Mark Mesley finds that the Caister Retreat Conference reaches parts that other catholics cannot reach

I ATTENDED CAISTER for the first time last year and would love to go again this year. Unfortunately it clashes with the first week of term at St Stephen’s House. This is just two weeks before exams so I’m going to miss out this year. I’ve been asked to give my impressions of last year’s retreat/conference. Perhaps I should start off by saying that I’ve come to the Anglo-Catholic position after several years in the evangelical tradition and have also been influenced by the charismatic movement. Therefore, the ‘evangelical catholic’ ethos of Caister really appealed to me. For example, it was good to meet together in small groups for Bible study and prayer.

This reminded me of my first ‘Spring Harvest’ in 1991, which was a real blessing to me. The absence of such a large scale teaching week/celebration in the Catholic tradition has been rectified by Bishop Lindsay Urwin. The first Caister (1996) was simply a retreat for Clergy (plus wives) and religious. Since then it has been opened to lay people and taken off.

It has the potential to grow into something much bigger. The only drawback is the absence of a children’s programme, which means that unlike ‘Spring Harvest’ this is not really an event for the whole family. It could be suggested for future years that the conference needs to move to a two week programme, one of which should be during the school holidays to attract families. It would also help students who find it difficult to get a whole week off their studies.

The theme last year was Sing the Lord’s Song and the keynote speakers developed different aspects of the Lord’s Prayer in the main teaching sessions. I found Bishop Michael Marshall’s talk particularly inspiring. I have to say that I was impressed by Caister and thought that Bishop Lindsay did a great job. He has just the right sort of gifts and personality for running Caister. His double act with Br Angelo SSF was hilarious. It was great to see Anglican Catholics laughing and enjoying themselves.

One of the dangers of being an orthodox stalwart is that the political battles, necessary as they are, can poison your spirituality and engender a bitter streak. To my mind, Caister is a good antidote to such negativity and the tendency to be too introspective. There is something unique about over 600 people celebrating Mass in a joyful way. For those who come from small, struggling parishes this is a foretaste of heaven and offers a glimpse of how things could be.

The hour of prayer each day before the Blessed Sacrament provides a period of silent prayer and reflection that makes the Caister experience special and justifies the term ‘retreat’. But the week would not be everyone’s cup of tea – if you think modern worship songs are anathema, then Caister is not for you … On the other hand, if you are open to a mixture of modern and traditional worship styles then you will really enjoy yourself. Prayer Book Catholics might also feet a little aggrieved, as the daily Mass is modem rite and it would be a good idea to have a BCP service at some stage.

My friends Mark and Helen Whiting were also at Caister for the first time last year. Mark is a fellow ordinand at St Stephen’s House -in fact they had just got married and were on their honeymoon! Bishop Lindsay interviewed them on the last night, so they were famous.

I asked them for some feedback as well. Helen, who is from a Roman Catholic family, was pleased to discover “a group of Catholic Christians coming together in worship and praise of the Lord Jesus Christ”. It has obviously given her a positive view of Anglo-Catholicism. Mark and Helen have also been influenced by the charismatic movement and felt that they were experiencing a form of Anglo-Catholicism that was not afraid to experiment without being ‘over the top’. They also greatly appreciated the Blessed Sacrament Hour. Unlike some other events, Mark felt that, “Caister was forward looking and offered hope, adoration and healing”.

The service of reconciliation on the Thursday evening was particularly moving and provided a number of people with the opportunity to make their first sacramental confession.

This year’s Conference/Retreat is entitled “Glory to Glory” and Bishops Geoffrey Rowell and Paul Richardson are among the main speakers. So you can be sure, that the teaching will be orthodox. In fact there won’t be a Caister Conference next year, as the organisers are taking a break; so if you were thinking of going but are hesitating, don’t miss this opportunity.

Contact the Retreat Secretary:

Mrs Shirley Steers
Bishop’s House
21 Guildford Road
West Sussex RH12 ILU

Hotline – Tel. 01403 211139

Mark Mesley is an ordinand at St Stephen’s House, Oxford