From ‘Using your gifts’ to ‘Growing connectedness’
Whatever people might say about 2020, the common thread is probably that it didn’t turn out the way anyone expected. Quaker Voluntary Action was no exception. In January we planned a full year of retreats including visits to the Refugee Community Kitchen in Calais, old friends in the West Bank and Israel, a return visit to Borgo Basino eco-village and a study tour of Freiburg. Here in the UK we looked forward to our annual retreat at Swarthmoor and to forging new relationships with local voluntary sector partners in England and Scotland.
It’s tempting to think that all those things went by the board, steamrollered by the relentless spread of Covid-19, becoming lost intentions and things that ‘might have been’. Except that’s not the whole story. Before the initial lockdown, our first retreat of the year brought together a team of participants to support ASSIST Sheffield by decorating accommodation for use by asylum seekers.
As well as its impact for the residents, this event served as a model for a form of retreat we intend to develop when circumstances allow groups to meet again in safety. Being promoted to and attended by participants living locally, it fits the description of a ‘commuting retreat’: where individuals travel from their nearby homes each day rather than making a longer journey to a place far removed from their daily routine. In the coming months, this model may serve us well as lockdowns begin to relax whilst removing the complexities of managing safe social distancing in hosted accommodation.
But we see more significant benefits arising from the connections made between participants and retreat hosts local to them. If we can facilitate those connections through the events we create, the resulting shared experiences may have deeper, longer lasting resonances for all concerned.
As the year unfolded, we kept in touch with our partners, facilitators and participants, maintaining channels of communication and continuing to hold them in the light. There is a growing sense that people and organisations in vulnerable circumstances need connection more than ever. We are looking to uphold that through our programme of online events, soon to be released. It was one such an event with which we ended the year: a series of three online gatherings facilitated by Rosie Carnall and Evan Welkin, exploring ideas of creative spiritual and social action.
In the new world of socially distanced activities, we need to work harder to maintain and grow connectedness between ourselves and with the world around. So our retreats for 2021 will take up this theme, exploring the need to connect spirit and action, to hold connection between peoples and perhaps most urgently of all, reconnect our humanity with the natural world that supports us.
Follow our news and blog at qva.org.uk and get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to participate, offer a retreat venue or invite the Working Retreats Co-ordinator to speak. We look forward to connecting with you soon!