Sunday, 4 September 2011

Day Eight - Sunday 4th September - York Minster & back to Todmorden

Another modern-day pilgrim, Deborah Douglas, wrote in Pilgrims in the Kingdom: “It is exhilarating to walk atop the city walls of York… looking down on a thriving city that remembers not only the Middle Ages but also the Vikings, the Saxons and the Romans.”


Ah yes, the Romans – we were here because of a Roman – the first Bishop of York, no less. Today we were going to meet the 97th Archbishop of York – a man who, as a refugee to this country himself, had doubtless faced in a very raw way, some of the challenges we’d encountered.

It was, as I’d hoped, a comfortable night’s sleep in the enclosed wooden pew. Last night on my way back from supper I’d noticed a body sleeping on the front steps of the church. This morning I went out to see if he wanted some breakfast. My approach startled him, but he accepted my offer and tucked into toast and coffee, and told me his name was Brendan. It crossed my mind to tell him why we were sleeping in the chapel, but then again I thought it was probably of more interest to us than him, so I left him to eat in peace.

Tina had asked me if I’d join her in doing an interview for BBC Radio York. So after breakfast she and I and Brian took a taxi to their studio, where we were interviewed by Julia Booth. From the way she talked it was clear that Tina’s passion for the subject – and her love for Paulinus, the apostle of the north – is undimmed. I like to think that the northerners listening felt a tingle of pride when they heard her speaking.

Tina & Joan
After the interview we had to hot-foot it, blisters and all, to Museum Gardens to meet the rest of the group, plus a coach-load of people from St Mary’s who’d come to join us for the ‘closing ceremony’ as someone called it. Among them was Joan, who I was told had been a stalwart and supporter of the Paulinus Way project from the outset. Tina greeted her like a long-lost mother, and insisted that she walk at the front of group with those who had walked the whole way. It was a nice acknowledgement that Joan’s role had also been a journey of pilgrimage.

When we reached the Minster entrance we huddled outside waiting for the Archbishop to appear. Many of us agreed that it felt strange not to be walking, and I got a reminder on my phone that I should have been doing coffee after church back in Heptonstall. Oops!

As yesterday evening, and as when we’d limped into Leeds, we were incongruous in comparison with the cathedral slickers who were going through that impressive entrance. Once again, we were ragged interlopers in a world where it matters to be smart. But the only difference was that here we were known and our achievement was acknowledged. We wore our griminess as a badge of honour.

When he arrived, the Archbishop said a prayer on the steps before leading us down the aisle. We were watched in silence by the entire congregation. As I linked arms with Helena and Jayne, I found it was a moment of intense humility, and in a sudden flash I understood something quite new. I realised that there’s nothing cringing or inferior about being humble, but at the heart of true humility is a kernel of inextinguishable pride.

We took our seats in the reserved pews and the service began. The first part was a welcome from our own Bishop, Stephen of Wakefield. He summoned Tina and presented her with a staff with a scallop shell and gourd tied to the top, and put a hat on her head, also decorated with a scallop shell.

Typically, when it came to singing the first hymn, we all lost our way in the hymnbooks, and our fumbling with the collection bowl provoked impatient clucks from the sidesman. But we’d taken so many wrong turns this week, and still managed to reach our destination, that it didn’t matter one bit.

The Dean of York, the Very Revd Keith Jones, preached. He must have noticed our shabbiness, because he said: "We come besmirched with the world as the pilgrims come, grimy with their journey." He rounded off by saying: "Christians are pilgrims as we live. Our Baptism is our commission. Our destination is not less than the love of God."
All Revved Up

When Jesus commissioned his followers, sending them out on their journeys, he gave them some very specific instructions (Matthew 10:5-42). In essence they were:
-  Mix with everyone, not just your own kind. On a pilgrimage you have no choice!
- Travel light – don’t be weighed down by material things. Okay, so we had our bags ferried by minibus. But again, many of us learnt that it’s much easier to make progress when you’re not carrying baggage.
- When someone is receptive, keep the conversation going. There was plenty of good chat!
- You don’t need to put up with hostility – just walk away and, if you need to, shake a fist at them. There were a few fists shaken – metaphorically speaking – and as many hugs of reconciliation!
- Be aware that it is a jungle out there, but also know that by God’s grace you will have the wherewithal to deal with whatever you meet. I would say that we learnt this lesson above all. Journeying by foot, sleeping in basic accommodation, losing your way geographically and emotionally – you’re flying by faith. And, despites the wrong turns (and pubs closed at lunchtime) we were provided for at every turn.

