Who Are Brothers & Sisters of the Way?

No one understands the need for personal sanctuary

more than the parish minister.

No one else craves it quite so much,

dreams so vividly of a place apart for meditation and prayer

and the communication of kindred souls,

or longs so fervently for a blessed silence

and a moment of space and of peace

in which to wait upon God.

Waterfalls on a walk near retreat
center at Warner Farm (MA)

In 1923 a parish minister, John Henry Wilson, out of his own experience and the experience of others, began to think deeply about our common need for sanctuary -- for a drawing-apart from church and parish and family for a few days each year that God might heal us, and that the knowledge of God might be restored in us. He made a study of the monastic movement, and was struck by the significance of the ancient community of St. Columba on the isle of Iona in the Hebrides. There the missionary monks, who went among the savages with lonely and perilous courage to win them to the faith, might return from time to time for a season of rest and spiritual refreshment. It was true "retreat," but only to God that they, being made whole in Him, might again go out to witness and, if need be, to die for their Lord and Saviour.

John Henry Wilson cooking for the order
on Fisherman's Island.

In 1925, John Wilson bought Fisherman's Island, off the Atlantic coast near Boothbay Harbor, Maine -- an island a mile long, high, windswept, once a refuge from cruel Indian raids. It was to become a sanctuary for scores of sincere, faithful servants of God in the pastoral ministry. By 1930 the retreat house, Greystones, had been built upon the highest land of the island, and the first Fisherman's Island retreat was held. Retreats continued at that location for 61 years, until the Wilson family at last found it necessary to offer the island for sale and other sites to host retreats have been found across the country.

The stone retreat house constructed on Fisherman's Island.

These retreats have followed the basic format envisioned by John Wilson from the very beginning. Retreatants meet at the designated site early on a Sunday evening or Monday afternoon, usually in late May or early June. As the group gathers for a moment of explanation of the order of the retreat and a prayer for the life of the community in the days to come, all feel as if they have "come home."

There is no "staff" for these retreats. All share in the work and leadership. The offices of Chaplain, Clerk, Scullion, and Bell ringer rotate twice each day. (Additional offices such as wood and water carriers, lamp trimmers, scavengers, etc. have been created as needed.) The simple meals are prepared by the Retreat Director -- the Scriptural authority being, "Whoever would be greatest among you shall be your servant." The Retreat Director is assisted by such retreatants as may be chosen in addition to the Scullions. The Chaplain reads aloud during the reading hours and leads at grace and in Communion; the Clerk keeps the retreat records; the Bell Ringer signals the day's periods.

There are no sermons, no addresses delivered at these retreats. We feel that the opportunity of our shared time is not for "professional talk" but that we remember before God that we are persons confronted with a task too great for us, a responsibility beyond our strength, a love beyond our knowledge. So we lay down all past successes and failures, remembering by Whom our lives and work are judged. Ambition, reputation, denomination, the world's opinion are here discarded. We would, solely and simply, be at peace with God.


We come to our retreat concerned with many things, emptied of strength and very often of spiritual resources. Sometimes we never know how much we need healing and restoring until we have felt the gentle therapy of sun and wind, wide horizons, the starry heavens, and the kindly companionship of old and new friends. But God moves in mysterious ways and performs great wonders. We leave our retreat on Friday morning knowing that we have been dealt with lovingly and graciously by the One we seek to serve. We go back to our scattered parishes, but we carry the benediction of our retreat with us forever.

by Malcolm Angus MacDuffie

adapted by John Norman MacDuffie and Marsh Hudson-Knapp