When the Year 12 day girls in St Anne’s House at Worth School heard they were to have a weekend retreat, the news was met – it has to be said – with a lukewarm response. Below, some of the girls take it in turns to chronicle the weekend, during which they took time out from the usual daily distractions for reflection to explore their personal beliefs and relationship with God…
Pru: When the Year 12 girls in St. Anne’s were first told of the plans for a retreat, I feel I can safely say on behalf of all of us that we were probably not the most enthused. With mock exams on the horizon, going on retreat felt like another thing being added to our already busy schedules. There was much discussion to be had as to what would be expected from us and what we should expect. Here are just a few of our initial thoughts:
‘We will be preached to by people trying to tell us what to think’
‘We will spend all our time praying’
‘We will be expected to go to confession’
‘We will spend all our time talking about subjects that will make us uncomfortable’
In the end the retreat was nothing like any of this at all and it turned out to be a really valuable experience.
Millie: We arrived at Compass House, next to the school campus at about 5.15 on the Friday evening, just in time for dinner. After settling in to our rooms, we split ourselves into two groups –those who knew what a kitchen looked like, and those who didn’t! Under the direction of our two head chefs, Erin and Dani, along with Br David – the chaplain for St Anne’s – and ably assisted by chief organiser Sophie Philpots, the preparation of dinner got underway. Meanwhile the other group had welcomed our guests, Jo, Jane and Mary, from The Wellspring Community, a Catholic community based in Brighton who use the Rule of St Benedict as their guide. Finally we all sat down together to a lovely meal of spaghetti bolognese, followed by some wonderful sweet treats for dessert. Once we had finished eating we moved into the community room with its comfy chairs and began with an ice-breaking game called Samurai.
Jo: Once we were relaxed and introductions were well underway Jo Jane and Mary began to share their own experiences and personal details. After an icebreaker activity called Samurai, one the speakers, Jo, gave us her story. She is the founder of the Wellspring community and her story was very interesting. Worth Abbey has always been the one constant in her life; it was where her parents met and married and where she was baptised as a baby. When I first met Jo she seemed really honest, genuine, kind and when she talked about her past and the person she used to be, we were all shocked to hear her younger character was very much the opposite of the person she is today. Jo didn’t try to preach her own beliefs to us; she has gone through her own journey in order to reach the point she is at now. She told us how she had trouble finding her purpose in life and this led her to she begin smoking and she struggled with relationships. She said that she didn’t feel sorry for the things that she did, it had been her life journey and she had to travel it to reach the place she is at now. We tentatively began to share our own thoughts and feelings in the environment that Jo, Mary and Jane provided, allowing us to voice our opinions in a non-judgemental way.
Simi: After talking as a group together, we made our way to the Abbey Church for some reflection time. Having been to the Abbey Church many times before I was not expecting to be particularly moved by the experience. However to our surprise, the interior was completely dark, the only light coming from the candles at the altar. It’s hard to describe the feeling of peace and tranquility as we entered. We spread out and found our own space in the Abbey Church, reflecting on the things we had discussed this evening. This for me, was the most beneficial part of the retreat, with such busy lives at Worth, we rarely get the time to sit down and think about our own spiritual views. Heading back over to Compass House we found hot chocolate and marshmallows waiting for us, a perfect end to the evening.
Harriet: As part of the retreat we were all given the option to attend one of three services in the Abbey Church on Saturday, or all three if we were feeling really keen – Matins at 6.20am, Lauds at 7.20am or Mass at 9am. There was no pressure whatsoever to attend any service in particular and the choice was entirely an individual one. Many of us, including myself, actually opted to attend Matins at 6.20am. And though I can’t speak for everyone, the main motivation for this was to do something we hadn’t done before and to experience the Abbey Church in the morning, whilst most people were still asleep. It was still dark when it began, and this darkness created a more relaxed atmosphere in which to contemplate the day ahead, or allowed you to simply sit in silence and think. Attending this Mass gave me a greater appreciation for the connection with God that many people have. Later that morning we met up with our lovely guests again and split into smaller groups, to have another opportunity to explore our thoughts and exchange some personal views and opinions on a wide variety of topics.
India: The retreat offered us a valuable chance to spend time together outside of the school environment, and reflect and consider our own beliefs. We were asked to question what it means to commit yourself to somebody else, either in love, or spiritually to God. We explored the concepts of truth, beauty and love – what they mean to us and how they should play a part in our lives. During the discussions we questioned our own views and beliefs; sometimes this left us more confused than when we started out. We grappled with our own thoughts and ideas and found ourselves surprised at the effect the presentations and discussions had upon us individually. We have all agreed that this experience has highlighted how important it is to approach things with an open mind. However certain you are of your own beliefs, they can be challenged and questioned if you are prepared to listen to others’ views.
Sian: A New Year often brings about new attitudes, new regimes and new goals. However it doesn’t have to be a new year to embark upon a new journey; we are here to evolve, grow and change. The easiest way to begin is to find your comfort zone then leave it. Remember, you don’t have to see the whole staircase just the first step.
In summing up how he felt the weekend went, Br David said: “The girls were a bit uncertain what to expect when we organised an overnight retreat. However we hadn’t been in Compass House more than about half an hour – and they suggested we should do this every term! I arranged for three young women, members of the Wellspring Community in Brighton, to come and give some input, and they spent a long time mainly listening to the girls – I was deeply moved by the transforming power of just being listened to.”