Jan Peach and the team at The Kilbroney Centre waved off their last group on Sunday 15 March 2020. They, like the rest of us, had no idea what the next year would bring and what a roller coaster ride it would be. But the centre has hung on and experienced the goodness of God throughout. Jan recounts their year…
“The sinking dread of group after group cancelling was heart breaking, especially as 2020 was to be our busiest year to date. Every weekend was booked by youth groups and churches and we were due to have 13 primary schools visit us for our mid–week primary residential programme between Easter and the end of June. The centre was just coming into bloom physically with the forest just starting to bud and colour and metaphorically as far ministry was concerned. The day we locked up was hard but we thought we’d only be away for a few weeks.
“The lockdown also meant a break in our intern year. September 2019 had seen the start of our first Intern Gap Year and it had been a real joy. Adam, Rachel and Charlotte had been such a blessing to the centre and I had enjoyed “looking after them” as they spent their first time away from home. A few weeks previously they’d returned from their staff training retreat in Scotland and were ready to hit the ground running for the remaining 5 months.
“As the months progressed to the summer our hearts began to sink that little bit more when we realised that the Kilbroney Camps wouldn’t be happening. I think this was the hardest wrench for me personally. Anyone that knows me knows what I feel about these camps and the thought of all those kids and young people missing the opportunities that the camps bring for friendship, adventure and spiritual growth was a bitter pill to swallow. This place is so special to them, indeed many of them call it a home from home.
A positive attitude
“However, our despondency soon turned to an attitude of “What can we do?” With extensive grounds and outdoor space we knew we had to use the resources God had given us. We ran two tented family breaks. Families brought their own tent and we provided everything else – food, activities, bible teaching and (outdoor!) singing. They were a great success and although numbers were small we’ve already been asked to do it again in 2021.
“Our wide open outdoor space also meant that we could host four Sunday worship and teaching evenings in our outdoor classroom. At that stage 30 people could meet outside, so with lashings of sanitiser, social distancing and everyone bringing their own deck chairs we had times of fellowship “together”.
“At the end of the summer we said a tearful goodbye to our 2019/2020 Interns and buckled up for what the autumn and winter would bring. It quickly became obvious that welcoming residential guests would be out of the question so Noel (our legendary Grounds and Maintenance Manager) and I set to work on upgrading the buildings and grounds. During the summer we had already begun to refurbish the games room and repaint the outside of the Bracken building with the help of some amazing volunteers, but we rolled up our sleeves and made the most of the quiet time without guests on–site. So far we’ve redecorated bedrooms, completely overhauled the conservatory and with the skills of Bryn Swift and Matt Peach, rebuilt bridges, campfire areas and are about to start building a new BBQ area.
“The local church at Kilbroney have been a real blessing to us during this time. It was a privilege to be able to “accommodate” them in our car–park for some drive–in church services and local church members have regularly kept an eye on the site when we weren’t about. A real highlight was hosting Kilbroney, Warrenpoint and Clonallon Parishes at an open air, socially distanced carol service the Sunday before Christmas. It was a bitterly cold clear night but Bishop Darren, the musicians and the handbell group refocused our gaze on the Lord Jesus and the wonder of his birth in Bethlehem. It was mentioned that the outdoor classroom nearly resembled a stable (with fairy lights!).
“So what have we learned? Firstly I am not in control. Who knew? We have had to depend fully on God during this time and not lean on our own understanding. He has provided for our needs and we are so grateful for that. Financially He has kept us going, through grants, donations and the furlough scheme. Like the children of Israel and the manna in the wilderness we have enough for the day we are in and are dependent on Him to keep us going.
“Secondly, if we didn’t already know it, we have been challenged by the need for a space like Kilbroney, especially for children and young people. We know they have missed this place (they tell us, as do their parents!) and we cannot wait until we are able to welcome them back. We know there is much ground to make up. From Leviticus we are introduced to the idea of Sabbath years when the Lord commanded the people to leave the ground fallow for a year. During this time the ground would not be ploughed or tilled and then on the 8th year the people were allowed to work the land again. With hindsight now it feels a bit like a fallow year. We were blessed so much in the run up, we’ve been looked after in the fallow year and we look forward to when we can start the work again.”
With thanks to Jan Peach, Kilbroney Centre Development Officer