A church retreat is one of the best ways to bring congregations together outside the usual church building; it allows for solitude, space and time away from the everyday hustle and bustle of our daily lives.
The latest three-day, two-night Strangely Warmed Retreat (SWR) from 28 to 30 April by Wesley Methodist Church drew 92 participants to Changi Cove Hotel. Just 25 minutes away from the city centre of Singapore, Changi Cove is an oasis for a weekend of serenity and spiritual sharing that does not require elaborate planning or packing.
The retreat, which focuses on encountering God through the five faith environments in the Wesley Discipleship Model (WDM)*, offered Wesleyans a time to draw near to God. It also provided the space and opportunity to explore additional spiritual disciplines and a time to share often-under-articulated struggles in life.
Prior to the retreat, the participants had a church briefing to help everyone mentally prepare for the actual event. Each participant was given a retreat booklet detailing the itinerary, reading and devotional materials and a checklist of things to bring.
“The Strangely Warmed Retreat is a consecrated time that allows breakthroughs in the difficult or the seemingly mundane areas of our lives with God. In the breakthroughs, we pray that everyone will find the amazing joy and peace that our Lord truly desire us to have,” remarked David Mok, Chairperson of the Strangely Warmed Retreat under the Discipleship & Nurture (D&N) ministry.
Each year, the Strangely Warmed Retreat has a different theme that focuses on helping retreatants to encounter God through the pastor’s Word, personal solitude with God and group sharing.
This retreat is the third Strangely Warmed Retreat. The theme of this retreat is “Drawing Near”, and the theme verse is Hebrews 11:6 (ESV): “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”
“I was in the inaugural Strangely Warmed Retreat as a participant, and this is my second time participating in it as a facilitator,” said Monica Yan, the leader in charge (IC) of the women’s group. “At each retreat, I am amazed how God works in each of our lives and through the testimonies and smaller group sharing of our struggles and challenges and through our mutual sharing and prayers.”
The retreat was overseen by Rev Gladwin Lee and co-anchored by Rev Clement Ong and Rev Chia Chin Nam.
“As city dwellers, we are constantly overwhelmed by the noise and battered by the demands that scream for our attention, whether our crying child or our deadlines. Many of us are starving for the chance to take a holy and strategic pause in our lives to encounter God personally and to follow Him faithfully in our daily lives,” said Retreat Pastor Rev Gladwin Lee.
He continued: “This retreat has been intentionally designed for men and women from all walks of life to experience God intimately through spiritual practices such as heartfelt worship, practical messages, unhurried solitude and honest friendship. It is my vision that all Wesleyans may share John Wesley’s strangely warmed experience at Aldersgate Street on 24 May 1738 and become sacred companions—discerning God’s voice in solitude and offering our friendship to hear one another’s stories.”
The pastors presented several lessons and shared their life stories to help us reflect on our faith journeys and the areas that need more refining and transformations. Apart from building on the programme, activities and resources from the last two retreats, this retreat also saw two sisters from the laity, Vivienne Mok and Yeo Su Chen, who spoke about ‘Relationships’, ‘Obedience and Disciplines’.
Time with spiritual companions, Rev Chia Chin Nam and Yeo Su Chen, was also offered to those who wished to have someone to listen to and pray with them.
Throughout the retreat, participants circled back to drawing near to God through plenary sessions, sharing at a deep level in a safe space and learning and practising spiritual disciplines such as lectio divina and solitude.
The overall IC for this retreat, Alex Seow, particularly enjoyed his solitude with God: “A unique segment within the SWR is Personal Solitude with God (PSG). The PSG time was crafted intentionally to allow participants to slow down and spend personal quality time with God in their rooms or outdoors in nature—abundant in the vicinity of Changi Cove. The guided meditation, assignments and articles helped in self-reflection and personal application. We wanted the participants to be free from the hurried pace of life, listen to what God had to say to them, and speak He did to many.”
Besides listening to testimonies by the speakers, retreatants also gathered in a smaller group setting where exchanging of life stories continued. Of course, one of the most important things at the retreat was the conversations around the table during the breaks and mealtimes.
Old friendships were rekindled, bonds were forged, and connections were made as retreatants listened to one another’s joys and pains and shared hopes for the future and their Christian journeys.
Caryn Lim, a Wesleyan who has worshipped at Wesley for over 35 years came to the retreat with her 21-year-old son for the first time and was encouraged by the life stories: “I really appreciated the sharing of the personal stories I heard.”
Aileen Chin, 25, serving as a member of the worship team at the retreat, said she appreciated her facilitators for the additional time they put in outside of the retreat for training and preparation: “I thank them for their gentle guidance to draw us near to Christ as a group. My facilitators had even prepared the meaningful care packs and books for us.”
“I appreciated everybody journeying together through this retreat, for being open and keeping the safe space that allowed us to experience God’s presence tangibly through everyone’s sharing,” she continued.
Cheng Soon Keong, a returning facilitator for the second time, said one of his most enjoyable moments at the retreat is the personal solitude time with God (PSG): “Oddly enough, I enjoyed the PSG sessions when I heard, with my heart, God’s soft voice speaking to me. Under normal circumstances, PSG would not have made my top ten ‘preferred communication model’ as I thrive on multitasking in ‘all-round sound’ or noisy environments. The Strangely Warmed Retreat has allowed me to go to a deeper level of sharing personal difficulties as we come prepared to share or are prompted by the Holy Spirit.”
As retreatants listened to one another, many shared they heard God speaking life to them and experienced Him shining His light onto their current paths.
