At sea with God
Four women Baptist ministers set out on a retreat with a difference in August - on a sailing boat off the west coast of Scotland
‘At Sea with God’ took place on Moelwyn a 34’ sailing boat skippered by the Revd Marg Hardcastle of Stoke Baptist Church.
Marg had for some time wanted to combine the experience of sailing with intentional spiritual reflection, and persuaded never-been-sailing-before friend Angie Tunstall to lead an experimental retreat, inviting along other women ministers.
Over the past six years Marg has hosted many people aboard Moelwyn, including several Baptist ministers, to experience sailing often for the first time. It was obvious that for a lot of them sailing connected with their spiritual lives - through the physical experience of being in the natural world of sea, wind, and sky but also through many metaphors, such as going where the wind takes you, coming into a safe harbour, casting off your ropes, and the obvious one: having the wind in your sails. 'There is something deeply connecting for the inner life when travelling by the power of the wind in the open sea with just the sound of the water rushing by,' she says.
Having offered the trip via a post on the women ministers’ Facebook group Jane Robson from Hitchin and Rosie Walker from Ayr signed up straight away. Jane hadn’t been sailing before but Rosie had some previous experience from a few years back. Each day had guided retreat time led by Angie supported by a resource pack including ideas for spiritual exercises. There was time given both to sailing and to spending time ashore.
One day was spent on the island of Bute walking to a beautiful beach where Angie created a sand labyrinth and one special morning was spent on Holy Island near Arran, so-called because St Molaise was a hermit there in the 7th century; an island now owned and run by the Sam ye Ling Buddhist centre, where the peacefulness was all pervading. The four sat overlooking Lamlash Bay and Arran in the sunshine and shared reflections from their inner and outer journeys so far.
The sailing was 'quite exhilarating at times', says Marg, due to stronger winds than had been hoped for, but the new crew coped 'admirably' especially on the three-hour sail over to Arran heeled over with two reefs in the sails, crashing through the white-horse waves, (thankfully the next day was flat calm). No-one got seasick which was a bonus, and the bays and lochs provided safe and sheltered moorings for the night. New skills were learnt - tacking, winching, tying knots, navigating through narrow islands, and helming close to the wind. It was good teamwork.
'All greatly appreciated the retreat materials and leading by Angie and found the silence and space to connect with God really refreshing,' continues Marg. 'Patience was well practised living in a small space together and new friendships were made. There was plenty of laughter too and the delicious evening meals were enjoyed sat in the cockpit looking at the wonderful views of lochs and islands.
'Angie and I concluded it was definitely something to try again next season.'