Monday, May 14, 2007

Richmond Hill

I just returned from a discernment retreat in Richmond, Virginia. While the retreat was great, it wasn't what I want to focus on. I really want to focus on the Richmond Hill Retreat Center in Richmond where we stayed. At first I wasn't incredibly impressed; it's an older building in the middle of Richmond, Virginia. So there are no sprawling meadows or vast mountains to climb. Instead there's a gorgeous garden with two small Koi ponds (real fish so it's a Koi pond, right?), lots of old trees and some gorgeous flowers.

The view from that garden? Smoke stacks, train tracks and a freeway. Plus I loved the deep ditch between the garden and the brick wall; it was exactly like the pit they put in lion cages at the zoo so they can't climb out.

When I got the information about the center it mentioned bringing a robe because they have communal showers and bathrooms. Of course I was thinking of big open gym showers. Instead it's not nearly as bad. They have four bathrooms on the floor shared by about 8 rooms. But it's all private, so that was pretty nice.

If I were to have any complaint it'd be that it was freaking hot the first two days, up into the low 90's. I like it cool, and I love it pretty cold at night. As we all asked for the air conditioning to be turned on, the answer was essentially (though gently), "no". In the end it wasn't too terrible since I was up ridiculously late and could barely keep my eyes open when I rolled into bed. But man, should the focus be on the attendees/customers?

Really though, what Richmond Hill exceeds at is hospitality. The food was pretty amazing for a retreat center. Unfortunately, though I tried to get them to buy us all steak it never worked out. They made up for it though by having big old tubs of both buttered and unbuttered popcorn in a common room at 9:30 each night.

The people there are just amazing. Both those on the retreat, the people in Richmond and the workers of the center. Friday night I was pretty exhausted, but went down to the common room for some popcorn. I flopped in a sofa and proceeded to talk to their food director (I can't remember the real title) for over an hour. He's just an amazing guy from California who got to Richmond via Japan, London and New York. He loves to make some interesting and unique meals for people while also working in a church and hoping to express his art.

Saturday I was even more exhausted from not sleeping well the night before (see the A/C concern above) and headed down for a small cup of popcorn. I ended up sitting with some retreat attendees, the same food coordinator, and a couple who recently moved into the center with a commitment to service and becoming a part of the community around them. These two are buying a house so that they can open it up for meals and companionship to the families in their low income community. They also work as worship leaders at a local church where they are certainly in the racial minority (I mean, they are the only two Caucasians in an all black church). It has nothing to do with race or trying to break down those specific walls, it's all about their commitment to Christ and helping others find his love. Needless to say, all of us were up until 11:45.

Also Saturday while walking around downtown Richmond and being blissfully lost I stumbled upon the Fountain Bookstore. I stopped in and immediately saw some signed books by John Scalzi, a Sci-Fi author whose blog I've been following the past few weeks. Turns out he did his Richmond book signing there; I was just a few days too late. It was ok though, I bought a bunch of stuff (don't tell my wife) and ended up talking to the check-out lady (are women that are graduating college kids, girls or ladies, or am I just too old now that everyone is a kid?) for over 10 minutes. She's an amazingly interesting person who is passionate about drama and history, heading up to Maryland to be with her boyfriend and start a teaching career.

I went to bed both nights feeling a closeness to these strangers that I hadn't found since my Mississippi mission trip. I only wish I'd gotten all of their contact information.

I arrived at the center wondering what I'd gotten myself into. I left wanting everyone else to get into it too.



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