July Clergy Letter - Pilgrimage

I am writing this in the week of Midsummer, and I find myself getting ‘itchy feet’ for the road. Many people want to travel at this time of year; to visit far-flung places and pursue their dreams, usually with the aid of a plane and a passport.

The journey I am drawn towards is much slower… to reduce my pace of life to that which my feet can cover in a day. Walking slows us and makes us more mindful of the world without and (even less known and understood) - the world within. It is an ancient spiritual practice which usually took people on journeys to sites of religious significance like Canterbury, Rome or in the case of the now popular Camino de Santiago – to the tomb of the Apostle James in the impressive Cathedral there. However, pilgrimage is less about the destination and more about the journey; the people you meet, the conversations you have; the wisdom and insights you gather – about yourself and about God. As the speed of life slows to walking pace… we are more in touch with our souls and the eternal significance of life… we ‘see more clearly’. Pilgrimage changes us.

One can do pilgrimage on a variety of scales. Last month my son Matthew undertook a day’s pilgrimage from his present home in Fenton (Stoke on Trent) back to his childhood home here in Cheswardine. It was an opportunity to reflect, pray (be with God) and prepare for his forthcoming move north to Carlisle Diocese. He filmed and recorded his experience and posted it on YouTube. You can find the link to this on our Benefice website. www.theunitedbenefice.com

My own experience of pilgrimage has been varied; from our biannual walk around the 6 churches of our Benefice carrying the Benefice cross and praying for our communities… to my pilgrimage from Stafford to London in 2017 to pray for the NHS. Every time I walk… God shows me new things; often very different from what I expected.

So you may be wondering where I feel drawn to go on pilgrimage this Summer? I would like to walk St Oswald’s Way which runs some 97 miles from Heavenfield near Hexham to Holy Island on the Northumbrian coast. At Heavenfield the Christian King Oswald fought and defeated the pagan Kings of Wales and Mercia in around 635AD. It is said that he erected a large wooden cross there and asked his soldiers to pray before the battle. This is the Saint to whom our church at Hinstock is dedicated….and as we face our own battle to save this village church from closure – I feel drawn to walk and pray for God’s guidance. I have no idea who may walk with me or who I will meet on the way, but this is all part of the joy of pilgrimage.

Jesus spent his three years of ministry ‘on the road’ with his disciples. The gospels record their conversations… the places they visited and the people they met. On the way…. They were challenged and transformed. It is the same for us as the words of a popular modern hymn record:

‘We Are Pilgrims On A Journey, And Companions On The Road; We Are Here To Help Each Other Walk The Mile And Bear The Load.’

Rev Becky Richards

21st June 2022