as you come up the drive of coming home to a special place – to a haven of tranquillity.”
Jane, like many who come to Minsteracres, is not Roman Catholic, but that’s never been a barrier. “I see Fr Mark, Fr Jeroen, Sr Cecilia and Sr Therese and they all make themselves available.
“When I complained to Fr Jeroen about seeing my dad so disabled before he died earlier this year, he asked if I had expected to see Jesus so disabled on the cross. It immediately helped.
“I felt safe to say it here. I never have the opportunity to offload like that. You often struggle in your own mind with those puzzles.”
Jane was on retreat in March shortly after her father died. “Sr Therese led a meditation in the garden. Instead of seeing my dad on his deathbed, I saw him in his more active days. It was instant.
“I treasure the connections with Minsteracres and the richness we draw from other denominations and faiths with their traditions which can enrich our own faith.
“One time I shared the dining room with a group of Buddhists. They said to empty your mind and let light in. I pray much better because I can do that now.”
It may be that Jane herself holds the key to what she gains at Minsteracres, “I come open to what’s on offer and soak up what’s given,” she says.
“The place is beautiful. You can see the Cheviot and the Rothbury hills. There’s something in me that starts speaking when I see it and I get a feeling about what the saints were talking about when they were writing about connections to earth and sky.”
As a Methodist, Jane had not given much thought to the role of Our Lady in everyday life, but the statue of Mary opposite the church got her thinking. “I discovered what a fantastic role model she is. She teaches us how to let Jesus into our lives and birth him out into the world. I’m starting to learn what Mary did and how we can follow her example.”
Again Jane comes back to the influence of others she meets while on retreat. “You meet learned people with other perspectives and you pick up gems from them. That’s why coming on retreat is so good. It’s not just those leading the retreat, people like John Bell, who you learn from, it’s those who come to take part too.”
Although Jane visits other retreat centres, there is something about Minsteracres which brings her back. “All the gifts and attributes you recognise as of the spirit you see embodied in the community here and it rubs off. Each time you go home you carry it for a little longer.