The Avila setting and its program design afford a rare opportunity for Peace Hill to offer contemplative practices to activists and organizers seeking to engage more effectively to bring about change. Peace Hill will accomplish this by:
- Planning and leading gatherings and retreats for silence and meditation.
- Providing educational and instructional events in wisdom literature across multiple faith traditions.
- Coordinating and collaborating with leaders and activists to integrate contemplative practices into training for social action and community organizing.
- Serving as a resource center for congregations, corporations, and institutions seeking to offer contemplative and reflective practices to their members and serving as a conduit to facilitate connections with community activists working toward a more compassionate and just society.
To teach and nurture contemplative and restorative practices that strengthen, enhance, and deepen the work to build a compassionate and just society.
The Peace Hill Covenant
We stand as a sign that God unifies rather than divides persons.The covenant was written by Evelyn Mattern and is often read in unison at the start of Peace Hill retreats.
Through silence, we make space to listen to the mystery and to open our hearts to the world.
Mindfulness deepens our resistance to all forms of violence, including busyness and noise.
We seek to harness the energy of the spirit for service and action.
We covenant to honor the soul’s need for a daily discipline.
We begin with silence and also practice communal reflection, dialogue, holy reading, and ritual.
We affirm both the strength and struggle at the heart of interfaith and spiritual communion.
We remain alert to supporting the work of justice and peace in our troubled world.
We dwell in the beauty of creation.
Peace Hill traces its origins to 1996 when a small group of people gathered for monthly meditation. Calling themselves “The Circle for Sacred Silence”, the leaders – Mel Willams, Claudia Horwitz, and Sister Evelyn Mattern – began to speak aloud the need for a monastic type of retreat center in the NC Triangle area.
Their vision was for a place where an interfaith community could gather for sacred reading and silent reflection, a place for individuals working for justice and peace to join together in prayer and presence.
After identifying potential sites, the undertaking suffered a great loss when Sister Evelyn died in 2003. After her death, the group adopted the name Peace Hill in honor of Sister Evelyn’s spirit and the name of her hermitage home in Rolesville, NC.
Peace Hill gathered at various locations before eventually holding regular morning silence at Dot Borden’s home in Durham. Daylong Peace Hill retreats were held at both The Stone House in Mebane, a sister program founded and directed by Claudia Horwitz, until its closing in 2015 and at Dot Borden’s home.
Peace Hill continued to explore potential sites for a more permanent home. In December 2019, Mel Williams learned that the Center for Community Self-Help had purchased Avila, a retreat center on 50 acres of land with residential and meeting accommodations formerly owned and operated by the Catholic Church.
Upon learning that Self-Help was repurposing the campus as a training center for community organizers, Mel suggested to Martin Eakes, the Founder and CEO of Self-Help that Peace Hill could be an effective partner for this effort.
Martin agreed that Peace Hill with its substantial history and emphasis on practices that included meditation, mindfulness, prayer, reflection, and holding silence, was the group that could provide these opportunities. Peace Hill then became a part of the financial and collaborative leadership team for the repurposed center.
Starting in early 2020, the work to refurbish and repurpose Avila moved forward. Within a year, training conferences were being held at Avila. Meanwhile, Peace Hill used the time to build its organization: it incorporated as Peace Hill at Avila, formed a board of directors, and received its 501 c 3 certification as nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.
Peace Hill joined other Avila collaborative partners including United for Fair Economy (UFE) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to work with Self-Help to develop operational and usage guidelines for the groups renting the space. The collaborative decided to retain the Avila name, as it had a historically positive identity throughout the community.
Avila was first opened as monastery for women in the 1950’s. Aligned with the Carmelite tradition it took its name from Teresa of Avila, a prominent 16th century mystic, teacher, and businesswoman. Her spirit, along with Sister Evelyn Mattern and the African-American mystic, writer, and teacher, Howard Thurman, are the primary animators for Peace Hill at Avila. Their writings and teachings provide Peace Hill its source ancestral heritage.
In 2021, Peace Hill began offering practices of meditations and reflection to groups utilizing Avila and continues to work to expand its offerings. In the spring of 2022, the group sponsored its first onsite Peace Hill Day, “Walking the Tao” led by long time practitioner Jim Dykes. Events that followed have included a workshop with North Carolina Poet Laurette Jaki Shelton Green, a day with the teachings and practices of Howard Thurman, a retreat on mindfulness practice and a Celtic Tradition retreat.
Peace Hill affirms and engages the vision of Avila to serve as “a nonprofit community center where people and groups connect, deepen their work, and rejuvenate,” a place “to support and connect community organizers and leaders working collectively for systemic change in the South and beyond.” Learn more at: avilacenter.org
The aspirations of Peace Hill at Avila were articulated many years ago by Sister Evelyn Mattern, who embodied the meaning of a contemplative activist:
Unless action arises from spirit, it’s empty. And if spirit claims all the territory and never gets its hands dirty in the marketplace, it too is empty. I don’t know that I’ve integrated those things. But I’ve quested after it.Sister Evelyn Mattern