All of Us

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Day Seven - Saturday 3rd September - Tadcaster to York

Alison, Trevor, Robert, Jayne

We’ve made it! As I write we’ve set up our ‘home’ for the last night – tonight we’re staying in York Central Methodist Church. We walked the last half-mile through throngs of tourists and Saturday-afternoon shoppers to get here – feeling incongruous, as we had in Leeds, and a little spaced out. For some pilgrims the last half mile was almost unbearable. Heather ‘Two Sticks’ Taylor spent a lot of time leaning on her sticks, and when we arrived was almost (but not quite) too whacked to laugh and be her usual jovial self.
Most of us are sleeping in the capacious chapel – the enclosed pews not only give privacy, but some are very large – and carpeted! You should have heard our whoops of excitement as we set up home for the night. After only a week, it’s the little luxuries which count. Better still, I’ve snaffled Jean’s bedding because she’s staying in a hotel. A pillow and duvet! I’m expecting a thoroughly good night’s sleep.
This morning we woke to another sunny day in the church hall of St Mary’s Tadcaster. Around breakfast time Jayne, Trevor and Alison spotted something – or someone – lying on the ground in the churchyard. They approached with trepidation, and it turned out to be a sleeping man, by the name of Robert. He’d been on his way home to Leeds, missed the last bus and simply collapsed in the graveyard. So they welcomed him in and he had breakfast with them. As Brian said later, it was, “A real act of Christian charity.”
Pat tends Brian's blistered feet
Revd Sue Sheriff led us in worship in a side chapel of the beautiful church, and then we were treated to a second breakfast of bacon butties, made by the people of St Mary’s. One of them, John, joined us on the walk. As with Alex yesterday, his local knowledge was invaluable for helping pilgrims find their way.
Although we were a larger group for the last two walking days, I’ve noticed that we’ve fallen into a more natural rhythm. We’re better at waiting for people to catch up, and people fall more easily in and out of chats, or walk awhile alone. Today’s walking was less arduous than the last couple of days, although we had some interesting detours through a muddy potato field and over a broken-down bridge. Giggle of the day was someone saying that John ‘puts the grim in pilgrim’! To be clear, that's John from Tod not John from Tad!
Along the walk I chatted to Pat, who will be missing the very last bit of the pilgrimage tomorrow because she’s embarking on a pastoral ministry course at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield. I asked how it had been for her. She said it had been a good spiritual experience: “Yesterday was tough, I won’t deny it, but it’s taught me about walking step by step. This is the physical challenge, and tomorrow I will be starting on the mental challenge.”
I think Revd Jeanette was essentially agreeing when she said: “I think many of us came on the journey not knowing what it was we are working on. It may not be clear, or it may be the start of a much longer journey.”
There’s something there about the cycle of life, death, renewal and regeneration. T. S. Eliot wrote about it in the opening lines of ‘East Coker’ and, although the village of East Coker is hundreds of miles away in Somerset, for me his words also encapsulate the Englishness of the landscape we walked through today:
In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth

The rain started a matter of minutes after we arrived at our destination in York. It seemed so fitting. We’d set off in a deluge; we’d had a bit of drizzle on the approach to Halifax Minster but, other than that – not a drop the whole way!
Today as we walked, the news came through that yesterday evening, back in Todmorden, Revd Nancy had given the last rites to Irene Saul – an elderly member of the congregation. The mere mention of her name provoked vibrant memories among those who knew her. Some people remarked on how beautifully turned out she always was, while Jean remembered the trifles she used to make for church occasions. The vicar at the time disapproved of alcohol, so Irene would put sherry in a few and surreptitiously offer them to people ‘with’ or ‘without’.

