Canterbury Center in Dominica offers a vacation with a difference.
Rev. Dave Conway, an American priest, has come up with a novel idea that is attracting a number of Canadian Christians looking for a way to escape winter: combine pleasure with service in the Dominica, the largest of the Windward Islands in the Caribbean.
Here is how it works: In exchange for two hours of volunteer work five days a week, visitors can soak up the sun, lounge around the sea view bar, play euchre on the patio, and swim in the sea or the pool as a guest of the Canterbury Center, at cost.
The center, which is right in the middle of the island, “looks like a resort, feels like a resort but doesn’t act like a resort,” said Mr. Conway, who, along with four parishioners from the Florida-based Anglican Province of America, bought and renovated the property in 2004. (Described as a “continuing church,” the Anglican Province of America is outside the Anglican Communion. However, the center operates under the Anglican diocese of Northeastern Caribbean and Aruba, which is a member of the Anglican Communion.)
“”I think we’ve sub-contracted our faith,” said Mr. Conway, explaining the rationale behind the center. “We just give money on the collection plate, gone are the days when we actually helped build the barn.”
Since the center opened two years ago, it has attracted mostly snowbirds from various backgrounds, 89 per cent of them from Canada. (The center is aimed at Christian individuals and groups who agree not to proselytize.)
“A mother of seven called and said, ‘What can I do? I haven’t worked outside the home.’ I told her it seems to me that someone who has raised seven children has a lot of skills to teach,” said Mr. Conway. “She ended up teaching a parenting course and she also worked with challenged families on meal preparation, how to stretch one’s budget.” A psychologist went and now an assessment center has been set up on the island. Other guests have taught in nearby schools.
“This is what Christianity used to mean,” said Mr. Conway. “We knew how it felt because we could touch it and it comes alive.”
Mr. Conway said that initially most guests see the trip “as a cheap vacation,” but after a few days “it’s almost like a summer camp; people start talking about what they did.” By the end of the second week, he said, most act like “proud grandparents” to children and other locals they have interacted with. “Then, they don’t want to leave. They send me e-mails about the people they’ve met and they keep in touch with them,” he said. “Their faith has become real.”
Rick Kent, who found out about the center from an ad in the Niagara Anglican newspaper, savoured his experience at the centre. “We loved the place and the people,” said Mr. Kent, who went with his wife, Beth, and spent time teaching at St. John’s School. “We have told many people about our experiences and would encourage anyone to go.”
The Center’s Web site is www.thecanterburycenter.com