Bronagh reflects on attending and leading retreats to explore how we use our gifts, and how we may not always see the fruits of our work.

I recently attended a beautiful retreat led by Margaret Silf held at The Briery Retreat Centre in Ilkley. The retreat was entitled ‘Harvest Home’, offering myself and over 30 fellow retreatants a day to reflect on the harvest of our lives, guided by scripture and story.

Sat in my car about to drive home from the retreat, I decided to take a few moments to write to Margaret and offer my thanks and feedback on how I had experienced the day.

I shared with Margaret how I can often feel stuck when I attempt to name what my gifts are, how I acknowledge if they make any difference and how will I know if I’m on the right path. Her retreat was filled with wisdoms, anecdotes and allegories, and her stories and insights helped me frame some of those big questions with grace and the innocence.

As I continued to type my email, a humbling moment of honesty inspired me to delve deeper as I shared with Margaret how I took time between sessions to make extensive notes, prompted by her searching questions.

In my email, I told Margaret…

“During your retreat, I envisaged your allegories through the lens of my childhood playfulness and naivety. My imagination took me on a journey back to 1984, aged 7, accompanied by fond memories surrounding my First Holy Communion. I focused on the beauty and innocence of my childhood, set against a backdrop of partition in Northern Ireland, bomb scares and British military harshness towards our Catholic community. I allowed myself to reconnect with the beautiful mystery and miracle of the Eucharistic Meal that I was fascinated with and comforted by. Soon after my first Holy Communion celebration, I declared that I would like to become a priest when I grew up. I recalled with sadness how my mother broke the news to me that I would never be a priest, and not even be allowed to follow in the footsteps of my two older brothers to become an altar server. I honestly thought it was within my gift to hold a position of ministry and I was certain I didn’t want to be a nun.

My gift, I believe, is the ministry of empowering Christians, church leaders and people of faith who are creatively bringing the wisdom of the gospels to relief here in Leeds, underpinned by social justice.”

As I prepared for a retreat I was leading as few days later, I reflected on how I can harvest my talents and gifts, and worked some of the wisdoms from Margaret into the Creativity Carousel retreat I delivered at LCI on Saturday 23rd September.

I began the Creativity Carousel retreat day by focusing on imagery of seeds and creation stories. We looked at the parable of the Sower. I asked everyone to focus on how we all start from a small seed, that has imprinted a pre-destined plan. We reflected on Jesus’ words: “I am the vine, you are the branches”. Our group was a true ecumenical mix of Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Methodist and Anglican. We are all part of one body in Christ, connected to the same vine, one humanity, just as one cell or seed is part of the whole of creation.  We asked people to bring along something they have been working on, a new idea or the ‘seed’ of an idea we can share to inspire one another. Suzi brought a collage of ideas cut out from magazines. Sue brought some wooden and knitted figures she was preparing for Sunday school lessons.

We looked at metaphors of growth and how we nourish ourselves creatively and spiritually to inspire others. We talked about how at times we can become ‘pot bound’, and that to grow and flourish we need support – tenderness and feeding. We talked about how the mustard seed knows it will be a mustard tree, but does not know it will be a shelter for birds. Mary shared that she has had an Acer tree in her garden over 20 years, grown from a small plant. It is now home to nesting birds who come and go each year. Sometimes we need to take time to flourish, and not rush and expect results as soon as we plant the seed. We may even never see the fruits of our labour, but we can trust that our gifts will continue to have value for people far beyond our reach.

Finally, we talked about the fruit of our labours, and the legacy or impact we will have on the social concerns in our faith settings. Creativity Carousel was set up with help from the Street Pastors, and even though Diane and Ursula from Street Pastors couldn’t be with us, they sent their encouragement for our retreat, and we prayed the Street Pastor prayer from the book Landscape Liturgies: ‘Let us rejoice that God’s Kingdom will keep on growing’. This then inspired artwork from Sue on the Street Pastor reflection on Isiah. Ursula will not have known that she’s inspire this, but we must have faith in our ability to plant seeds and nourish even if we don’t know where it will lead.

I reflect on the work of LCI, and our origin story. What Walter Hook started in Leeds Church Institute 170 years ago, we are carrying on today. He will not see the fruits of his hard work, just as we will not always see the impact of the work of our hands. I’m looking forward to seeing our creative retreats continue to grow next year, and continue to inspire far beyond the groups that attend.

Recommended reading: Landscape Liturgies: Resources to celebrate and bless the Earth by Nick Mayhew-Smith and Sarah Brush