Downside Abbey 2008 - How can I be sure?

Written by Andrew Hawkins – BANG! Secretary 2007–2008

A change of scene for this years’ retreat, though thankfully all the classic hallmarks of a BANG! retreat were very much in evidence – random (and often excruciatingly mathematical) conversation, light hearted discussion and cake-related merriment. Our new base was Bainesbury House, an attractive little dwelling about 10 minutes walk from Downside Abbey, Stratton-on-the-Fosse.

While Alison and Christine, retreat coordinators for the year, ran on ahead with a few helpers to organise all the food and make the retreat centre cosy for us, the majority loitered in Bath bus station for the 17.35 bus. Three quarters of hour later and we crawled our way off (owing to helpful directions from a fellow passenger), with all our luggage but minus Ed’s cake which one suspects lies in the bowels of the bus depot to this day.

We fumbled our way to the cottage in the rapidly decaying light, to be introduced to our guest speaker for the weekend, Stephen Mares, who would lead a trio of talks entitled “How can I be sure”, examining how we are to make moral and theological decisions. The next hour set the tone for the rest of the weekend, with much humorous quotation, including Alison helpfully pointing out that for Stephen to use the projector we would need to move Jesus out of the way (a picture of the latter hung directly in the path of the projector Stephen used for the talk). Assorted cuddly toys were frequently exchanged across the room, including the ever-present Grizzly Steve and the adorable Tigger.

Supper ensued, which comprised of sausages, beans and fried potatoes, and in which all were reintroduced to the popular assassins game which had manifested itself during last years retreat. Each person was required to induce another prescribed person to say one of four words to carry out the assassination, which included a common taboo word that was soon identified to be the infamous word “quiche”. Adam was quickly ensnared by Amy after a discussion on the Archbishop of Canterbury forced him to mention the word “Synod”. This heralded an unprecedented killing spree by Amy in which no less than six people fell to their “deaths”. It transpired that each assassination contract included a theological term, in which Ann fell to the hands of Tom with “Unitarian”. There was an unwritten rule prohibiting the usage of mathematical terminology during the weekend, but this appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.

The first discussion focused on the methods by which theological and moral decisions are made, from the use of scripture to reasoning, experience and tradition. We made an enduring acquaintance with a mythical builder named Bob, who was often to be found between the slides assembling the above methods in one giant wall. By then several members were getting somewhat cake-hungry, which we quickly put to rights before assembling in a make-shift chapel for evening prayer, led by Ruth. This was followed by two rounds of the BANG! signature game, otherwise known as Werewolf. This provided an ideal opportunity for Tom to commit two more ritual killings of Ann, while Stephen and Andrew declared their undying love for each other, as did Adam and Amy under slightly unexpected circumstances. People found their way to bed at strategic points over the next two or three hours.

…But not for long, for the sunrise walk made history this year by virtue of over half of all people taking part in a brave exploration through damp mist, copious amounts of mud and clay and tackling wire fences in various places. We convened for breakfast and morning prayer led by Adam, before returning to the living room for our second discussion in which we became reacquainted with Bob and in which we applied the content of the first session to two particular areas, namely alcohol consumption (particularly at parties) and medical transplants, focusing on the responsibilities that Christians are to take in these areas. A party then left to explore the Abbey itself, while the catering contingent stayed behind to prepare lunch and suffer at the hands of Amy in the assassins game.

After lunch was the final discussion which Stephen led, this time on social justice in food production and transportation, including fair-trade food and a discussion on food miles, looking at ways in which positive response can be made at a personal level and as a community. After another cake break and a round of photos, which marked Stephen’s departure and Angela’s arrival, it was time for the afternoon walk. The walk, though the lush Somerset fields, provided plenty of enticing diversions – tree houses, passing streams in which to play Poohsticks and a general mad scramble to negotiate the giant mud patches and waterlogged paths. We called at Bainesbury House for cake, albeit briefly, before many people went down to the Abbey for Vespers.

Alison, Christine and Ruth prepared a formal meal for supper, complete with wine and the request that we wear something smart (which alas many people weren’t able to do). After a plethora of games including Pictionary and Twister, it was time for evening prayers again before people made slow and steady progress to bed.

Sunday dawned and with it the inevitability that we would have to clear the house and clean the toilets etc. After breakfast, Angela led a special morning Eucharist for us, after which the clearing up began in earnest, though there was always plenty of cake to be had for those who were still hungry. The quotes were announced and counted, the conclusion being that Christine was the leader with a commendable eight quotes. Assassins was also called off at that point, with Katie, Andrew and Arthur emerging victorious.

There was enough time for another round of Werewolf, a game once again won by the two werewolves unscathed, before it was time for most of us to leave. The final twist in the weekend was carrying our bulky suitcases across the woods to Chilcompton, which took around twenty minutes (but with complementary ice cream courtesy of Tom as we passed the Co-op), to catch the bus back to Bath.