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When I first joined CAH, the annual Summer retreat for the Community used to take place over the end of August and beginning of September. It became associated with the end of Summer, of the fields being harvested, of evenings before Compline looking out at the fields as the light faded, of sunny days (mostly). Compline was sung, rather than chanted on a note, and some retreat addresses struck you more than others. Fast forward several years, and we started going away, the retreats taking on something of the place where we were staying, whether that be the Yorkshire hills, or the Suffolk countryside. This year we were staying somewhere slightly different, on the edge of a town and within walking distance of the sea.

Or walking distance for most of us. Mattie [Sr Pamela’s dog] has aged since our last retreat in 2019, and found that walk rather long. It was a delight to be able to be together again after a gap of two years, and to see Sr Pamela in person. Settling in took a while longer than if we had been somewhere we knew, but next year we shall know this too, and it was lovely to be based with a Community, and to join them for their services. We started our retreat on the evening after the day we arrived, having Community business to settle first. We had no formal retreat addresses, as we haven’t for a few years, but still find that being in silence together brings us closer, while deepening our individual journeys. Being near enough to walk to the sea was a wonder. The tide was in during the afternoons, and we were able to watch the waves come crashing in on the rocks, occasionally splashing on the promenade. Just walking and watching the sea brought an immense peace, and deepened the message that came through more formal praying and reading at other times. Sr Sheila adapted a phrase well-known in monastic circles [Sit in your cell and your cell shall teach you everything] – something along the lines of ‘sit by the sea and the sea shall teach you everything’ and it felt very apt.

We were fed very well (immensely important in retreat, as you are expending more emotional/spiritual/physical energy than normal!), and the weather was occasionally warm enough to sit outside, although I am personally grateful that, while it was cloudy, it was not overly rainy, as one year in Suffolk when it rained solidly all week. We met at meals, at services and occasionally while out for a walk (although we obviously didn’t chat). On one occasion, I passed Sr Elizabeth on our way to the sea, and Sr Sheila has a photo taken from the top of the cliff with me at the bottom (at least, it is someone with my coat at the bottom, we are assuming I am wearing it!). Sunday morning came, with a Eucharist, after which we came out of retreat, in time to be able to join the Community for a talking dinner. After that, we were ready for another walk to the sea [Sr Pamela drove Mattie and met us there, with the help of mobile phones], although this time we could talk to each other, and buy an ice cream.

Our retreat is now commonly followed by two holiday days together, partly because it seems a shame to drive as far as Yorkshire and not see anything, and partly to give us a chance to spend some time relaxing with each other. This year, we went to explore a nearby town, Malton. We nearly didn’t as we followed the signs for the long stay car park but somehow lost them half way round, and ended up back on the road to Whitby, so I was tempted to drive straight back. However, we came upon the turning for Malton again, and found the short stay car park, and had a couple of hours there. We much appreciated the parish church, which had a lovely prayerful atmosphere. We came back via Pickering where we stopped for lunch by the river followed by a very quick look round the charity shops, having only an hour there. Luckily, Sr Elizabeth has been there before, so knew where the shops were. The next day is, by tradition, spent in Whitby itself, where we also know all the locations of the Charity shops, plus a café where we normally have fish and chips (although as I’m now vegetarian, the others had fish and chips and I had something else). Whitby is a very dog friendly town, so Mattie was able to get several drinks from various bowls left out for the purpose, and was also able to join us in a boat for a 20-minute trip to sea – on the waves this time, rather than watching them, and getting some real sea air.

Our time together came to an end, so we said goodbye to Sr Pamela, having carefully booked to come again next year. We had an easy drive back, although thankfully I noticed in time when we were joining the A1 from the A64 that I was taking them North and was able to move into the lane going South. I’m not sure I would have been too popular if, having got south of York, we then turned round and started heading North again! However lovely it is, we were headed home.

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