The Rev. Michael Shapcott has made a habit of asking a question during the opening orientation of the Sorrento Centre’s Five Weeks of Summer, one of the centre’s signature annual programs.
“I always ask, ‘Who’s here for the first time? Who’s been here for five years? Ten years?’ And so on,” says Shapcott, who took over as executive director at the Sorrento, B.C.-based retreat centre in summer 2018. What he’s come to discover is the legacy of this centre tucked among the mountains. “We have people who have been coming here for upwards of 50 years, coming here every summer.”
In 40 years mostly spent living, working and attending church in Toronto, Shapcott says that he, like many Anglicans in Toronto, had the centre on his radar as “somewhere way out on the West Coast.”
Situated in the mountains four and a half hours from Vancouver by car, the Sorrento Centre is “one of the best kept secrets in the Anglican Church of Canada,” Shapcott says.
Shapcott had previously been managing a national youth employment program and says he was beginning to look for a new challenge when the Sorrento Centre position opened.
Ordained a deacon in the Anglican church, Shapcott sees the centre as “one of the most perfect expressions of diaconal ministry…. Here we are literally at the point where we engage both church and community.”
Now executive director of the centre for a full year, Shapcott says he’s learned what a strong legacy has been built by “a loyal and devoted group of people,” realizing “how precious it is and how important it is to carry that legacy forward.”
The centre began its life as a lay ministry training centre in 1963, according to Shapcott, in an era when a lot of people were challenging the relevance of institutions. “The Anglican church was not immune to that, and a group of people thought that there might be different and better ways to train both clerical and lay leaders in the Anglican church.”
Since then, he says the centre has evolved. It has grown in size—the 24-acre main campus now has multiple buildings, an RV park and tenting facility and an eight-acre farm, as well as a seasonal and permanent staff of about 40 people. Its focus has also broadened, to include the formation of youth leaders in the church and an ever-growing host of programs for lay and clergy.
“The spirit of the Sorrento Centre, from the very beginning, has always been this spirit [of wanting] to challenge ourselves and challenge others,” says Shapcott.
New additions to the programming this year will include, thanks to funding from the Anglican Foundation of Canada, a new initiative called Weaving Together, focused on different types of reconciliation. The winter season will also see another new residential youth program, developed in conjunction with the national church, called the Winter Youth Leadership Development, or WYLD.
Alongside its programming, the centre also offers a place of retreat for individual parishes and dioceses.
While it has long been a place for spiritual retreat, two-thirds of the Sorrento Centre’s bookings come from non-Anglican guests and secular organizations. This is part of what has kept the centre financially viable—in fact, growing—Shapcott says, even as similar retreat centres in the Anglican and Episcopal churches have struggled financially and even closed in recent years.
Financial stewardship dovetails with ecological sustainability initiatives as well. The centre was gifted eight acres of farmland about 10 years ago, Shapcott says, on the condition that the land would be maintained and cultivated. “This year we’ve had a real effort. We brought in a new farmer, [and] our farm is an incredible place of abundance,” he says. The land has produced more than 1,000 tomato plants and enough broccoli to fill the cold storage of the centre’s commercial kitchen, he adds. They’ve also run teaching programs on the farm and donated some of its produce to a community food bank.
Shapcott also introduced solar panels to the centre’s roof. After some fundraising in the fall, the panels were installed during Holy Week and went operational on May 1. The first month saw a 63% reduction in the electric bill, says Shapcott, and for 10 days of that month the panels were putting excess energy back into the BC hydro grid.
In the coming year, Shapcott says, the centre will also focus on investing in its buildings and land, replacing more than 100 toilets (“I call it the ‘Comfort and Joy’ initiative”), expanding the solar panels, and restoring a century-old heritage barn on the farm to turn it into a community learning centre for agriculture.
Beyond the physical updates to the property, Shapcott says his hope is to “continue to work with leaders in the church and in the community to continue to make the Sorrento Centre a place where we are able to convene the important conversations of our time.”
Many of the centre’s future plans revolve around reconciliation. On June 10, it was welcomed into the Community of the Cross of Nails, a reconciliation community based out of Coventry Cathedral in England. It has also received recognition of sustainable tourism practices through Biosphere certification by the UNESCO-supported Responsible Tourism Institute.
It has also committed to a three-part reconciliation process: to “heal the wounds of history,” “celebrate diversity and difference” and “build a culture of peace and justice.”
The centre has welcomed Indigenous leaders and knowledge holders from the four bands in the local area to visit on site, and it has planned joint initiatives with its surrounding community, including a new affordable housing society.
2023 will mark the Sorrento Centre’s 60th anniversary, and looking toward it, the focus is on continuing to be “a generous host,” according to Shapcott. “We will continue to welcome upwards of 3,500, 4,000 people…over the coming year. We’ll feed them good meals with food from our farm. We’ll engage their hearts, minds and souls, and also challenge people both inside and outside the church to live more abundantly, fully and deeply.”