The founding father of Manresa Link was Fr Gerard W Hughes SJ, better known to many simply as Gerry Hughes. Gerry came to Birmingham in September 1985 with his own brief, but began to receive requests from local people for spiritual direction.
A growing interest
Together with Fr Ron Darwen SJ, who was in charge of the Jesuit novices at Manresa House in Harborne, and Sr Bernadette Arscott of the La Retraite congregation, they looked for people in Birmingham who were retreat-givers or spiritual directors.
They began to meet with the people they found, and out of that came the first individually given retreat, made by 44 people at St Mary's Catholic Church in Birmingham in December 1988.
The retreat was based on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. Instead of listening to an 'expert' instructing them in the spiritual life, retreatants were encouraged to listen to their own expertise and to trust the action of the Holy Spirit, continuously guiding them in all things. After praying on their own each day, they met with a prayer guide, who helped them reflect on what they had experienced.
Some of the retreatants continued to meet regularly to share their own prayer experience, and several showed interest in doing some elementary training to enable them to give this kind of retreat to others.
This led to the first basic course in prayer guiding.
A growing network
Meanwhile, still in 1988, Gerry Hughes joined forces with Fr Tom McGuinness SJ, Magdalen Lawlor, a Notre Dame Sister, and Srs Bernadette and Morag of La Retraite, followed by Rev Francis Palmer from Lichfield Cathedral. In January 1999, they attended a meeting at Harborne Hall, then a retreat house belonging to the Sisters of La Retraite, with representatives from all the churches in the area. Out of this coming together, The West Midlands Spirituality Network was born.
As part of this network, Sr Bernadette, Sr Magdalene, Sr Morag, Tom McGuinness and Gerry Hughes began organising further individually given parish retreats, eight day residential retreats, and basic training courses for prayer guides. This particular part of the network called itself Manresa Link, Manresa being the place where Ignatius of Loyola underwent a profound experience of God. There he began writing The Spiritual Exercises - a series of Scripture based, Christ-centred meditations and contemplations.
Soon after Manresa Link was formed it became more ecumenical, with Rev David Bosworth (Methodist) and Canon Marlene Parsons (Anglican) joining the core group. This ecumenical nature has remained at its heart ever since. By 2005, Manresa Link had about 200 members in and around the West Midlands, all of whom had made an individually given retreat of some kind, whether residential or in daily life, and had also done at least the basic course in prayer accompaniment and retreat-giving.
At various times, members have formed geographically based support groups to share spiritual growth, and to co-ordinate local retreat initiatives.
A Core Group exists to support the activities of Manresa Link members, to ensure good communication between the geographical groups and to facilitate further training. It is the key resource for information about the availability of retreat-givers and those who can provide other services such as supervision, guidance through the 19th Annotation, and spiritual direction.
Manresa Link organises a meeting of the whole membership twice a year (including the AGM) and also produces a twice yearly newsletter.
Our key calling it is to facilitate Retreats in Daily Life. We do this in parishes, Churches Together groups, colleges, business centres, and even in prisons. There are endless possibilities - and as an organic, growing, changing entity we are always open to new opportunities.
We try to live and act in such a way that God can be the God of love and compassion to us, and through us.
We welcome any who are interested, and try always to be inclusive.
Our work is based on the belief that God is at work in every individual. Thus the art of prayer accompaniment is not to provide information but to enable others to discover for themselves the spiritual wealth that is in them and in all their experience - to truly find God in all things.