Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Ecclesia Network’s church planting training with my good friend Steven Evans. It was an amazing week filled with unbelievable training combined with potential and promising friendships. Our group of fellow church planters was intentionally kept small (about 15 of us), which made the overall feel more comfortable and intimate. Over the next few days/weeks I will be posting on our time of learning, praying, and planning. Here is the first part.
This is the backside of the retreat center where we slept, ate, conversed, prayed and learned. Upon arriving at our destination, we felt an immediate sense of both escape and of being at a place of peace. The irenic feel of Richmond Hill was something I’ve only felt a few other places: the hillside church in Africa, the High Braes Refuge, and Indian Lake in the Adirondacks to name a few. Even though it was raining the weather wasn’t getting in the way of our initial calm ending our 8.5 hour drive.
Richmond Hill is basically on the top of a big hill facing the city of Richmond. Originally built circa the Civil War, it was built as a monastery for those who would pray for the citizens of Richmond. Apparently, there is the remains of the largest slave market in America nearby contrasted by the seemingly ironic setting of Patrick Henry’s famous, “Give me liberty of give me death.” Ironic because of its contrasting freedom of whites with that of the Africans. Needless to say, the racial reconciliation needed in the area, and still needed for that matter, was of utmost importance. Hence the need for an intentional community praying for the people of Richmond, both now and then.
The grounds are spectacular in both their natural beauty and their spiritual beckoning. G.K. Chesterton says we shouldn’t call nature our Mother. Rather we should call her our Sister since we both have the same Father. With that in mind we can laugh with her humor and revel in her beauty as a fellow creature of God. There were silent alcoves furnished with garden chairs for those seeking God’s Spirit in the wind-swept paths. It was the epitome of what you would want in your backyard if you had the money and effort to have your own retreat out your back door.
The community that lives and manages Richmond Hill was as inspiring as the beauty of the grounds and architecture of yesteryear. Following in the footsteps of their spiritual forebears, the current community is intentional in the purpose. They live there for the benefit of the citizens of Richmond through prayer, services, meals, and other servant-oriented realms. The daily rhythm of prayer at 7am, noon, and 6pm were enriching ways to slow ourselves down and join in communal prayer. I enjoyed the rhythmic patterns that we were allowed to join in with, especially because of the liturgical form each prayer session took. The responsive prayer tells me that they value the common unified voice of the people. We pray as the people of God, together in one voice without losing the individuality of each person. Community does not deny the individual; it enhances it.
Communal prayer was always followed by communal dining. The community prepares, serves, and cleans up for those whom are visiting. In prayer we seek out God for the benefit of others. In food we get to know others around what God has provided for us. And when I say food, I mean unbelievably good food. With such good food, it was hard not to laugh and listen with strangers who were quickly becoming fellow partners in the gospel.
Every aspect of Richmond Hill as a location was unbelievable and helpful in the culmination of the Ecclesia Network’s training. It all came together in the aesthetics of our locale and this was just our first day. The beauty of the people and place of Richmond Hill were the proper antecedents for the days that followed. Below are a few more pictures of the place. I’ll let them speak for themselves. Enjoy. (If you want to see the bigger pics, let me know.)