Animal Welfare Retreat

Caring and advocating for animals, and endeavouring to live compassionately, can be a lonely and disheartening experience in a world in which the plight of so many suffering sentient beings seems to be lowest on any political and religious agenda, and does not seem to matter in the lifestyle choices of most people around us.

Catholic Concern for Animals’ annual Ecumenical Animal Welfare Retreat provides a unique opportunity to come together, each year, with like-minded people for a relaxing, spiritually and emotionally regenerating, three-night break including stimulating talks, thoughtful liturgies and prayer-times, and social activities in a peaceful retreat centre. Everyone is warmly welcome, regardless of their religious beliefs, and will be sure to leave energised, supported and encouraged to continue in their own advocacy and compassionate lifestyle choices.

Annually, the retreat takes place at a different location around the UK, to enable people living in different parts of the country to participate. Members of Catholic Concern for Animals receive a £50 discount on the retreat fees. Each year, the location and cost of the retreat is announced through our magazine The Ark (which members receive free of charge) and through the Events page of our website.

Below you find reports from past retreats, which we hope will entice you to come along to our next retreat event.

Past Retreats

2018 – Hinsley Hall, Leeds

The 2018 CCA Ecumenical Retreat was held at Hinsley Hall in Leeds from Monday 10th to Thursday 13th September. As well as masses and thoughtful liturgies and prayers which focused on the animal creation, there were a number thought-provoking speakers. Dr Deborah Jones spoke about ‘Faith Food’ explaining what foods people of different faiths ate and the reasons for their preferences. Dr Clara Mancini spoke about her work at the Open University with animals as co-designers, where researchers are using a new ethics for working with animals when designing technology that animals have to interface with, to encourage the animals they work with to tell them what their preferences are. This is a game-changing breakthrough in ethics in animal research. Clara also gave this talk at the Norwich Conference and it is the subject of her article in this edition of The Ark. Dr Richard Ryder spoke about advocacy, speciesism and painism, a talk also presented at the Norwich Conference and the subject of his article in this edition. Barbara Gardnerspoke about The Animal Interfaith Alliance (AIA) and its work with Animal Advocacy and the Law, particularly the ground-breaking work of the Nonhuman Rights Project that AIA is supporting, where animal lawyer, Prof. Steve Wise takes cases to court in the US to argue for the recognition of legal personhood for chimpanzees, elephants and whales in law and to give them the right of freedom. This was the subject of a talk that I gave at the Animal Law Conference in Berlin in the summer and is reported on in the autumn 2018 edition of Animal Spirit.

The guest speakers were Fr Denis Keating who spoke about his experiences as a Roman Catholic priest and Sue Malcolm, founder of Friends of Baxter Animal Care who spoke about her new organisation which provides Reiki healing to animals.

Prayers were held in the morning and evening and were led by Ken Kearsey, John and Wendy Brayshaw, Judy Gibbons and Wanda Oberman and Fr Denis Keating who also held the masses. A wonderfully uplifting event was the Musings, Meditations and Music, designed and led by Irene Casey. Finally everyone made merry at the Musical Interlude on the last day.

The Retreat was, as always, a spiritually uplifting and refreshing and re-energising event. When, in one session, we went around the room asking people why they came to the Retreat, most people agreed that they often felt isolated, as people who were concerned about animal suffering, in their home communities and they needed the comradeship of like-minded people. This comradeship was certainly found here. With that comradeship and the ability to share in some wonderful vegan catering provided by the staff of Hinsley Hall, we all left refreshed and renewed. 

2017 – Holland House

The 2017 CCA/ASWA run Ecumenical Animal Welfare Retreat, organised by Irene Casey of CCA, was held on Monday 4th September to Thursday 6th September at the beautiful Holland House in Cropthorne, Worcestershire, where there was a selection of prayer services, eucharists, masses and talks and where delightful vegetarian and vegan food was served. Catholic masses were led by Fr Peter Slocombe and Fr Denis Keating and the Anglican Eucharist and prayer services were led by Fr Martin Henig. A service was also led by Dr Deborah Jones, CCA’s vice-chair and hymns were sung with words especially themed for animals by CCA trustee, Wanda Oberman.

