Each year we start our retreat cycle with a weekend for our friends and volunteers. It’s where we try out our new theme – this year’s, ‘blessed are the merciful’, is based around the Year of Mercy in 2016. We ask for feedback and often refine the content as a result of what they tell us.

This year’s retreat, it seems, was a popular one. “Despite the single theme, all the sessions included different elements of content, speaker and props,” says Malcolm Railton, who came with his wife Glynis. “This year there seemed to be more elements within the theme – it kept you guessing.”

“Even with the same material, each retreat is different,” says Sr Therese O’Regan, one of the retreat team. “This group was great – they really went for it.

“We approached mercy from a wider perspective,” she explains, “The translation of mercy from the Hebrew means seeing as others see, thinking as they think and feeling as they feel. It’s the mercy Jesus showed when he dealt with people – it’s the springboard for all his actions.”

Sr Therese led a popular session using mercy stones. “We invite people to think about times when they figuratively throw stones: speak badly of someone, pass on gossip and so on. Then we give them smoothed stones, rounded and polished by the wear and tear of life, bearing words like compassion, kindness and empathy and ask them to contemplate a different approach.”

It clearly struck a chord. Feedback from the weekend included “Spiritually it went into some deep places but in ways which were approachable and acceptable”, “moving and spiritual” and “I enjoyed it so much I can’t wait for the next one!”

Malcolm suggests a reason, “You feel safe and comfortable. It’s the friendship of the place. There’s a welcome here – everyone knows that, but more than that you feel at home.”