All Hallows, Ditchingham, is a convent comprising four houses and a huge chapel, surrounded by 10 acres of beautiful grounds. It has been home to a Christian community for more than 150 years and, now, a group of youth workers are reimagining it for the 21st Century. Together we are enacting their vision for a brand-new religious community whose life of prayer is focused on young people, and a spiritual retreat centre for young people and those people who work with them, known as With.
Who is it for?
Young people aged between 10 and 25, and youth workers of all Christian traditions who would benefit from an inclusive, creative space in which to explore and strengthen their faith, supported by a live-in community committed to serving them spiritually, emotionally and practically.
What will it look like in practice?
There are three main pillars of the 21st Century All Hallows:
- With: Community, a body of Christians living on site and beyond, dedicated to a rule of life and prayer, with a shared commitment to serving young people.
- With: Retreat. A retreat centre facilitated by the community, where young people, and those who work with them, will come for single and multi-day retreats to receive spiritual nourishment, explore their relationship with God in engaging and creative ways, and improve their physical and mental wellbeing, learning new skills and reclaiming old ones that will enable them continue in their life of faith for years to come.
- With: Online. An online reflection of the rule of life in the form of an app, which will connect the physical With Community with a wider digital community, enabling those who have been on retreats or aren’t able to be present at the site to follow the With prayer rhythms remotely.
How is it different from a traditional retreat centre?
It won’t be totally different, in fact it’s very important to us that the long tradition of Christian communities offering spiritual refreshment is reflected in the future life of All Hallows. But it will be bespoke, designed specifically to meet the needs of young people and those who work with them. It will be also tailored to the challenges of this point in our national and spiritual history, and will continue to evolve and respond to the ebb and flow of those challenges in the years to come.
There will be a very practical aspect to With retreats: an exploration of different kinds of prayer and worship that will help young people and youth workers to foster routines and tools that work for them individually – be they Ignatian exercises or prayer through arts or music – and will help them to sustain a living faith. Crucially, we will give young people and youth workers something beyond the initial buzz of an intense shared spiritual experience. The fostering of spiritual practices and rhythms, and having online access to the WITH app, will maintain momentum after the end of retreats so that young people and youth workers can continue to be part of the rule of life and benefit from its structure throughout their own daily routines.
All Hallows will be a space for young people to be with each other, with God and with the world in which they live.
Why is it needed?
Adolescence has always come with its fair share of challenges and pressures, but now that the average 16-24-year-old spends more than two full 24-hour days a week online, those pressures – bullying, grooming, porn, the pull of consumerism, and more - follow them into their bedrooms each night. One in eight young people now suffer from a mental health condition.
We know that there is a spiritual hunger among these young people – more than one in five British 11- to 18-year-olds describe themselves as followers of Jesus, while 18- to -24-year-olds are the UK age group most likely to go to church.
Everything that happens on site and online isn't going to do be done 'for' or 'to' young people, but with young people. The name With reminds us that we live this life with God, with one another, with ourselves and with the planet on which we live.
How did you end up with a convent?
Good question. All Hallows Ditchingham has been home to a religious life of prayer, service and community for more than 150 years, but recently the site has become too big for the remaining sisters. They made an incredibly brave and generous decision to give the site away. Plenty of people submitted ideas, and so did we, a bunch of youth workers with this simple vision - to keep that life of prayer, service and community going, but reimagined among young people. Terrifyingly, they liked the idea and have given us a long-term, rent-free lease!
Who are you?
A team of youth workers came up with the vision for All Hallows and have driven the project thus far, winning the bid for the site and securing a good chunk of start-up funding. We do not come from any single organisation or Christian tradition and are not driving the agenda of any institution. We do, though, bring a wealth of experience and passion for Christian youth work and a desire to see young people’s hunger for spiritual renewal met in a fresh, groundbreaking way.
Ultimately, though, we want With to be a community that is held by everyone, owned by no-one. We want Christians all around the UK who feel passionate about young people, to make this vision become a reality by contributing whatever skills and time they have to the project. Between us, we have access to a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary, cross-denominational network of Christians with a vast collective experience in this sphere to draw from. They include a Diocesan advisor, a rapper, a CFO, a director of a national youth work charity and, of course, a volunteer youth worker. We plan to keep growing this network, drawing in a whole community of Christians who want to be a part of the building a new model for the future of youth ministry. We're also receiving incredible structural and legal support from Church Army - we wouldn't have got this far without them.
How much will it cost?
To take things forward, we need approximately £700,000 in capital funds in order to modernize the site, make it a comfortable and welcoming space for young people and ensure it is fully accessible and functional. As well as updating the existing facilities and sound system, we want to repurpose some areas and create spaces for music, research, study and creativity.
In addition to securing the space, we have secured the first £100,000 towards these costs, and have been offered a further £50,000 on the basis that we can secure match funding, leaving us with £550,000 to raise in order to get the site ready for the community and its visitors.
