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Sensing Creation: Open Circle’s Retreat Weekend

News St Martin – Talking Points

Friday 31 January 2014

Open Circle is the friendly 20s and 30s + group at St. Martin’s.  This year, we held our annual retreat (Jan 17-19) at Hilfield, the Anglican Franciscan friary set in the hills, forests and farm-lands of Dorset.

“Sensing Creation” was our theme: reconnecting with each other, with the environment, and with our purpose as Christians.  Even those of us who live in the city can touch, hear, smell, taste, and live in a more connected way.  We can use our hands and our feet consciously; we can ‘earth’ ourselves better.  During the weekend, Sacred Worship, Sacred Study, Sacred Work and Sacred Play all helped us rediscover these links. 

There have been Fransiscan brothers in Hilfield valley since 1921, serving the homeless, providing community, and offering a space for prayer, reflection, and renewal. Today they place particular emphasis on peace, justice, and environmentalism.  They live in harmony with trees, animals, and farmland; they pay attention to where their food comes from; they cultivate local biodiversity.

We shared meals and afternoon prayers with our retreat leader, Br Sam, and with the other members of the Hilfield community. The programme also included bread baking, basket weaving, and log splitting; Bible study; and a creative Bread on the Edge Eucharist. 

On Saturday night we each shared where we felt most connected, along with the thoughts and feelings that those places bring up: joy and sadness; hopefulness and helplessness; things that matter and people we love; memories of pain and oppression. 

On Sunday morning, Br Sam challenged us to look ahead.  Tackling ecological problems means more than solar panels and high-efficiency light bulbs. It must also be about a radical Christian conversion. Some people felt energised by this prospect; others felt discouraged. Perhaps sustainability will one day become part of the DNA of St Martins, just as concern and care for the homeless is part of our identity today. Can we learn to talk about embracing sustainability as a part of the story of our personal Christian conversion?

Open Circle members had much to say about the weekend: ‘a new way to link Christianity and the environment’; ‘diverse activities and profoundly spiritual’; ‘we developed a real sense of community’; ‘the brothers completely embrace their surroundings and their community – I couldn’t help but feed off their positive, warm and non-judgemental energy’; ‘God, may you deepen our connection with each other, with your creation, and with our Christian vocation.’