Having spent so much of our working ministry moving round some of the UK’s best-known retreat centres we find ourselves in one of Australia’s newest. The question comes to mind, what makes a truly great retreat house?
Some have beauty, others intimacy. The list might also run to large baths, home cooked food, warmth in a British winter, the sense of a prayed-in place, gardens, labyrinths, spaces for worship, peace, quiet, views to evoke wonder but accessibility from the city, people who live, breath and share grace and love, forgiveness and joy, creativity, arts, word and spirit.
On the face of it 1 Albert Street, does not have the historical grandeur of the drive at Launde Abbey, the presence of the community at Hassocks, the intellectual engagement of the great monasteries like Worth. It’s more 1960’s than 1690’s, there’s no logo or business model.
However, and here’s the but. God, thankfully, does not look on the outside, he looks to the heart.
Here in a simple beachside house, next to a small Anglican church, the community of Christians have taken the ancient gifts of welcome, hospitality, space and rhythm. They discerned that, before and alongside the church, the local community has been a place of rest, recreation and renewal. What society uses for holidays, the Parish of St James and St George offers as a place to connect with God for holy-days.
This is not the slick operation of religious professionals, but a gentle, loving welcome from an ordinary local parish who have embraced a Benedictine vocation of welcome, hospitality and spiritual life. They offer a daily rhythm of prayer and worship, but offer it with an unpressured open hand. They offer a homely place with space, warmth and facilities, but offer it with a graceful open heart. This is authentic Christianity with heart.
So there’s no price list, or restrictions, or programme. There’s all you could need, some well chosen resources to stimulate faith, great coffee shops round the corner, and the beach.
We’ve been blessed in sharing midweek Holy Communing with the community (amazing where the 1928 liturgy washes up!), the gift of someone else enjoying the twins, local period cafes and crafts, being blown off the beach in the rain and stretching out in the sun in prayer and quiet.
Thanks to Clare for the introduction, God for the views and weather, and Fr. Peter and the people of the parish for the gift of grace that is St James House of Prayer.