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Retreats provide a spirit of peace

The high desert of the Southwest, a quiet respite near a bustling New England city, the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, a quiet century-old Pennsylvania retreat house, a Midwestern getaway with Unity as part of its name and its purpose: These five very different places all offer religious groups the chance to detach and decompress.

To retreat from the day-to-day and discover new ways of thinking and relating to each other, church groups can take advantage of the settings and the services of one of these retreat centers.


Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center

Carefree, Arizona

The Bible is filled with references to the desert.

Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center, 45 minutes north of Phoenix in the Sonoran Desert, welcomes people of all faiths to its mountain and desert setting to reflect, discuss, discover and grow.

“The founder wanted people to be able to get away. The Bible has many references to going to the desert, where God can renew or work upon your heart,” said Cyndy Warnier, center staff member.

About three-fourths of retreats there are faith based; nearly all are Christian.

“We function for everything from church to corporate retreats. Businesses come for team building, some wanting spiritual discipline in their workplaces,” said Warnier. “We also do an initiative called living with significance in your ‘Third Chapter of Life.’”

The program focuses on health, wholeness and well-being in the years following child rearing, careers and other life milestones.

Spirit in the Desert doesn’t function as a church, but it has two chapels available for services. Warner is a musician and worship director.

“We connect people to local spiritual directors,” she said. “The Arizona Ecumenical Council has people available from many backgrounds. If a group is from a certain denomination, we’ll match them up.”


Rolling Ridge Retreat Center

North Andover, Massachusetts

Rolling Ridge Retreat Center, 40 miles north of Boston, is a former country summer cottage. Today, the lakeside estate hosts groups from many backgrounds and offers 40 programs a year in four categories: spiritual formation and leadership, health and wellness, peace and justice, and the environment and earth care.

“We’re angling to become New England’s premier retreat and conference center. We’ve been working on that for several years,” said Joanna Ouelette, director of sales and operations. “We realized we weren’t reaching far enough. Our reputation is expanding far beyond this region.”

Being near major airports and highways is an advantage for Rolling Ridge. Solitude is another plus. Its 38 acres adjoin a quiet lake, where there are no sounds of jet skis or motorboats. Prayer walking paths, outdoor and indoor labyrinths, and a wellness center enhance the peaceful setting.

“We offer Christian hospitality from the kitchen, housekeeping and guest service staff. They treat guests as special,” said Larry Peacock, the center’s director.

The importance of green space for a retreat can’t be overstated, Peacock said. “Studies show that in this crazy, busy, stressed world, nothing is as healing as being in nature’s peaceful, tranquil places.”


WinShape Retreat Center

Mount Berry, Georgia

Talk about getting away from it all: WinShape Retreat Center in northwest Georgia is 90 minutes from Atlanta where the southern Appalachian Mountain range begins. Surrounded by forests, meadows and streams, WinShape (as in “Shaping Winners”) is part of a 26,000-acre wildlife preserve.

“It’s very quiet and removed from the distractions of life, allowing people to focus on relationships most important to them, whether in marriage, leadership or business,” said Betty Bergen, manager of sales and marketing. “Above all, a relationship with the Lord can be focused in the midst of all that.”

Groups often partake in weekend marriage retreats, but during the week, boards of church leaders, college trustees and directors of ministries retreat there.

“They’re normally busy on weekends, so the middle of the week is a good time for them to get away,” said Bergen.

Guests go to WinShape for personal introspection and meaningful connections with others and with God. They also go to decompress. To relieve stress, WinShape encourages groups to have unscheduled time, something they might not be lucky enough to have in daily life. Guests can bike ride, walk, hike or fish. 


Malvern Retreat House

Malvern, Pennsylvania

Malvern Retreat House, 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia, is a retreat center for men, women, married couples, families, youth and clergy. Although it is Catholic in tradition, people of all faiths are welcome to retreats.

“We have 42 Men of Malvern and Women of Malvern programs a year and 125 other types of groups using our facilities. Some high schools use us three or four times a year,” said James Fitzsimmons, Malvern’s president. “We have about 20,000 retreatants a year on our property.”

For Catholics at the Men and Women of Malvern retreats, offerings may include Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation, the rosary or the Stations of the Cross.

“We are blessed to have a beautiful facility with the capacity to host 100 retreatants at a time,” said Fitzsimmons. “We have well-kept buildings and grounds, whether you are here in winter in the middle of snow or in summer with all our flowers blooming. We give you 125 acres for private meditation to escape the pace of our daily lives.”

The center recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, and Fitzsimmons estimates that 1.2 million people have attended retreats through the decades. Last year’s commemoration was “just a prologue for Malvern’s next 100 years,” he said.


Unity Village Retreat Center

Unity Village, Missouri

Unity Village Retreat Center in Unity Village, Missouri, near Kansas City, is open to people of all faiths and beliefs. Its presenters, peaceful accommodations, healthful cuisine and attentive guest service allow participants to renew their faith and energy.

“It is a safe, sacred place where people come to grow in spirit and discover deep connection to God or faith,” said Tara Hitzig, general manager of the new Awaken Whole Life Center, which is taking retreats at Unity Village to a new level.

At the new center, “we have a medical director, an M.D., a naturopath, counselors, therapists, Ph.D. psychologists and spiritual directors for guided prayer and meditation,” said Hitzig. “We have an acupuncturist and a chiropractor, energy healers and body workers.”

Unity Village’s 16-acre campus includes a hotel and a LEED certified conference center.

“We have a nine-hole golf course, an outdoor pool, an outdoor labyrinth and a two-mile nature fitness trail that surrounds one of our lakes. We have beautiful fountains and amazing rose gardens,” said Hitzig, “and many private chapels open 24 hours a day for prayer or meditation.

Dan Dickson

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