Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Before We Go

There's a real buzz in the air as the big day – or I should say big weekend – approaches. Tina Clayton, who with her husband Stuart is driving the Paulinus Project – has been up at 7am, working up to 15 hours a day – to bring it all together. As I saw at our recent meeting, there’s a huge amount of goodwill and support from the people of Todmorden – and it all needs co-ordinating. Someone has just come up with an idea for a play. Tina and Stuart would love to make it happen – but it’s so last minute.

Everything kicks off at 11am on Saturday 27th August, when the Mayor of Todmorden will officially open the three-day festival, which will have a medieval theme. There will be exhibitions, competitions and more – art, music, flowers, food, street entertainment and a free community feast – following in the Medieval tradition of hospitality. In addition, the Paulinus Way route maps and book will be launched over the weekend.

Ironically, we pilgrims will miss a lot of the festivities, because we’ll be setting off at Sunday lunchtime. There will be up to a hundred of us, some of whom will be walking for the weekend, and some who, like me, will be going the whole distance – 65 miles from Todmorden to York – over a week. Pilgrims ranging in age from 20-something to late 70s will be taking part, some travelling from as far afield as Sweden and New Zealand.

To be honest, I find the prospect of walking with so many people I don’t know quite daunting. But Revd Jeanette, one of the assistant curates at St Mary's Church, told me she’s really looking forward to that aspect of it: "We will learn and grow together as a group of pilgrims. I pray that we all may help each other along the road," she said.

Jeanette also reminded me that it won't be physically easy. Not only will we be walking up to 12 miles a day, but up to 45 of us will be spending the nights in very basic church accommodation: "It will teach us how to trust and live life more simply, as we sleep on church floors and do away with creature comforts. It will give us an awareness of the lengths Paulinus went to, to spread the Gospel, and a healthy regard for his zeal and stamina."

Another pilgrim I spoke to, Pat Dale, said she’s always loved walking – so much so that she started a St Mary’s walking club three years ago. Pat is about to embark on a pastoral ministry, which will begin on Sunday September 4th, the day after the pilgrimage ends. It means she’ll have to get a train back on the Saturday and miss the Sunday morning service at York Minster, but that doesn’t dampen her enthusiasm: “About eight months ago I knew God wanted me to do the ministry, and this is a wonderful opportunity to walk as Jesus used to walk, to preach and heal.” 

As well as a spiritual journey, for Pat it’s a journey towards fitness and health. She suffers from weight-related sleep apnoea, and she’s already lost a stone and a half, and aims to lose another stone before the start of the walk.

Tina told me why she’ll be going: “I want, just for the moment, to be in the footsteps of this man I’ve spent so long with, and get a sense of his commitment and faith. When people ask me why I’ve dedicated three years of my life to this, I tell them that, despite all the uncertainties, things have always had an amazing way of working out.”

This morning I received a copy of the Bishop of Oxford's new book through the post – Pocket Prayers for Pilgrims. There’s something very satisfying about a pocket-sized book. I’ll be taking it along on the pilgrimage, and asking pilgrims to read the songs, reflections and prayers, and tell me what resonates with them on their journeys – through life, and through Yorkshire.

The back cover says: "To go on pilgrimage is to set out on a journey that may take us to unexpected places."

For me that sums it up. For all our reservations, we’re looking forward to discovering some unexpected places on our pilgrimage.


  1. Again good luck - will you be able to join us at blog club for a celebration the next day?
    Sorry I won't be around for the stuff in Tod - am on holiday in the lakes, but will don my walking boots up there and think of you all.

  2. Thanks for the good wishes. Definitely hoping to limp along on the Monday! In the meantime have a great holiday in the lovely Lakes!