Summing up the essence of the retreat, Monica, the women’s group IC, said every young adult and adult Wesleyan should consider attending the retreat at least once to experience how the Lord speaks or moves us through our learning, solitude with Him and spiritual community: “God has called us to bear and build one another up in our faith journey. I hope every Wesleyan will take the time to come and spend that precious three days with God and His people. The friendships formed go beyond the retreat!”
*The Wesley Discipleship Model (WDM) comprises five faith environments including Significant Circumstances, Scriptural Obedience, Spiritual relationships, Spiritual Disciplines and Sacrificial Service (CORDS). To find out more about the WDM, please go to https://wesleymc.org/ministries/discipleship/discipleship-nurture
Hear what some of our retreatants have to say about the Strangely Warmed Retreat on 28 to 30 April 2023.
Alice Ling, Participant:
“I wanted to take a break from my hectic schedule and yet be in a spiritually uplifting environment. The authentic sharing touched me the most. I enjoyed the opportunity to practise the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude in a guided manner and the safe space for sharing amongst strangers where everyone is equally vulnerable without feeling judged. Sometimes because of the familiarity in a small group, it may be more difficult to share what is weighing heavily on my heart. The retreat deliberately has fewer participants in smaller groups in a local, cozy setting which makes it feel warmer. God spoke through His Word, through songs and the sharing by various people. I realised that I am not alone in my challenges and that God has always been present with me though I may be that wayward child running wild. I am encouraged to “speak Jesus” wherever God places me.”
Doris Hui, Facilitator:
“I have been blessed by the retreat and will always treasure the fellowship. This is not the end but only the beginning of a beautiful spiritual friendship together. Let us continue to encourage and spur one another onwards in our faith journey.”
Eddie Liew, Participant:
“I was very touched by the authentic sharing by the pastors and my group members. Being vulnerable in our sharing enabled us to build deeper relationships with one another. I learned I was not alone in many of my struggles, and the testimony of older members who went through similar challenges strengthened my faith in God for a future I only dared to hope for. It’s truly a privilege to do this apart from the busyness of my life. Practising lectio divina and the examen discipline helped me connect with God and listen to what He is saying to me.”
Lily Wang, Participant:
“My small group leader, Patricia, had encouraged me to come to the retreat. She shared with us that she was healed after the retreat. All the speakers’ testimonies touched me. I enjoyed knowing new friends in Christ during the group sharing. On the last day, we went to Changi Village beach to view the sunrise together as a small group. The sharing is quite authentic in a safe place. It focuses on an individual’s thoughts and relationship with God, not small group bible study or family study at church camp. I felt that I was not alone on this faithful journey when I listened to the speakers and group sharing. I have been encouraged in this spiritual family. We also prayed for each other. The facilitator and Su also prayed for me and strengthened me. Finally, I would like to thank the organising committee, worship team, pastors, facilitators and church for putting this retreat together.”
Serene Ho, Facilitator:
“After attending the inaugural Strangely Warmed Retreat last year, I am happy to return this time as a facilitator. It’s my way of paying forward the blessings I’ve received. Most of the ladies in my group from the first strangely warmed retreat volunteered as facilitators this time, as we have all been richly blessed by our first retreat. I was moved by the testimonies of both the pastors and participants. I was just floored by their courage to share vulnerably in front of a large audience, setting the tone for our small group conversations. My group bonded and shared authenticity from the get-go knowing that we were in a safe space. We shared, prayed, laughed and shed tears. The retreat has connected us upward, inward and outward spiritually! Thanks be to God!”
Sharon Ong, Facilitator:
“I have always wanted to go for a retreat as a couple. My husband and I couldn’t join the July 2022 Strangely Warmed Retreat as we had already planned a family trip. During the publicity of the second run, I was praying to God about going for the retreat as a couple when a brother encouraged my husband to join the retreat in December 2022. And we did; we went, and we heard. Through the worship, teachings, group sharing
, and personal solitude time, I was reminded that I am not alone in my suffering and that my spirit is being ministered to, as did my husband. So, after our first retreat, we were invited to serve as facilitators in our second retreat, and we both agreed to take up the invitation because we recognised that this could be a safe space for God’s people to enter (if everyone keeps what is heard and seen among retreatants and God). We benefited from the programme and would like to see more people attend the retreat, take time off from the cares of the world and sit at His feet. I find rest, I find peace, I find courage and God found me.”
William Loke, Participant:
“The personal sharing with people we met at the retreat was initially challenging. But the leadership shown by the pastors who took the lead to share their vulnerabilities personally created an open environment, assuring us that it’s okay to freely share without judgement, as all the sharings were done in a closed group and safe space setting. I enjoyed the programme lineup. The timing of each session was just right; overall, the Strangely Warmed Retreat was well organised and thoughtfully planned. I love the location of Changi Cove, which is very near to nature, which helped me to refresh my mind and soul and draw near to God. I have also enjoyed the worship. I want to mention we enjoyed the food catered. Overall, I have experienced the warmth and friendliness of the organising committee and the facilitators and participants during the retreat. It is simply an amazing experience, and I will look forward to experiencing it again.”
(All photos by Jacqueline Lok)
Focus on God. Faith-based Conversations. Fellowship
Do you desire to encounter God through listening to His Word and the sharing of other fellow Christians? Would you like honest conversations with Christian brothers or sisters who can encourage and empower you to share in a safe space?
Come encounter God at the next Strangely Warmed Retreat happening 8–10 September 2023, Friday to Sunday, at the Changi Cove Hotel at 351 Cranwell Road, Singapore 509866. Come and feel refreshed, re-energised, or to re-commit your spiritual walk in the Lord.
To find out more about the Strangely Warmed Retreat, please visit our website: https://wesleymc.org/dir2025-swr
To register, please use this link: http://www.wesley.sg/IDR (Registration will begin end May to end June 2023)