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Alton L. Collins Retreat Center welcomes a variety of groups and ensure that they feel at home

ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Buildings at the Alton Collins Retreat Center are surrounded by trees and other greenery.

In today's busy world, it isn't always always easy to take time for rejuvenation and reflection.

Staff at the Alton L. Collins Retreat Center in Eagle Creek strive to create a space where people can do just this.

"We want to create a space where people can grow and develop their spirits," said Dan Benson, director of the center at 32867 Highway 211.

The site is run through a partnership between the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon.

The center's location — nestled in the forest, with buildings surrounded by cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock, moss and ferns — provides a sense of peace and seclusion ideal for stepping away from the rest of the world.

What visitors at the center do while on retreat is centered on their group's unique needs, and one retreat is often very different from another. Earlier this year, a chamber music group spent time playing songs at the center. The next week, a different group embarked on a silent retreat.

Other visitors to the site include a board-gaming group, several quilting groups and the Mevlevi Order of America, a Sufi group also known as the whirling dervishes. Center staff also organize events for people to participate in, including a day of singing hymns from the Christian faith and learning the history behind the music.

ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Dan Benson lives at the retreat center with his wife Karen and their sons Nathan and Jeremy, 11, and Peter, 9.

One of the tenets of the center is to ensure that all visitors feel welcome, and staff work to ensure the needs of guests are met. For example, a recent visitor was a practitioner of feng shui, so additional cloth was added to one of the bedrooms to ensure that there was balance.

Staff strive to embrace guest needs and identities.

"Our work is not to transform people, but to allow for people to engage in transformation where and how they need it," Benson said.

Benson noted that people often find spirituality in different outlets, which is perhaps why such a diverse selection of groups visit the center.

"People often talk about what feeds their soul, or how they encounter the divine or what's greater than them — sometimes that's the pleasure of playing games with one another, or making music or beautiful things out of fabric, or being in nature," he said. "There are many ways of doing it. It's not that there's one right way of doing it."

For many visitors, the center's wooded location and two miles of walking paths is a central part of their retreat experience.

"We value helping people come into connection with nature, find rest and be restored," Benson said.

The center features 23 rooms for guests, each boasting a private balcony, two large meeting spaces and a chapel.

"It's not a chapel in what people often think of a chapel with pews and an altar," Benson said. "It's just open space. There's something special there, a reverence with looking out of the windows and seeing the beauty around us."

He added that the buildings feature large windows to allow the outdoors to be seen from inside.

"Sometimes people come to us with limited mobility, and we want to allow them to be able to see (nature)," he said.

The grounds also feature a bee colony and a peace pole surrounded by a labyrinth and herb garden.

The pole features the phrase "May Peace Prevail on Earth" in multiple languages, including braille.

Benson noted that when the pole was first created, visitors at the center were encouraged to request a language to be included on it.

"The peace is coming from people who have been here," he said. "It's a way to really

make this a part of our community." ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - The retreat center's peace path features a labyrinth, herb garden and a pole with May Peace Prevail on Earth written on it in multiple languages.

Benson, a United Methodist pastor, has been the center's director since May. He lives on site with his wife, Karen, and their sons Nathan and Jeremy, 11, and Peter, 9.

He appreciates many aspects of being at the center but noted that the most rewarding parts are "coming into connection with each other and the divine."

"We often lose sight of that yearning to be beyond what we are, and that's part of what retreating is," he said. "Giving people breathing space to focus, that's always at the core of what this place is."

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