The foundation of a successful Christian retreat rests on a combination of lodging, meals, meeting spaces and a staff willing to address your group’s specific needs. And let’s not forget recreational options and the natural setting—many retreat centers are situated in some of the most beautiful places on God’s green earth.
Planning a retreat that will make a difference in your church members’ lives calls for homework, and choosing the camp, conference center or school campus is certainly a key part of the process. Ideally, you will make a site visit and meet with the staff before making a commitment. If it’s a youth group, rustic cabins with bunk beds or dormitory-style lodging will suffice. For adults, you probably will want to elevate it a notch or two.
Some retreat/conference centers and educational institutions have staff members who will help plan every aspect of your retreat. Others will just rent facilities and provide meals, leaving program development to you.
On 206 waterfront acres overlooking at the top of Chesapeake Bay, Sandy Cove Ministries in North East, Maryland, offers the ultimate setting for a seaside Christian retreat. Groups of all sizes have been coming to Sandy Cove for more than 70 years to reflect and renew their relationship with God. The hotel-style Chesapeake Lodge & Conference Center, built in the 1980s, has 150 guest rooms and suites providing space for up to 600 overnight guests. There also are amenity-filled log cabins with full bathrooms, plus rustic cabins and a campground with both RV and tent sites.
In surveys asking guests how they describe Sandy Cove to their friends, the No. 1 response has been it is “the most soothing, relaxing, breathtaking place to retreat on Chesapeake Bay,” said Mark P. Fisher, Inspiring Growth CEO and former president of Sandy Cove Ministries.
Meeting spaces at Sandy Cove include the Chapel, built in 1948 and updated in 2013; an auditorium seating up to 550; and meeting rooms for 20 to 100 guests. The Prayer Room, a quiet place to come and pray 24/7, has private prayer stations that guide you through a time of prayer and reflection, starting with adoration, then moving to confession and thanksgiving, and ending with supplication. Guests are invited to put their prayers to God on paper in “The Book of Remembrance.”
Sandy Cove’s marina offers canoeing, kayaking and paddle boating. Other facilities include two outdoor swimming pools, an enclosed sports pool with hot tub, a fitness center with treadmills and other exercise machines, softball and soccer fields, indoor and outdoor basketball and volleyball courts, tennis courts and a climbing wall, not to mention shuffleboard, mini golf and disc golf. The surrounding area abounds with excursion possibilities such as Turkey Point Lighthouse, antique shopping on Main Street in North East and Aberdeen Ironbirds baseball games at Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium.
In western Pennsylvania, Laurelville is the perfect Christian retreat center for communing with nature while connecting with God and fellow church members. Situated 45 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh, the woodland sanctuary lies in the foothills of the Laurel Highlands, which this year is enjoying notoriety as one of the Top 5 Emerging Destinations for 2020, as voted by readers of the website Travel Lemming. Founded by the Mennonite Church but open to all, it’s within driving distance of cities like Columbus, Cleveland and Harrisburg. Sprawling across 600 acres, Laurelville offers hiking trails, a swimming pool, ball fields, mini golf, and a gym for volleyball and basketball. Accommodations range from cottages, cabins and campsites to hotel and motel rooms with private bath.
In the Blue Ridge Mountains near Hendersonville, North Carolina, the Episcopal Church’s Kanuga covers 1,400 acres, with a lake for swimming, fishing, canoeing and paddle boarding. Other recreational options: a gymnasium, climbing wall, archery range, tennis courts and hiking trails. Groups can stay at the newly renovated, 61-room Kanuga Lake Inn or in cottages, guesthouses and dormitory-style buildings. Among the many gathering places are 18 meeting spaces, a historic chapel that seats 250 and three outdoor chapels. Kanuga also has a labyrinth and meditation garden.
Mountain views also provide inspiration at Angeles Crest Christian Camp, a 1½-hour drive from Los Angeles. Sitting at the pinnacle of the San Gabriel range, the campus spreads across 100 acres of Angeles National Forest. Promoted as “Southern California’s 5-Star Christian Camp,” Angeles Crest can handle groups of up to 250, with accommodations in two cabin areas. Each of the 19 cabins sleeps 14-16 persons in wood-frame bunk beds. The dining room offers all-you-can-eat meals, and a large deck allows for outdoor dining in summer.
Camp guests enjoy hiking trails, a swimming pool, and paddle boating and canoeing on the lake. Other recreational options include a paintball course, laser tag, sand volleyball, an archery range, zip line, trampoline and climbing wall. A chapel across from the pool seats 250 and is the largest indoor meeting space. The amphitheater is equipped with fiberglass benches, a campfire pit, and a stage with a movie screen and sound and lighting systems.
In western Indiana, the leafy campus of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College provides a peaceful setting 10 minutes from downtown Terre Haute. Founded in the mid-1800s under the leadership of Mother Theodore Guerin, a French nun who became Indiana’s first saint, the small Catholic school is awash in history. Retreat-goers, who stay in the cottage-like hermitages or nearby hotels, will find many points of interests, including a shrine and statue to Saint Mother Theodore, the exquisite Blessed Sacrament Chapel, the French-inspired Church of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto.
A herd of alpacas, raised for their soft fleece, highlight a walk through the organic farm and gardens, a project of the school’s White Violet Center for Eco-Justice. The outdoor Cosmic Walk, a spiral trail posted with 23 signs, takes you on a reflective journey through significant moments of the unfolding of life in the universe. The Sisters of Providence and other staff members at St. Mary-of-the-Woods will work with you to develop a retreat program on topics such as prayer, spirituality, contemplative living, Scripture and eco-justice.
By Randy Mink