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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Transcendent Experiences

Sometimes the ideal meeting provides not just business opportunities but also spiritual encounters.

Religious and spiritual retreats offer a place for groups to connect with their faith and spirituality while getting away from the chaos of everyday life. These retreats offer the opportunity to experience nature, eat nutritious food, reflect and enjoy recreational activities, creating the perfect setting for religious and spiritual meetings and events that are productive and fulfilling. 

From New England beaches to Arizona deserts, these five religious retreats and conference centers offer beautiful settings to enjoy nature. And each provides groups a chance to relax, come together and strengthen relationships with their faith and each other. 

Black Hills Retreat

Deadwood, South Dakota 

Set in the dense Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota, Black Hills Retreat is a member of the Christian Retreats Network, a nationwide system of Christian retreat and conference centers. Christian groups can enjoy 60 acres of picturesque forest land and a lake. The scenic and isolated location is perfect for focusing on faith while experiencing nature and making memories.  

“When you think about taking your ministry to a retreat, and you really want that ‘get away from it’ feeling, you’re going to get that there,” said Ashley Haschemeyer, marketing manager at Christian Retreats Network.

The retreat center accommodates up to 250 guests in lodges, guest cottages, cabins and dormitories with breakfast, lunch and dinner served buffet-style. Varied meeting spaces include the chapel, which seats 300, and several smaller conference rooms. The forest amphitheater overlooks the lake and is an excellent outdoor meeting or worship space for 50 people. Groups can go hiking, play disc golf, zip line, rock climb, enjoy the water or do team- building exercises. Indoors, there are billiards, foosball and board games.

Spirit in the Desert

Carefree, Arizona

Spirit in the Desert offers guests a chance to enjoy the Sonoran Desert, wildlife and mountain views of Carefree, Arizona. While this retreat center has a spiritual emphasis, it doesn’t cater to one specific religion or denomination; rather, it allows each group or individual to define spirituality for themselves and welcomes all definitions. It’s a distinct setting where any spiritual group can unplug and come together for relaxation and renewal. 

“With our weather being so nice, there’s a lot of outdoor emphasis,” said Eric Simonson, the executive director.

Outdoor spaces, like hiking trails, a heated pool and spa, a labyrinth and meditation walking paths, allow groups to gather or individuals to explore in their own time. The facility offers hotel-style lodging for up to 50 guests and dining for up to 75, with meals served cafeteria-style. The seven meeting spaces, which include a chapel and small conference rooms, have audiovisual capabilities and can accommodate groups ranging from five to 90 people. Groups are invited to join any activities hosted by Spirit in the Desert, which range from nature hikes to cruises on Saguaro Lake.

Mercy by the Sea Retreat and Conference Center

Madison, Connecticut

Owned by the Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic organization, Mercy by the Sea is on the shores of Connecticut’s Long Island Sound. One of the center’s most notable features is its serene private beach, which offers visitors a stunning view of the water. This retreat center’s mission is providing inclusivity in a naturally beautiful and peaceful setting to encourage reflection and growth, regardless of faith. 

“We’re very keen to try and let people know that anybody is welcome,” said Amanda Patrick, the center’s director of communications and marketing. 

In addition to its private beach and 33 acres of grounds and gardens, Mercy by the Sea has overnight lodging for up to 54 guests. The property’s meeting spaces include two auditoriums, several conference rooms and a solarium. Group can also meet or have events on the beach or grounds. Three meals and a snack are provided daily, and each is made using fresh, local foods whenever possible, including seasonal produce from the property’s gardens. The center can handle up to 100 guests at a banquet. Retreat guests may also attend events and workshops held at the retreat center on topics such as art, spirituality, contemplative practices or eco-consciousness.

Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center

Newport, Tennessee

Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center has been in operation since 1949. Located in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, 30 minutes from Gatlinburg, it began as a youth camp. In 2000, a conference center was added to provide the same spiritual benefits to adults. Its mountainous location, with dense forests and a creek, provide a beautiful backdrop for religious meetings and events, its remote location ensures relaxation and few distractions.

“You don’t have to worry about the world getting in and bothering you too much,” said Susan Mason, ministry assistant at Carson Springs.

The Carson Springs lodge’s large meeting room seats up to 250 people and can be configured into smaller meeting spaces. The Stokely Chapel, which seats up to 400, has full audiovisual capabilities. The center offers varied lodging for groups of all sizes. There are 36 hotel rooms as well as  400 bunk beds for larger groups and youth retreats. Buffet-style meals are served, but plated meals can also be arranged in advance. Carson Springs also offers a variety of outdoor activities for groups to enjoy, such as nature hikes, a climbing wall and paintball. 

Christian Retreat Conference Center

Bradenton, Florida

Founded in 1968 by Gerald Derstine, Christian Retreat Conference Center has operated as a non-denominational Christian conference center for more than 50 years. On 110 acres along the Manatee River, it allows guests to enjoy the warm Florida climate and waterfront views. In addition to encouraging visitors to have fun in the sun, the retreat center provides plenty of opportunities for relaxation and deepening one’s spirituality. 

“People say they feel the presence of God here; they feel a peace they don’t feel other places,” said Joanne Derstine Curphey, director of communications.

Christian Retreat is a good choice for groups and conferences of many sizes, with its Tabernacle seating up to 1,000 people. Other auditoriums and boardrooms are ideal for smaller events. The 95 recently renovated guest rooms offer overnight lodging with a sense of luxury. The center works closely with groups to accommodate whatever dining needs they may have, including plated meals. Christian Retreat has both indoor and outdoor recreational facilities and activities, including a gymnasium, a tennis court, a swimming pool and canoeing on the river. Groups are invited to attend services at The Family Church, the retreat’s accompanying ministry, held twice a week at the center.