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Lee Abbey in Devon harnesses a natural stream for hydro-electricity

Since 2008 the EcoRetreat newsletter, distributed by ARC, has been celebrating a green revolution quietly growing among the hundreds of retreat centres across the UK.

The green challenge

The contemplative retreat, like pilgrimage, has been a sacred activity within the Christian tradition since its earliest times. A retreat experience offers the faithful the opportunity to slip away from the distracting chaos of day-to-day business and restore life’s spiritual dimension. And while this experience could happen anywhere it is often best undertaken in the tranquility of the countryside where the quiet beauty of nature contributes to the restoration of spiritual and psychological well-being.

Ever since the time of St Francis of Assisi there has been a well-established tradition of using retreats to rediscover the beauty of God’s creation and humanity’s place within it. The growth of environmentalism within religion, however, also places a responsibility on Christians to model good stewardship of the natural world for a sustainable future. For many retreat centres this is not new: for years they have foraged for firewood, fetched free-range eggs from the hedgerows or grown food organically in kitchen gardens nourished by compost from food waste. However the environmental challenges and technical opportunities of the 21st century mean that there is always more to be done and many retreat centres have picked up the gauntlet of sustainability with admirable sincerity.

At Bryndolau in Carmarthenshire they keep a small flock of rescued sheep (and eat a vegetarian diet)
Spreading the word

It was recognising their commitment and seeing the opportunity to share the ideas, inspiration and achievements of green retreat centres that led ARC to develop the EcoRetreat Newsletter in 2008. Using The Retreat Association’s invaluable annual handbook, centres across the country were contacted and many replied with stories of renewable energy, wildlife conservation, environmentally-friendly food practices, bee-keeping and other sustainability strategies.

As these stories have been circulated through the newsletter so many more examples have emerged, giving a sense of how much the retreat centre network is a place where green commitment has become a growing issue, with hundreds of volunteers involved alongside the resident staff or communities. As some centres have developed this investment there are even examples of green buildings being constructed using sustainability principles in every aspect of their design.

Crucially, it is also clear how this commitment is an essential part of the spiritual purpose of retreat centres, representing an important learning opportunity for those who use them. Using information packs, themed days, websites and many other ways these special places are helping their visitors recognise the link between care for the environment and their duty to God. In this way the green message is hopefully being taken up by many thousands of people every year who will, in their turn, take it back to their everyday lives and communities.

Refugee people staying at Minsteracres in Northumberland help harvest potatoes in the organic kitchen garden
Inspirational ideas

From that first edition in December 2008 onwards the EcoRetreat newsletter has been gathering exciting examples of practical environmental action from small cost-free changes to massive structural investments. The collected back numbers offer an inspirational range of suggestions that could benefit any retreat centre looking to go green and address its carbon footprint.

Read more

Greening The Retreats is an extract from an article written by ARC’s Victoria Finlay about developing the EcoRetreat Newsletter

You can read back copies of the EcoRetreat Newsletter in our archive

Some examples of retreat centres that have taken on the green agenda

A case study of one retreat that has built an eco-house

Order a copy of the Retreat Associations latest annual handbook here

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Related information

Jan 21, 2014:
Greening the Retreats - how the EcoRetreat Newsletter came about
A feature article published in Retreats 2014, the latest edition of the annual handbook of The Retreat Association finds Victoria Finlay, ARC Communications Director, reflecting on the different ways retreat centres can promote sustainability.
Christian Eco Retreat Newsletters
Archive of eco retreat newsletters.
December 20, 2010:
The Othona Bradwell Community builds a new eco house
This year Othona Bradwell opened a new eco-complex with timber frame and rammed-mud wall, for housing visitors and volunteers. This is the story of how they built it.