Each year new groups find their way to Minsteracres and this year has been no exception.

One such this Autumn came from right on our doorstep thanks to retreat organiser Michael Ivey and his wife Kate.

Michael, a six foot something Texan, may not be what you would imagine as local, but his wife Kate was brought up in Northumberland and it was she who suggested looking at Minsteracres as a venue for their event.

“We wanted an event where young people from 18 – 30 could spend time together, but finding a location wasn’t that easy,” explains Michael. In the end, Minsteracres proved a good fit, and over the course of the weekend around 70 people took part in their Ascend conference.

“The name came from Psalm 24: 1-6 which asks who may ascend the mountain of the Lord. We wanted to come down from the mountain as Moses did and impact on the community around us,” says Michael.

Retreatants were drawn from a group of eight churches across the north, where younger people are being attracted into the congregation. Michael himself is employed by Birtley Community Church, and has seen the number of active younger members in Hexham where he and Kate live grow from five or six a few years ago to around 30 today.

Over the course of the weekend, discussions centred around what, if anything, was the sacred/secular divide, the importance of forgiveness, and prophetic action – listening and bringing the gospel to people.

It certainly hit the spot for many. “One guy from Birtley told me he had really encountered God over the weekend. He’s like a brand new person!” says Michael. “The same for another guy who is usually quite quiet and reserved – he was really vocal about what God has done here.”

Feedback has been very positive. “It’s my first conference and I’m encouraged by how it went,” says Michael.  And it seems it wasn’t just the content which people liked. “We were really pleased with the location. It’s not too far off the beaten track, but people really enjoyed the sense of being away and the beauty of the surroundings. There were loads of conversations about the redwoods.

“We also appreciated there was wifi,” he adds.

Feedback to Minsteracres featured comments about how warm and welcoming they found it, and how great the staff and volunteers were. One person got a special mention, “Everyone loved Fr Mark. People loved being around him!” The feeling, of course, was entirely mutual.