But on a ‘standard’ group retreat in one of the APR’s member houses or another like it, you can expect:
A warm welcome
but not one that suffocates. It is understood that you may want space to just ‘be’. It is often possible to arrange to stay the night before your retreat begins (and/or after it ends), if that is more convenient for you.
A quiet, restful environment.
A key question to ask when booking your first few retreats is whether or not you wish to immerse yourself in almost complete silence, or tip your toe in the water with a more relaxed environment. Those booking silent retreats should be aware that they tend to mean just that: there is little or no opportunity to discuss any input offered by the leaders, and even meals may be taken in silence. But from the prolonged silence, as unnatural as may feel at first, great clarity and spiritual benefits can flow.
Introduction to a group of people
with something in common with you. Expect to be asked to introduce yourself briefly to other members of the group during the first session (even if the retreat is predominantly a silent one), though you should never feel forced to give any more details than you wish.
‘injected’ during the retreat. Most retreats take the form or some kind of input or reflection from the leader, followed by an extended period of silence when guests can either stay in the room(s) available to the group indoors, or wander through the grounds (many retreat houses have beautiful gardens). It is then usual for the group to reconvene and share any thoughts or inspiration that occurred to them during the quiet time.
You may be asked to undertake some pre-reading
if the retreat is based around a particular book or theological theme. It is usually possible to get away with the minimal, if you find time before the retreat is limited.
often by an ordained minister. It is usually possible to do a simple web search to find out more about the retreat leader, or don’t be afraid to ask the retreat centre in advance. It is worth bearing in mind that leading a retreat can be quite a demanding task and, unless otherwise indicated, the leader would not usually expect to spend extended time with any particular member of the group. Retreat going can be complementary to talking therapies or counselling, but should not be used as a substitute.
Good home-cooked food.
Many houses pride themselves on providing simple, locally sourced meals – usually a light breakfast and lunch, with a fuller evening meal. Food is usually served buffet style. You should notify the retreat house in advance if you have any specific dietary requirements, as many do not operate on a scale that makes it easy for them to accommodate special requests at short notice.
Comfortable basic accommodation.
Check in advance if the retreat house you are visiting offers all en suite accommodation: many do not and you may need to express this preference if it is important to you. Most houses do provide towels but are unlikely to provide any toiletries, beyond soap. Most retreat house rooms offer a single bed, small study desk and storage facilities. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to strip your bed on departure – this helps the housekeeping staff and lowers costs for everyone.
Probably no speedy wi-fi and possibly no mobile reception.
It is worth bearing in mind that many houses are in remote areas with little or no reliable mobile telephone reception or wi-fi internet. Many guests find this a liberating experience, but if you do need to be contacted or make contact, the retreat house staff will of course be able to provide access to a landline telephone and sometimes an internet-linked computer.
The warden or retreat house manager will be keen to ensure you have a comfortable stay which is conducive to a spiritually and mentally restorative break away from daily life. They will welcome feedback and ideas for improving the guest experience in their houses – not least as they hope you will return again, and recommend retreat-going to others.