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New Horizons

What Is a Retreat?

Thomas E. Tyson

According to Webster, a retreat (in our sense of the word) is “a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, and instruction.” The Machen Retreat and Conference Center exists to be just that.

It is the only center owned and operated by the OPC that is dedicated to achieving that purpose. So both the property and the schedule of its use are ours!

The MRCC came about as follows: In July 1995, Paul Cunningham and his wife Jane invited me, my wife Jean, and our daughter Natalie for breakfast at their home in Highland County, Virginia, which is tucked away between the Backcreek and Allegheny Mountains, just west of the Shenandoah Valley. I was at that time General Secretary of the Committee on Christian Education. Mr. Cunningham had a startling proposal. He desired to give the OPC approximately fifty acres of wooded property to develop as a retreat and conference facility.

We accepted it, with thanks to God! Both the property ownership and the direction of its use landed upon the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, which soon erected an operating committee to get things rolling. Additionally, the CCE supported the venture with a $35,000 development gift. The construction of facilities began with major help from Paul Cunningham, a Christian group called the Sowers, and numerous OP church work parties.

Soon a main lodge appeared, housing both indoor and outdoor dining and meeting areas, an industrial kitchen, and laundry, shower, and bathroom facilities. Later three enclosed, heated bunkhouses and five open-air, screened bunkhouses (each with a twelve-person capacity) were completed. Construction of other facilities followed shortly, including tent sites, fire and barbecue pits, a shooting range, a field for recreational activities, and a basketball court. Swimming, always popular at such places, was available in the nearby Bullpasture River—and it was both clean and safe!

As the years went by, numerous camps, conferences, retreats, and family reunions soon filled the calendar at MRCC. You can read all about it at, including how to register for these upcoming events:

  • Science Camp, July 14–19
  • Labor Day Retreat, Aug. 29–Sept. 1
  • Singles’ Retreat, Oct. 3–5
  • Ladies’ Retreat, Oct. 10–11

Some have wondered how remote MRCC is from them. It’s not as far away as you might think! From Charlotte, North Carolina, or New York City, for instance, it is six hours by car—not unlike the distance many travel for vacations. MRCC is central to a large number of OP congregations east of the Mississippi. The address is: 6 Job’s Hill Road, exactly ten miles south of McDowell, Virginia.

All events, including planned conferences, family reunions, and individual family vacations, must be organized under the oversight of the Retreat Operating Committee. For information, availability, facility requests, usage fees, and event registration, please visit our website or contact the director, the Rev. Rodney King, at

MRCC is worth investigating, if you want to “retreat” from the normal distractions of your life in order to nurture your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and enjoy fellowship with other believers. Think of MRCC in terms of God’s promise to his covenant people in Isaiah 55:12: “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace: the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

The author is a retired OP minister. New Horizons, July 2014.

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