Ecumenical Retreat in Noddfa – May 2014



(First published in The Ark edition 228 and reprinted here with kind permission.)


HAVING NOT ATTENDED the annual CCA retreat for a couple of years, I was looking forward to my trip to the Noddfa retreat house in Penmaenmaur, North Wales. I was told I would have to tell the guard that I wanted the train to stop at Penmaenmaur station as it was a ‘request stop’. I realised then that this would be a trip full of new and interesting experiences!

Retreat 2

A Place of Welcome and Peace

Very relieved that the train had actually stopped (I was not, in fact, the only passenger alighting), I was met at the station by Sister Patrice and driven up the hill to Noddfa. The retreat centre is in a beautiful spot surrounded by mountains and with views of the sea. The word ‘Noddfa’ means haven or refuge, a place of welcome and peace, and as soon as you enter the driveway the peace enfolds you. The grounds are beautiful and extensive with wooded glades and paths, and you can experience one of the two Labyrinths and the Cosmic Walk. Apart from the beauty of the village down the hill and the surrounding countryside, you could happily spend all your time just sitting in the peace and stillness of the grounds.

One Big, Happy Family

But we were not just there for peace and stillness. There was noise and excitement as people began to arrive and greet one another on Monday afternoon. After a delicious supper served by the Sisters (and the rest of the meals were to be just as good) we had a good introductory session where we all said something about ourselves and one principal concern for animal welfare which we wished to bring forward.

Although I had not seen some people for a while, and there were others I had not met before, we were soon all one big, happy family again, united in our passion for animals and looking forward to an inspiring time ahead. We finished with Night Prayers in the chapel, a lovely place where we would be spending plenty of time over the next few days.

Prayers and Talks

Tuesday began with Morning Prayers and a spot of gentle exercise to get us ready for the day, saying the Lord’s Prayer with arm actions! Our first talk was given by a good friend of CCA, Rev. Dr Martin Henig, on The Naturalist at prayer: a reflection on Christian love and our relations with the Natural World. Rev. Dr Julie Hopkins then took us on a journey with Holy hermits and their creature companions, which continued on in the afternoon session. I am sure I am not the only one who now feels inspired to visit the islands and hermitages where these gentle saints and mystics lived. After supper, Martin Henig spoke on Fleas, flies, mosquitoes and locusts – God’s creatures too! and the discussion afterwards even sang the praises of head lice… a thought provoking talk indeed!  

Strategic Planning

After a Eucharistic Service led by Martin in the Chapel on Wednesday morning, our new General Secretary, Chris Fegan, led us in discussions on our future with ‘Animal welfare and a religious perspective’ and ‘CCA in the modern world’. We all went forth feeling inspired and challenged and confident that, under Chris’s direction and leadership, we will continue to make a difference in both the human and animal worlds…. which is all one world, anyway.

We were joined in the afternoon by Rev. Helen Hall, the Chair of ASWA (Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals), who spoke on Animals and Christian law. Another inspiring talk, but I was left feeling even more worried and, I suppose, infuriated by the way in which perpetrators of animal cruelty can slip through the net in civil law and offend again and again. 

An Evening of Music

To lighten the mood, we all enjoyed evening prayers and a musical interlude provided by Deborah, Wanda and Judy, then it was a chance to let our hair down with poetry, music, song and dance, and suitable refreshment was provided to help us on our way.

The final morning – gosh, was it that time already? – and Morning Prayer with Martin, then we gathered to watch a DVD on Honouring God’s Creation before our plenary session, feeding back our thoughts and comments on the past few days and our hopes and challenges for the future.

The Fight for Justice and Freedom from Suffering

A really inspiring and joyful few days but, as always, not without pain, as we considered the pain and suffering of God’s creatures which surround us in so many ways, sharing events and experiences. The peace and beauty of Noddfa contrasting sharply to the anger and agony which was roused in us, but that is how it must be. We cannot just sit in the peace and beauty but, equally, we must not let ourselves be defeated by the pain. We must appreciate and enjoy and rejoice in God’s creation and continue to fight for justice and freedom from suffering for all its members, whether they be fluffy, cuddly and easy to love or not!

Thank You to All!

On a personal note, I would like to express my thanks to all who worked so hard to organise such a wonderful retreat, where we could all come together, irrespective of our denominational backgrounds, and gain strength and inspiration from one another. And a special thank you to the Sisters who run Noddfa and maintain such a holy and peaceful haven, truly a special place. Thank you, also, to the event organiser, CCA trustee, Irene Casey.

The details and venue of next year’s CCA ecumenical retreat will be announced in due course, but I do urge everyone, especially if you have not attended before or do not see yourself as a ‘retreat’ sort of person… do go… I can promise that you will be inspired, refreshed, challenged, roused, and perhaps angered and upset at times … but don’t just wait to read the report of how good it was … be there!




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