Hot on the heels of the VCF Southern Conference, and renewed with fresh enthusiasm for all that God can work through us if we let Him, I drove with anticipation around the mass that is Dartmoor, towards the sea for what was set to be another exciting weekend away. Thankfully, the phone satnav held out as I realised that Chris Grimshaw’s phone number (our host and instigator of the weekend) was on an e-mail and there was no phone reception to be found in this faraway place. Out in the backwaters of Totnes, down a long bumpy track, I was greeted by Chris’s dog “Flossy”, and Chris came beaming out of the cottage. I was a little anxious at the lack of other people, but we trusted that whoever showed up, this was the start of something bigger to come, and that God would be at work both in those that came and those who couldn’t. Matt Gopal - a local vet who only recently became a Christian and had agreed to speak to us - arrived soon after. He was immediately warm and welcoming, and was excited about the prospect of this meeting. A few moments later we were joined by Karen Pickering, an equine vet from the Donkey Sanctuary, who actually used to work for Matt and knows him from church.

The four of us sat down and got to know each other over tea and honey-cake (whipped up by Karen’s fair hands), and from four near-strangers started to build up relationships. By sharing our testimonies, we were able to immediately tap into some of our deepest emotional backgrounds, and with what proved to be quite shocking honesty at times, build up a bond of trust and fellowship within the group.

After this, Matt shared with us a session on loving God with all our heart, mind and soul, namely by listening to God. We all felt that this was wonderfully Spirit led as at about 4 points through the talk he said, “Ah, that was my next point!”. It also shared some fantastic echoes of what I had had the privilege of hearing at the VCF Southern Conference. Being a relatively small group turned out to be an enormous blessing, as we could go off on tangents without fear of getting lost or leaving others behind, but had freedom to explore around the topics, and for everyone to have space to give input.

After a wonderful lunch put together by Chris’s wife Claire, Chris then led the afternoon session on ‘Forgiveness’. This was an interesting session which involved the whole group, each member taking part, reflecting on a passage of prose which explored the nature of forgiveness, and prompted us to reflect on how well we manage to forgive others. It is just one of a number of tools that Chris has in his relationship toolbox. He uses them to help to build up relationships in the workshops that he runs for couples and in schools and prisons. We would like to explore a few more of these at coming meetings, and I also hope to bring them into the workplace as internal CPD.

After this session, Matt had to get home to prepare his sermon for the next day, so Chris, Karen, Flossy and I went for a lovely walk along the river Dart, followed by a hearty meal at the local pub. The “weekend away” turned out to be a fun day out, and we were very encouraged to have achieved our goal of deepening relationships and friendships in the group. We shared lots of ideas of how we could move the group forward and one idea from Chris was a weekend for couples, exploring the specific challenges those of us who are married vets (or married TO vets) face on a day-to-day basis.

Many other South West members had expressed interest in the meeting but had been unable to attend. However, their support and encouragement has meant an awful lot and given me some hope for the future of this group. We have sporadic meetings now and then, but there is an undercurrent of support running through the group, via e-mails, facebook, and general enthusiasm. An idea that has been shared by several members independently has been to have our next meeting as a walk on Dartmoor - dog and family friendly with the option of pub lunch! Now it’s just a matter of finding a date, and hoping that the weather holds out!