What could be more appealing - a weekend, a retreat, to worship, reflect and relax - especially before the frenetic build-up to the end of the school term? A small group of ladies packed their luggage into my car (some having bigger bags than others!) and set off for Oak Hall. We found this vast building nestled in the Otford hillside. A Christian Retreat occupied by Oak Hall Expeditions. We found our way to the lounge through the labyrinth of corridors and were warmly welcomed and shown to our room. This contained three sets of bunk beds and much hilarity was had by all, deciding who was to sleep on the top bunk and all the creaking that ensued!! Dinner was served in the Tudor dining hall. That evening we worshiped and then had a ‘Getting to know you’ session. I found myself squirm in my seat a little but of course this would be the perfect start to an amazing weekend. After circulating we were then asked to study two religious paintings, pick one and decide; Where am I? We proceeded to join a small group and discuss where we found ourselves in the picture and where we would like to be. Were we near Jesus? Or not on the page at all! The ultimate question was ‘What is stopping me from being closer to Jesus?’ This did throw up emotion from some members but none the less we were in a safe environment. The session came to a close as the sky turned a rosy hue over the panoramic views of the English countryside and we all marvelled at the sheer beauty.
Saturday morning began with breakfast followed by worship. Then time to ponder, What does your life look like? Draw a quick timeline with any ups and downs. What was happening alongside those ups and downs? Then find someone that you don’t know and discuss your findings with them. By this point we were getting to know the ladies better but Jean, our speaker, made it clear that if we didn’t want to share everything we didn’t have too. My partner felt that after 40+ our lives tended to plateau more after recovering from our misspent youth!
We took a break and a few brave ladies decided to take a dip in the outside pool, but we preferred to sit and chat and do crafts (candle-making, colouring stained glass windows etc), while looking out at the amazing view. Treatments, such as facials, back massage and Indian head massage were available that day and we all enjoyed the treatments. We were also openly invited to join Jean Kerr, our speaker, in private prayer sessions, which many took advantage of.
Two guided walks took place, one mile to the village pub or a five-mile round trip. We decided to wander the fields in our small group, thinking that we would meander and end up back at base without any problems. Oh no! One and a half hours later we reached the top of the hillside where a sign read 650ft! There behind us stood the Crucifix, marking the perimeter of Oak Hall. We were near yet so far, a barbed wire fence in our way. We did consider climbing the fence but decided after much huffing and puffing we would have to descend a little to find the public footpath once again. Reflecting on that moment I wonder whether God teaches us that we have to take the slower, longer road to him. It is in his time after all.
After dinner, our evening session began with worship and a time to think about our Ikigai or vocation. In Japan, broken objects are repaired with gold. The flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history, which adds to its beauty. We were asked to consider this when we feel broken. Following the discussion, we prayed. A candle was lit for each one of us and we processed to a stone walled area in the garden, the floor partially covered by broken plant pots. Here we placed our candle amongst these pieces and stood quietly together. I can’t explain how precious these moments were. A real in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit was present. There is something to be said about a group of women (sorry gents!), opening up, sharing within a safe space before God.
That evening we all gathered around a roaring bonfire, with hot chocolates and marshmallows, singing worship songs with Ruth leading us on guitar. These were mainly modern songs, Lighthouse being a particular favourite of mine. Then it was back to our bunks and a good night’s sleep.
Our last morning and we all took part in a service of Holy Communion. Becky was asked to serve, which was wonderful to see. We faced the rolling hills which were our backdrop.
Today’s reflection centred on the theme of Mountains from the Bible. We were asked to consider Which was our mountain?
· Mount Ararat – Noah, the mountain of a fresh start
· Mount Sinai – the mount of finding holy ground
· Mount Carmel – crying out to God for Help
· Unnamed mount – the mountain class room. Facing the hard sayings of Jesus
· The temple mount – the high mountain – the place of temptation
· Mount Tabor – the mount where heaven is revealed
The final part of our journey on this weekend was to go off on our own for half an hour to spend some quiet time with the Lord.
So maybe you might like to decide which your mountain is and spend time with God, listening to what he has to say?