We then need a further £300,000 to cover the running costs of With until we bring in income from our activities. This amount will cover all staffing, insurance, tax and utilities for the first three years, plus the cost of developing the With app. We've secured the first £60,000 of this funding, leaving another £240,000 to raise. A summary of expenditure is set out in the table below, and a more detailed breakdown is available on request, please contact [email protected].
How will we pay for it?
Our plan is to build a multi-stream funding model over the next few years based on a combination of grants, individual donations and membership support and revenue from paid retreats. Over time, revenue from paid retreats and memberships will grow to cover a greater proportion of overall spend year on year. A detailed fundraising budget breakdown is available on request, please contact [email protected].
When will it happen?
It’s already begun: the core team is working with a developer to have the With app up and running in the coming months, and plans are afoot for the With Community to be resident by September 2020. All Hallows will be open for guests from January 2021, giving the community time to settle in and ensure the spiritual tone and rhythms of the centre are set by the time visitors are welcomed on site.
Why fund this?
This is something the world of youth work is crying out for – and there is nothing out there like it. Between us, we have spoken to thousands of youth workers in recent years. We have listened to have they have to say, seen a need, and decided to do something about it. With is the missing piece in the jigsaw, and youth workers are, without exception, excited by the idea. Now is the time to make it happen.
We have made good progress so far, but we need your help to move forward. By helping to fund All Hallows, you will be part of a historic reimagining of an ancient idea for modern times, delivered at a time when it is desperately needed. You will be equipping a new generation of Christians with skills for a life of faith.
What are other people saying about it?
We feel very grateful that so many people whose opinions we value have grasped immediately what we are trying to do, and are as enthusiastic about it as we are.
Here is what some of them had to say:
WITH has the potential to revolutionise how the UK conducts youth and young adult ministry. This space will allow young to draw on the rich depth that only an ancient house of prayer can do. However, this will not only be about bringing young people into a place of intimate relationship with God, it will also be equipping them to leave and take home what they have learnt. What God is going to continue to do through WITH is going to be revolutionary, and it’s significant for the spiritual direction of the UK.
Sam Milchem, Youth and young adult pastor, SOUL Church, Norwich
Sitting in the orchard at All Hallows I had a strange sensation that this place would become very special to me. It was only my first visit, and looking around it was clear that there is lots of work to be done. But the legacy of the place, and the possibilities for its future were viscerally real as well. It’s not hard to imagine a future where young people from across the country come to call this place of retreat and prayer a spiritual home. I’m so excited by what’s to come.
Lucie Shuker, Director of Research, Youthscape
I’m very excited by the possibility of a youth-focussed prayer and retreat centre at All Hallows. The potential of bringing young people together as part of a community that spans both physical and virtual worlds offers a creative approach to discipleship that extends beyond the traditional ‘youth residential’. The added dimension of offering youth leaders extended time at the Centre, either as part of the Community, or on retreat, will provide a place and space for recharging and renewing vision, theology and praxis. What a gift to the Church!
Mary Hawes, National Youth and Children’s Advisor, Church of England
The vision for WITH as a new monastic community, with both young people both physically and strategically at the centre, is such an exciting one. The value of retreat and residential have long been established as a key part of many young people’s discipleship and spiritual journeys. It is exciting to think of the impact WITH could have over the coming years on a generation as they grow deeper in their relationship with Jesus and are moved to evangelistically pray for their friends and family.
Jimmy Dale, National Youth Evangelism Officer, Church of England
All the evidence that I have seen indicates there is no renewal in the church apart from a renewal of the Religious Life. Since becoming Archbishop I have worked, prayed and longed to see new forms of prayer communities within the tradition of monasticism. So this project thrills my heart.
The plans for All Hallows Ditchingham are amongst some of the most exciting proposals I have heard since I have been Archbishop. I commend the faith, the risk, the sacrifice and the tenacity of the team. And I can’t wait to see this community up and praying. I commend this step of faith for the sake of the renewal of the church and the glory of God.
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
How will we know if it is working?
We know that support doesn’t just come in the form of people cheering us on and helping to fund and run With. Success will also depend on those who hold us accountable and ensure that we are staying true to the vision and core values we have set out here. With this in mind, we have committed to working with two different youth research organisations with a wealth of expertise between them. Church Army and Youthscape have agreed to be involved in the With from the start, helping us to evaluate the community and retreat centre as we go, as well as sharing our learning with others seeking to form faith among young people.
How can I get involved?
At the heart of this fresh, new idea is the eternal power of prayer, and we hope that you will want to join our journey by bringing With before God in your prayers. And, if you feel strongly about meeting the spiritual needs of young Christians, and are inspired by what you have read so far, why not come and see the site and envision with us the nourishing, life-changing place it could become? If you’d like to arrange a visit or find out how else you can support us or be part of the reimagining of All Hallows, please email [email protected].