Religious Retreat Centers: Finding the Right One for Your Group

Religious Retreat Centers: Finding the Right One for Your Group

The concept of visiting a religious retreat center certainly isn’t new. It is understandable, though, why doing so is gaining popularity.

We live in a complicated world that’s filled with distractions. We’re multi-tasking as we juggle family, career and personal obligations.

Going to a peaceful place helps us find what might be missing in our lives, and we do not have to go very far to get back in touch with ourselves.

There’s somewhere in the vicinity of 1,200 to 1,500 retreat centers in the U.S. A survey conducted by and reported in AARP The Magazine article found that 50 percent of the respondents were looking to enhance spirituality as their reason for visiting a religious retreat center. Others visit retreat centers seeking personal growth, while some simply want to commune with and develop a deeper appreciation of nature.

The question now surfaces, “If charged to find a religious retreat center, how do I proceed?” At the risk of oversimplification, I suggest you begin the search in your own backyard. For example, if you live in Massachusetts, you’ll find almost a dozen retreat centers listed online. displays 81 retreats. Each listing provides varying amounts of information, from faith affiliation and activities to type of retreats hosted and their focus.

Virtually every state, Canadian province and most countries have retreat centers. California is the leader with more than 270. Once a list of possible retreat centers has been established, the research begins in earnest. The next step is to determine if we are only interested in a faith- based retreat center.

Religious retreat centers for every denomination

The website shows more that 400 Catholic centers run by Benedictine, Jesuit and other orders. That’s just in the continental United States.

From Presbyterians, Methodist and Quakers to Episcopalians, Lutherans and Baptists, there’s a retreat center for your denomination. There are even centers that are purely ecumenical. You do not necessarily need to adhere to the spiritual value of the particular denomination, but you should respect the faith of its members.

Redemptorist Renewal Center of Picture Rocks

Redemptorist Renewal Center of Picture Rocks

Every retreat center has its own individual focus. Located in Tucson, Ariz., the Redemptorist Renewal Center of Picture Rocks provides a place for “solitude, reflection, prayer and contemplative practice.” Set in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains and Sonoran Desert, it has a definite appeal to the nature lover. The Church of Our Lady of the Desert is recognized by the Diocese of Tucson as a conventional church but does not offer traditional parish services.

The Emrich Retreat Center at Parishfield in Brighton, Mich. offers a natural location where “groups explore spiritual growth, education and community building” in a peaceful and serene setting. Built in the 1940s and ’50s, the accommodations and meeting rooms have a rustic charm.

Once you are satisfied the retreat center is both convenient and the proper focus for your group, there are still a few questions remaining. Are the accommodations suitable for your group? Are meals provided, or are there adequate kitchen facilities to handle your group’s needs? Is a retreat or inspirational leader needed?

The lodging question is answered by the size of your group, privacy concerns, comfort required and cost. Will dormitory living while sharing a bathroom be satisfactory, or is a more upscale accommodation with the amenities of home required? Beware that many retreat centers do not offer telephones and televisions in the room. In fact, you might not have cell reception or Wi-Fi available. Mercy!

Although some retreats may encourage fasting along with your meditation, most people who attend retreats will need to be fed. If you have the option and the price is not prohibitive, take advantage of the facility’s food service. Buffet- or family-style meals, if available, certainly relieve the work involved in planning and preparing your own meals. There is also a lot to be said for the joy of preparing a meal with friends and family. We all usually end up in the kitchen anyway.

The pastor, youth minister or other church leader is the ideal person to organize an outing at religious retreat centers. However, they may be too familiar to lead the group. The setting is quite different than home, and isn’t that the whole purpose of going on retreat? Of course, we certainly don’t want to see any Elmer Gantry-style leader. After all, the atmosphere should be one of serenity. Work with your retreat center. It’s possible they can provide a leadership package or recommend a source. Do your homework and get recommendations from past attendees.

–By Dave Bodle, Associate Publisher