Fr Martin talked on the subjects of The Fur Trade: Cruelty in the Cause of Fashion and The Way of the Saints: Engaging with Other Animals as Fellow Creatures of God. CCA’s Chair-Emeritus, Dr Edward Echlin, talked on Animals and the Common Good, Ark Editor, Barbara Gardner talked about Reconnecting with our Religions: the often forgotten and frequently overlooked teachings on compassion for animals and Dr Richard Ryder, CCA’s scientific adviser, talked about campaigning and the importance of letter writing. He urged everyone to write to their MP every month on animal welfare issues. CCA Chief Executive, Chris Fegan talked about the work of CCA in facing the threats posed by Brexit and other external economic and political factors and introduced Gerald Taylor who had been commissioned to review the current state of animal rights.

The highlight of the retreat was the presentation of CCA’s St Francis Award to Joyce D’Silva, former Chief Executive and Ambassador of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) for her tireless work in getting animal welfare into EU legislation and, in particular, for getting animals recognised as sentient beings in Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty. Joyce gave a talk on how this was achieved and on CIWF’s other successes. The award was presented by CCA Chair, Judy Gibbons.

2016 – Charney Manor

by Chris Fegan

The CCA Annual Retreat this year was held in the wonderful Quaker run and administered Charney Manor Conference & Retreat Centre in Oxfordshire.

The Retreat is always a great Ecumenical event and this year was no different, with colleagues and friends from differing traditions – and especially our friends from the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals (ASWA).

It is always lovely to see people returning year after year, but also fantastic to see ‘first-timers’ enjoying their first retreat, and we had a very nice mix of participants in that respect this year.

An absolute bonus was that we were able to enjoy our religious services in the breathtaking St Peter’s Church, Charney Basset which dates back to Norman and even Saxon times and which is stunning.

As we begin to plan next years event, I would encourage all CCA members and supporters to consider attending this glorious few days away, in the company of colleagues, all of whom are continuing to work (and play) hard for the whole of God’s creation.

2015 – Noddfa

by Wendy and John Brayshaw

What a joy and privilege to stay at Noddfa again, for what is one of the most important events on our calendar and what a big Thank You is due to Irene Casey for her excellent planning and organising. Our thanks are also due to Sisters Mary Jo, Patrisse, Patricia, Bernadette and Pauline for looking after us so well during our stay. We were welcomed not only by the sisters but also by some friendly hens, guinea fowl and an adorable puss called Dash (who rarely dashed anywhere!).

Our speakers were all excellent – those we had had the pleasure of meeting last year and those joining us for the first time this year. They included the Rev. Prof. Martin Henig (Vice President of ASWA), David Clough (Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of Chester), Chris Fegan (General Secretary of CCA), Jenny Amphaerus (currently an M.A. linguistics student at Bangor University), and Dr Richard Ryder (Scientific Advisor to CCA).

Many topics and issues were spoken about and discussed, one of the most important being the possible repeal of the Act banning hunting with dogs. We all earnestly prayed that this would not happen and agreed we must all write to influential people on the subject expressing our strongest of objections. Repeal would be a green light for animal abuse and cruelty. Other subjects included Christian Stewardship, the question of why Christian Churches are generally so negative with regard to animals, God’s deliverance for animals (future belief and present challenge), animal welfare work being undertaken in Malta, the language of animals and the lessons to be learned from play in the animal kingdom. Some quotes from speakers included:-

‘CCA and ASWA must not be the world’s best kept secrets.’

‘What God had reason to create, He also had reason to redeem.’

‘As regards factory farming, we are crucifying Christ again, knocking in another nail.’

‘With reference to broiler houses, we are running concentration camps.’

‘Our cruelty to animals is in contempt of the tears falling from our Saviour’s eyes as He hung on the cross.’

‘Hunting is a sin!’

Something really wonderful we would like to comment on is the superb display boards that Chris organised and which were in view for us to enjoy and meditate on and appreciate throughout the retreat. Absolutely brilliant. We hope readers of The Ark and Animal Watch will be able to see pictures of these.

A very welcome newcomer to the Retreat this year was Margaret Pinder. For several years Margaret has had a passionate dream. She longs for the creation of a special National Day for Animals in Need in the same way that we already have a special day for Children in Need. She has been in touch so far with a number of influential people (without much success), so if any reader of The Ark feels inspired to help make this dream become a reality, Margaret would be thrilled to hear from you. Irene Casey has her address.

On leaving Noddfa, a special place to visit is the wonderful pet cemetery at Bryford, Holywell. Here we lovingly remembered dear James Thompson, the Animal Padre, who took so many pet services there during his lifetime. It was an opportunity to give heartfelt thanks and praise for all his work on behalf of our beloved animals.

To conclude, do try and come next year. We believe you will find the programme and whole experience very encouraging, stimulating and worthwhile.

2014 – Noddfa

by Fiona Rosen

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!

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!