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Trinity Retreat Center closing through 2020

WEST CORNWALL — Citing concerns about the upcoming flu season, a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Connecticut and “out of an abundance of caution,” Trinity Retreat Center has canceled all retreats and has closed the center to the public through the end of the year.

The announcement came Friday, Sept. 25, from Executive Director Joseph Rose. Staff at the center had spent months preparing for its reopening this summer, and programs and retreats, though at limited capacity, were booked through fall and winter. 

Rose said that while guests at the retreat center have remained safe during the two months this summer that the center was open, “We continue to be faced with the uncertainties that the fall may bring, with flu season, the reopening of schools and universities and the slight uptick in the percentage of positive cases per day in the state of Connecticut.”

The executive director said refunds for canceled programs have been issued, and several dozen staff members will remain on the payroll during the shutdown period through Dec. 31. 

“This virus is real, and we don’t know what is coming this fall. If we are inviting people into a healing place, we want to make sure that healing place is whole,” said Rose.

“We know that this will come as a disappointment to all who have come, and wish to come, to Trinity Retreat Center for community and for solace, but care and concern for the health and well-being of everyone, our guests and our staff, is our highest value.”

‘Virtual’ events

In the meantime, he said, Sunday church services at the center (an Episcopal mission of Trinity Church Wall Street) will go back to being held virtually. “The congregation has decided to go back to Zoom again.” In addition, Trinity will be hosting several events, live-streamed from the center’s West Cornwall campus, on the social media sites Facebook and Instagram.

And on Wednesday, Nov. 10, Trinity plans to host a community blood drive in conjunction with the United Church of Christ Congregational in Cornwall.

Limited staff, including Rose and his wife, Heidi, the center’s co-executive director, will continue to care for the property, the gardens and grounds and the rescue donkeys just as they did in early 2020 during the first shutdown.

Hope, then disappointment

In a late-summer interview with the center’s directors, optimism had still been running high.

 “Even though we were all inside and isolated together, life was still going on, creation was still happening” at the center’s 55-acre campus situated along the Housatonic River, said Joseph Rose. “The labyrinth was growing, the gardens were blooming and the forest was filled with fireflies; there was still hope in all that.

“One of our goals when it closed was to just keep things running so that when we did reopen in July,” said Rose at that time, the retreat center — which adjoins more than 500 acres of conservation trust lands and state forest — would be ready to receive guests. 

In the phone interview on Sept. 25, Rose said staff will once again care for the campus during its closure. The sprawling complex includes the main retreat center with 26 guest rooms, a historic stone chapel, a monastic garden and labyrinth, an orchard, working farm, donkey sanctuary, hiking trails, a community hall, meeting rooms and quiet spaces for rest and reflection.

Bounty for food bank

Heidi Rose credited the farm team’s efforts, under the direction of Patrick Beal, for the bounty of food the gardens produced this summer, some of which was donated to Cornwall’s community food bank. 

“The farm is the spiritual heart of what we do,” said Joseph Rose, who is studying at Yale to become an Episcopal priest. “It’s not just something to look at, we challenge people to really connect with our commitment to being good stewards of the earth.”

The center’s resident donkeys, he said, which were purchased from a rescue organization shortly after the Roses opened Trinity Retreat Center in fall of 2017, are the heartbeat of the farm operation. Today, they offer therapy to those who come to pet them, brush their thick coats or simply enjoy the animals’ calming demeanor. 

The donkeys were originally intended to protect the farm’s chickens from predators, but immediately became part of the Trinity family. “We didn’t plan it. I like to think it was God working in our lives — an act of compassion to save them.”

Looking ahead to 2021

Looking to the new year, the center’s executive directors noted that reservations are open for themed retreats and programs for 2021, which often sell out a year in advance. For details, go to www.trinitywallstreet.org. The retreats are open to individuals, families or groups.

Joseph Rose said Trinity offers a place to come together and heal spiritually, not only during the pandemic, but also once it has subsided. 

“The need is going to be greater than ever once we emerge from COVID-19,” he predicted. “As we journey through these bewildering times together, we know that the need for collective human engagement, the need to live and love and laugh and pray together, is more powerful than ever.”

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