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Retreat Centers for Religious Meetings

Sometimes, the key to advancing is to take a retreat.

Religious retreats allow people to get away from the daily grind and pursue spiritual experiences. Some retreat centers allow participants to do that while walking through the woods, working the land or watching wildlife. Some centers help people connect by cutting out distractions, and others use activities to bring people together.

These professional retreat centers can accommodate large groups with hundreds of beds, massive meeting spaces and full-service, high-level dining.

YMCA of the Rockies

Estes Park, Colorado

“There is no place where we have been where we can more clearly see the majesty of God and His creation in so many different ways” — that’s what a recent YMCA of the Rockies guest wrote in a thank-you note after staying at the Estes Park Center.

YMCA of the Rockies includes two retreat centers: Snow Mountain Ranch in Vail and the Estes Park Center, near the mountain town of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Estes Park is the larger of the two, with nine lodges, 553 rooms and about 1,700 fixed beds. For bigger youth groups, the center can add youth mattresses on the floor, increasing the number of beds to over 2,000, said Arlyn Crowfoot, group sales director.

Longhouse is a 22,000-square-foot gymnasium that can seat 2,600 and accommodate concerts, trade shows and sporting events. The 11,520-square-foot Assembly Hall can seat 1,300 or be broken into three smaller meeting spaces.

Ruesch Auditorium is an 800-seat theater with three breakout rooms and two separate lobbies. The center has about 50 other meeting rooms that can hold anywhere from a dozen to 400 attendees, he said.

Faith-based groups often use the amphitheater and fire ring, and youth groups flock to mini golf and disc golf, basketball, volleyball and tennis.

In the winter, guests can play in the snow or play indoors with a climbing wall, a craft center and archery in the roller rink.

During the autumn rut season, the most “boisterous” guests are the elk that battle to out-bugle each other. “It gets pretty interesting,” Crowfoot said.

Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove

Asheville, North Carolina

Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth Graham, dreamed of creating a place of retreat and reflection, and they found it when they visited a 1,200-acre property in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association bought the property in 1972 and approved the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove in 1987.

“Mrs. Graham, part of her vision for the Cove was she wanted a place where hospitality is a ministry,” said Eric Wilkes, director of operations.

Today, the training center produces 70 to 80 of its own in-house events that attract some 20,000 guests. The center also leases out its facilities to groups with the same ministry philosophy and purpose, which brings in another 10,000 or so guests each year. Individuals can also visit independently to tour the Chatlos Memorial Chapel, which serves as the Cove’s visitor center.

In the training center’s main auditorium, 458 fixed theater seats face a wall of windows that provide a mountain backdrop, and an adjoining deck works well for social gatherings. A 119-seat auditorium and about 14 additional meeting rooms provide groups other gathering areas.

The center has 127 inn rooms, six suites and five private cabins, but it can accommodate larger groups because a variety of national hotels sit just outside the Cove’s gates at the Interstate 40 exit.

The Cove is purposefully designed to provide an environment free from distractions. No TVs, radios or newspapers are in guest rooms, although the center does have Wi-Fi. Instead, guests can watch for wildlife on walking trails, hike to an observation deck overlooking the property or enjoy fellowship around a fire pit while making s’mores.


Reisterstown, Maryland

At Pearlstone, a retreat and conference center in Reisterstown, Maryland, guests can work on the organic farm or watch sheep graze in the orchard; and soon, they will be able to pick their own blueberries and strawberries or stroll through the new vineyard.

“Our whole intent is to provide a backdrop for these spiritual and personal connections with each other and with the land,” said Rachel Feldman, director of business development.

A recent master plan of the 180-acre campus calls for updating facilities and building new ones, such as transforming small pavilions in the woods into three-season bunkhouses, revamping the high ropes course and building a new amphitheater overlooking the lake.

Crews will break ground on a fifth lodge this fall, adding up to 24 single-occupancy rooms and raising the center’s maximum overnight group size from 300 to about 400.

In the lodges, each sleeping room faces the “fertile crescent,” so guests can look onto the hillside where “all our baby fruit trees are growing and see the sheep grazing in the orchard,” Feldman said.

Pearlstone’s main center has 11 meeting spaces that can accommodate up to 300 participants. At 2,000 square feet, Jubilee is the largest space, with a west-facing deck that delivers views of the property. A favorite venue is the Orchard room where floor-to-ceiling windows “look right out on a lot of the area that we farm,” she said.

Pearlstone has over 10 acres of certified organic farmland that supplies the kitchen with fresh produce and serves as an outdoor classroom for group lessons on a wide variety of subjects from the Torah to environmental sustainability.

Heartland Conference Retreat Center

Marengo, Ohio

The Heartland Conference Retreat Center opened in 2001, and the 360-acre center about 40 miles north of Columbus, Ohio, hosts all of the Ohio Ministry Network’s summer camps.

Designed with youth groups in mind, Heartland has just over 700 beds, primarily bunk-style beds in three dorm buildings. Hickory Lodge can sleep another 72 people, also in bunk beds, and Beechnut Lodge has 12 hotel-type rooms that work well for board or couples retreats.

For groups of 100 or more, the Oakwood Center is the main venue, where the multipurpose room can accommodate up to 700 people. For smaller groups, each dorm building has its own lobby — all have been recently refreshed — that serves as meeting space.

Heartland is also launching a capital campaign that “will give us a more regional reach and allow us to host groups even from surrounding states,” said Lonnie Thompson, senior director of marketing and guest services.

A new multipurpose building will provide space for events, indoor recreation or overflow dining, as well as six flexible breakout rooms for up to 60 people each. Heartland hopes to break ground this August and complete construction by the end of 2020, Thompson said.

Groups often use Heartland’s low ropes course or two-level high ropes course with three zip lines and climbing wall, or participate in slingshot paintball and archery.

Heartland’s Compass program provides groups with in-house team building and leadership training.

Texas 4-H Conference Center

Brownwood, Texas

The Texas 4-H Conference Center sits on a plateau overlooking Lake Brownwood in the geographic heart of Texas. Opened in 1975, the full-service center is owned by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and the 78-acre conference and retreat center operates year-round.

The Leadership Lodge has 24 private rooms, each with two full-size beds; 10 dormitories offer a total of 260 twin-size beds. Lakeside Pavilion provides another 24 twin-size beds as well as communal space that includes a covered patio facing the lakeshore.

The 3,000-square-foot auditorium has a stage and can seat 300 theater-style or 144 for banquets, and the recreation room offers 1,100 square feet of open meeting space. A variety of other meeting rooms and spaces are available, but perhaps the most unique is the 2,450-square-foot covered patio adjacent to the outdoor cooking area. The patio, which has open walls in the spring and greenhouse-style walls in place during the winter, can seat 160 for meals.

Groups can kayak and canoe on the lake or swim in the pool, tackle the ropes course or get in some target practice at the shooting ranges. The center also has basketball, volleyball and tennis courts.