Guy Yeomans at Downside AbbeySpirituality vs Church

An article in The Guardian on 23 May 2016, reported a survey of religion pointing to an ongoing decline in people who identify with a particular church. According to the report, more people in England and Wales – 48.5% – now identify as ‘No Religion’, compared to the 43.8% who identify with a Christian Church. The number who actually attend church regularly is declining and much lower too. The Times of December 24, 2016, reported attendance averages just 750,000 (or less than 1.8% of the population) at Church of England services each Sunday.


However, a BBC News story of 18 October 2013 stated that “despite the falling popularity of organised religion, most people in the UK still believe in the power of spiritual forces”, including over a third of those who identify as ‘No religion’. But while spirituality remains significant for a large majority of people, most don’t naturally associate ‘Spirituality’ with ‘Church’.


Yet the Christian Church has a long and rich tradition of providing what many are seeking and refer to as ‘spirituality’.


Starting Saturday January 28 (9.30am-4.30pm), the monks of the Benedictine Abbey at Downside are hosting a series of monthly day retreats (Saturdays Jan 28, Feb 18, March 25, April 29 and May 20), based on the ‘Spiritual Exercises’ of St Ignatius (founder of the Jesuits). These are designed to help people meditate using their imaginations, focused mainly on the story of Jesus presented in the Gospels. The series will be facilitated by Guy Yeomans, an Australian Baptist minister working with WEBA, who has been trained by and worked with the Jesuits as a ‘spiritual director’ to companion people on their faith journeys.


‘It might seem strange for a Baptist Minister to work with a Catholic Religious Order, but encountering Ignatian spirituality at a time when my own life and faith had gone through a ‘dark night’, was and continues to be life-giving. I want to be able to share it with others, both those outside the church who are seeking something spiritual, and also those from church backgrounds, who are looking to deepen their prayer life, have experienced a ‘dark night’ without really coming fully through it, have been burnt by church or are struggling with long term spiritual dryness. ’ Guy explained.


The first retreat day will be an introductory ‘taster’ with some input and explanation from Guy but mainly time in quiet to experience it. Then if that resonates, people can book the other retreat days which follow monthly through to May. There is also opportunity to extend the retreat day into a longer residential retreat for which Guy will offer free spiritual direction.


Recommended donation: £10 (includes light refreshments; bring your own lunch). For further information about the series, contact Guy Yeomans at or 074 3539 4618.

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