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Local COP26 pilgrimage passes on the baton

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Over 100 people in total took part in the different sections of the walk, which covered just over 100 miles. This was a local expression of a national Young Christian Climate Network pilgrimage from Truro to Glasgow with local Anglicans, Quakers and others facilitating a multifaith expedition across Norfolk, joining with others walking towards Glasgow, where the COP26 climate summit will take place in November.

The pilgrimage was a relay from church to church or Quaker meeting house to meeting house, and began at Great Yarmouth on Saturday 21 August and following the Cross-Norfolk Trail, through Norwich, before arriving in King’s Lynn on Sunday 29 August.

At the beginning of each day, there was a time of silent reflection and usually prayers and blessings by the host church, and the following statement was read out:

This November, world leaders are meeting in Glasgow for crucial climate negotiations. We believe it is time to make decisions that protect people, not bank balances, to decide that no country will go into debt tackling climate change. It is a decade-defining opportunity to make a stand.

We commit to urgently galvanising, inspiring, engaging the people of the county of Norfolk and beyond into action around Climate Change and Climate Justice through participating in this tributary pilgrimage to COP26 in a variety of ways including, prayer, letters, and the humble act of travelling between two places threatened by climate change, Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn.

We walk as people of different faiths, beliefs, and no belief, as a practice of that faith, an act of connection with the earth on which we walk, the people with whom we walk, and the communities through which we pass. We do so in kinship with the suffering peoples and creatures of the earth, displaced by climate and ecological breakdown.

We journey in meditation, contrition, and joy, ready to engage and learn, because we care, and because we have hope.

Alan Crawshaw, one of the pilgrims and Licensed Lay Minister at St Nicholas Church Dersingham said: “It was worth the effort! I met lots of interesting people and felt stronger for being together and less overwhelmed by the enormity of climate change problems. We had some good times of prayer and silence together. The churches we stopped at were so welcoming and gave us a feast for our evening meal – though the floors were a bit hard to sleep on! It has been a great experience and let’s hope we can get lots more people talking about the issues.”

Another pilgrim, the Revd Becca Rogers, said: “Sharing the journey together was surprisingly powerful. We looked at routes and maps together, rested and shared food. We discussed many things on the way but mainly our reason for walking: our questions, concerns, and thoughts about the climate. I learnt a lot, as most knew more than I did and it was wonderful to be with others who cared so much. 

“We can never say what direct impact our walking had. Most likely, as part of something much bigger, our walking will make a difference, to those who will make decisions in November. But even now, it impacted us. It helped to be with others with such passion, who had given many more years to campaigning. It helped to feel part of something ‘bigger’, and, at a time when it is easy to feel despair, simply to be in God’s creation, surrounded by beauty was refreshing and hope-giving.”

The baton was a bottle of seawater, from the beach at Great Yarmouth, carried in a discarded plastic bottle that had floated in on the tide. “We send it with the instruction to pour it over the boat, carried on the main relay route, as it travels to Glasgow, and discard the bottle into a recycling bin!” The baton was passed on to another tributary group from the Diocese of Ely, who will ensure it meets up with the main YCCN to Glasgow.

More than 60 people gathered on King’s Staithe Square, marking the end of the journey. The Rt Revd Dr Jane Steen, Bishop of Lynn offered a short reflection: “We remember that what unites us as Christians is a beautiful world, which is much greater than anything that can divide us.” She added that interdependent, intergenerational and intentional were words that stood out to her when she thought about climate change and her faith.

Hamed Al-Taher, secretary of West Norfolk Islamic Association said: “It is our duty to maintain what we have got and to deliver it for our next generation.”

Lesley Grahame, Norwich Green Party councillor, who travelled the whole route by bike, said: “We are a part of a much wider movement going to Glasgow and it is going to take a huge amount of public pressure for the government to live up to their words.”

Richard Woodham, one of the key organisers said: “From furthest east to utmost west, from the heart of Norfolk and Waveney – we’ve collected our concerns, our prayers and our hopes and fears about the climate crisis. We have passed them on to others who will take them north to the COP26 Conference. Now the most difficult work begins. We have to take a long hard look at our own lifestyles and change the things that need to be changed!”