Sunday, 28 August 2011

To Be a Pilgrim

I found this morning’s Communion service at St Mary’s Church very moving and, in truth, I felt a little wobbly at times. Funnily enough, it was during the most rousing, upbeat hymn that I felt almost choked and had to regain my composure. I think it’s because, although they are a very welcoming bunch, I was starting to realise just how daunting it is to join a group of strangers for anything – especially something unknown. I wasn’t in my usual place of worship, singing and praying alongside the people I’ve come to know well. But, as I was to discover, I was by no means the only one feeling that way. And after all isn’t that what pilgrimage is all about – a journey into the unknown?

When I wasn’t feeling wobbly I found the whole experience very motivating. There’s something amazing about singing ‘To Be a Pilgrim’ when that’s just what you’re about to be. And sharing the peace was lovely – especially the warm hug from Tina.

Revd Owen Page led the service alongside the Right Reverend Thomas Butler, Honorary Assistant Bishop of Wakefield. In his powerful sermon, Bishop Tom brought to life the vivid image of Paulinus banging in his crosses to claim for Christ the places he visited: ‘Bang bang – Todmorden belongs to Christ. Bang bang – Dewsbury belongs to Christ.’ The crosses, said Bishop Tom, were a promise that Jesus would be known in the kingdom.

He quoted a poem – The Sparrow – by another local hero – Ted Hughes. One line goes: ‘Though he looks like shirking, he works at it like working’. Bishop Tom likened it to pilgrimage – which might look like a walking holiday, but is in fact no such thing. He rounded off with the rousing words: ‘Go to it, pioneering pilgrims on the Paulinus Way… and go to it, brothers and sisters at St Mary’s… Walk together in faith.’

And suddenly I had a sense that that’s what it’s all about. When we were tucking into a spread of sandwiches and cakes afterwards, I got chatting to a couple of the parishioners who, for one reason or another, were unable to walk the pilgrimage. Talking to them I realised that, although they wouldn’t be with us on the geographical journey, they would be with us in spirit. Though I didn’t know them well, they had ceased to be strangers. And so, despite the fact that the heavens chose the moment we walked out of the church to open and drench us, I had a sense that we were all taking our first steps with a spring in our step.

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