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I’ve always enjoyed being on retreat and I’ve always enjoyed helping to lead retreats, and the Irish Chaplaincy Summer Retreat via zoom conference was no disappointment.

In the middle of the week it was remarked on in our retreat team check-in that a real sense of community had been established amongst the participants. And I’d been struck by the comment of Catherine in that morning’s session how even people not on the retreat were being touched by what was happening. She had shared with friends the recordings of each day’s reflection and noted how “ripples were spreading outwards”.

Even if there was a set format to each morning’s session, every day was slightly different, so too the composition of the group, as we’d made it clear from the outset that people could attend as many or as few of the sessions as they could, and were free to fit the sessions into their ‘normal’ daily life; although, let’s be honest, who knows what normal is anymore! I would play a little bit of instrumental music on the guitar as people arrived on screen (and one day my friend Jenny played the flute), then once all were assembled I’d read out any little messages from participants regarding their experience of the previous day, and share any photos that had been sent. One very special picture was of Ann (who, it turned out, lived two roads away from my sister in Coventry, and knew as well the street where my dad had lived in digs in the 50s) on a bench at the coast in South Wales overlooking the sea, the bench having been put there in memory of her parents and at the spot where she and her Welsh mother and Irish father would sit and rest and watch the sea and the Irish ferry coming into Swansea docks (I had mentioned in my reflection on the first day, in the context of sacred spaces, a bench in my garden where I had often sat in the first weeks of the lockdown, and this bench had featured on the retreat poster!). I’d then sing a little meditative song and we would be together in silence for four minutes and what a rich silence that was. It was followed by a reflection from a different member of the team, and the themes included: ‘Go into the mountains’, ‘He touched me’, ‘Life to the full- finding your treasure’, and ‘Looking ahead with hope.’

There would be a final song, and a blessing from a different person each day. And the retreat concluded with a blessing and a message of hope from Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and with each person saying what they were thankful for about the week. Some of the comments were:

“I found this ‘remote’ retreat very helpful and a great source of spiritual nurture.”

“A real blessing to have this time of being quiet, and to be part of this new little community.”

“Very uplifting.”

“Thank you for reminding us to take things more relaxed and notice things we wouldn’t otherwise see.”

“Such a blessing to be with you this week.”

“Fantastic few days.”

I know how important music is on retreat (and at events and in life generally!) and had the privilege of sharing some of my own favourites, and including on the first day a song of my own that I’d written when I’d been on retreat last year in North Wales. On the Tuesday I’d chosen the well-known hymn ‘I watch the Sunrise’ and explained that it had been written by John Glynn (when he was convalescing) in the very house of the Mercy sisters at Clacton-on-sea where Moira and Kathleen live now and where we’ve spent a couple of Irish Chaplaincy Away Days. Following the session I received a message from one of the group to say: “That song was played at my mum’s funeral; she was the very epitome of sunshine to everyone she met; and it is coming up to her 1st year anniversary.  I think she was sending me a lovely sign through you. Thank you.” How we touch one another (and create little ripples) in ways we may never even know.

It was a privilege and a pleasure for us as a team to organise and to participate in the week, and we were all agreed that there would be more Irish Chaplaincy zoom retreats to come.

Eddie Gilmore

Author Eddie Gilmore

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