Religion News: February 2022

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Debbie Scott at Mountain Ishtar Retreat Center. Submitted photo.

A Quiet Path: Debbie Scott to Open Mountain Light Retreat Center

Debbie Scott, who’s filled a variety of roles in nearly three decades at St. Paul’s Ivy Episcopal Church, has retired from the staff there and will soon re-open the former Akasha retreat center near Crozet. 

While St. Paul’s definitely became her spiritual home, she said her family’s attendance there started out as the choice of her school-age children. She was with her children on their way to Meriwhether Lewis Elementary, their new school, shortly after her move to the area. “They saw the playground and the ark and decided that’s where we needed to be,” she said. 

The children grew up, but Scott remained at the church through several changes in ministry. She accepted many different jobs––sometimes volunteer and sometimes as part of the paid staff––and eventually became the director of spirituality and missions.

Rev. Justin McIntosh, St. Paul’s rector, said Scott contributed significantly to the church over the years. In addition to that, there were a couple of things that especially impressed him recently. “When we all had to embrace new technology because of the pandemic, Debbie was especially successful. She made the transition really quickly and re-created her ministries online.” 

McIntosh said Scott’s commitment to active and thoughtful listening for the will of God was evident in her decision to offer the community a retreat center. “A couple of years ago, she was not thinking about this,” he said. “In her practice of sitting with the Holy Spirit and spending a long time in reflection, she knew she was called to make this bold and courageous step.”

The Mountain Light Retreat Center in the snow. Submitted photo.

She left her staff position in January, but Scott said she will continue to volunteer. In addition to her work in many facets of St. Paul’s ministry, Scott’s interest in contemplative and centering prayer helped support the development of the monthly Celtic Eucharist service, an evening celebration using lyrical music and periods of silence to encourage reflection. 

Scott said that her daily habit of sitting in silence before God has allowed her to be receptive to what she calls “heart nudges.” It’s also led her to thoughtfully consider signs and suggestions that point her towards a possible way forward. “My practice has taught me to pay attention,” she said. All were in play when Associate Rector Amanda Kotval called her last summer with the news that the historic retreat center near White Hall was for sale.

“I wasn’t really looking for anything like this,” she said, “but once I saw it, I had a growing sense of excitement. I felt like God had just dropped it in my lap.” The property, on Mountain Light Place, has a chapel, a large kitchen, common areas, beautiful grounds and ample room for overnight guests. She’s been renovating and updating the property and expects it to be ready within a month or so, always depending on the availability of material and labor.

Scott’s plan is to offer the Mountain Light Retreat Center to the community for events centered around spirituality, and will welcome an ecumenical array of religious and contemplative events. In addition to retreats planned by religious groups, she’s about to complete the latest of a number of trainings that will enable her to become a certified spiritual director. Through the wider community of spiritual directors and her connections at the Shalem Institute, she’ll schedule retreats that call on her experience and education as well as the talents of other spiritual directors. 

Scott hopes that people will leave the Center with renewed faith and peace, and also that her new venture will teach those seeking direction the importance of being silent in the presence of God. “It’s not the only path,” she said. “Obviously, there are many doors to spirituality. This is mine.”

For inquiries about Mountain Light Retreat Center, email Scott at [email protected] 

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