‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.’ (Psalm 25.4)
I’m sure a number of you reading this will have been on pilgrimages. There are internationally famous ones, such as walking the Camino de Santiago (on my bucket list!), but pilgrimage opportunities are available closer to home as well. Before this year I had never done an official pilgrimage but had, nevertheless, found intense value in walking around outdoors, away from the restrictions and bustle of computers, offices, and shops.
When James Shelton, curate in the Earsham Benefice, started planning a ‘Pilgrims’ initiative, I asked for more information and signed up to do the launch walk on Saturday 27 May. It so happened that around 75 other people did the same – a number that vastly exceeded original expectations. Bishop Graham also undertook the pilgrimage and presided over a service of Holy Communion at the end.
The day was amazing. On arrival at All Hallows Convent, Ditchingham, we were given colour brochures for the day, hot drinks and a goodie bag with an absolutely delicious oat trail bar. The latter was a gift from the charity, Emmaus, located at the All Hallows’ Convent site. The chefs at the Emmaus Café had apparently experimented with seven different permutations of the recipe before deciding on the best set of ingredients.
At 8.30am we had a short service of Morning Prayer, before being allocated walking groups and preparing for the walk (i.e. a very important toilet stop!) Each of the walk leaders had spent several days on a pilgrim leadership course in Sweden and this had profoundly influenced the way the pilgrimage was structured. At intervals, along the way, our leaders would ask us to ‘huddle’ and reflect on a concept such as ‘rest’, ‘slowing down’ and ‘freedom’. We were then invited to share any thoughts on this before praying together. It helped to remind us that this was a spiritual as well as a physical exercise.
Whilst the day was supremely well-organised, with James having walked the route himself 4 times prior to the launch and written detailed instructions, some of the groups experienced delays and the overall distance covered (part of the Via Beata) was rather more than the 12 miles advertised. We were very, very happy to see both our lunch stop, Hardwick Church, and our final destination, Great Moulton Church, where a lavish tea awaited us. Taxis took us back to the start venue so that we could then complete our day’s journey. I arrived at my final destination (home) some 13 hours after I had left it, with some food for thought:
- Not having to be in charge and check the route is immensely liberating. One learns to trust the person in charge and to focus on how you journey, following the one who knows the way
- The fact that the end destination was a lot further than I thought meant that I was pushed more, but also that I kept going. If I had known the distance in advance, would I have balked at the challenge?
- I had a lovely treat awaiting at the final destination: a home-made tea at Great Moulton
There are obvious parallels with the Christian life journey, as I am sure you have worked out.
‘Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth” (Psalm 86.11)