And so, as we approached the end of our pilgrimage we said private prayers for Irene, approaching the end of hers.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Day Six - Friday 2nd September - Leeds to Tadcaster

We're making headlines
In contrast to the night in Halifax (my fault, not the Minster’s) I slept like a baby in Headingley Methodist Church. No butterfly ghosts interrupted my dreams, and I really recommend sleeping on pew cushions.
Like so many churches, HMC is well equipped with ample tea- and coffee-making facilities, and people went over the road to Greggs for bacon butties.
I’d met Alex through Twitter. She was interested in the Paulinus Way and keen to join us for the day. I was chuffed to bits to have picked up a pilgrim through social networking. As it happened she lived round the corner, and came to join us for our morning worship.
As a Methodist Minister, Heather led us in worship. From the way she spoke you could tell that she was still very affected by the events of the night before. For me, it made it all the richer, more real, and refocussed my attention on the fact that this is a pilgrimage.
The first part of the ‘walk’ was by bus. First we went to the bus station, where we were to meet up with nine more pilgrims. All bar one had already walked with us over the weekend but, due to other commitments, hadn’t been able to do the whole week. With Alex’s local knowledge we found the right bus stop easily and, as a brand new group of pilgrims, we got on the bus to Slaid Hill, away from the city, to start our walk.
I’m childish enough that I always get on the top deck of the bus when I can, and I was loving the views over suburban Leeds, when we had to disembark and start – actually – walking. One of the aspects of this journey that I’m loving is the contrast – from walking the Pennine Hills to riding a city bus.
But it wasn’t an easy day for me - the cracks are beginning to show. People are forming allegiances and, predictably, storming. I heard sharp words used at least twice today. But I also saw hugs of reconciliation. And, yes, I’m not above it myself.
It started to trouble me – are we on a pilgrimage, or just a long walk? Bishop Tom had warned us that it’s no holiday – was the holiday over and, if so, where was the pilgrimage? Today, it did not feel spiritually edifying. I talked to Helena, to get a Swedish perspective. She’d already told me that in Sweden they generally have a meditation of at least an hour in the evening. So I quizzed her more, and she told me that it’s common to walk in silence in single file, possibly reflecting on something specific.
The boudoir
I also talked to Donald, who has spent time with the Iona Community. He told me that, when he goes on pilgrimage there, pilgrims make regular stops for reflection and prayer. We’re doing no such thing. Heather’s worship this morning refocussed me, but I had lost focus during the day.
Alex walked with us as far as Bramham, when she had to get a bus back to Leeds. Afterwards she sent us a tweet: “Funny how you knit with a group so quickly but it's time to leave the pilgrims on @PaulinusWay. Really enjoyed my day on the trail. :)”
Jayne Booth - councillor, rebel & alternative

It may be that future groups of pilgrims walking the Paulinus Way will have more structured journeys, with a greater focus on spirituality. And I would like to join them. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that St Mary’s Church is a very – but very – inclusive church – and everyone has been welcomed to take part. People who have rarely set foot in a church have been moved by the experience of sleeping under stained glass and saints. And I, for one, am proud to be part of that.

Day Five - Thursday 1st September - Wakefield to Leeds

The fountain in Wakefield
When Daniel Defoe visited Wakefield on his tour between 1724 and 1726, he described it as: “A clean, large, well-built town, very populous and very rich.” Hmmm, I’m not sure many people today would recognise his description of affluence, but I do know Wakefield to be a vibrant place of character – with a cathedral slap bang in the middle. There it stands, in the midst of all the commerce and consumerism – a reminder that there are things in life other than shopping.

When I arrived everyone was finishing their breakfast of beans and eggs and saying their goodbyes. They told me that they’d been to a lovely Eucharist service led by Canon Tony Macpherson alongside Rt Revd Tony Robinson, the Bishop of Pontefract. The five who’d walked the journey from Dewsbury to Wakefield on the rest day were exuberant about having done it.

So we set off through the Yorkshire countryside, on a gorgeous sunny day, with everyone refreshed after a day off. The thing that really struck me was how different the landscape was. Rather than steep, dark, Pennine hills, we were walking through rolling hills and ploughed fields. It reminded me of Hertfordshire, where I’m from. The smell of cabbage rotting in the fields is very familiar.

Because of the nature of the landscape, we were able to walk long interrupted stretches. I would say it was they day we really started to get to know one another. Owen told me some unrepeatable jokes, and a few people got nicknames. Rev Hev became known as ‘Two Sticks Taylor’, on account of her habit of crossing her walking sticks behind her neck as she walked (she swears it helps). We thought of calling Brian ‘Boudoir Brian’, and I became ‘Tinkle Bell’… well you can work it out.

We got off to a good start but, as it turned out, it was also the longest slog of a walking day so far – and the hottest. Worse, the Transpennine Trail is badly signposted (ie, not signposted at all) in parts, so there was a fair bit of huddling around the map and head-scratching as we tried to work out the route. The Aire and Calder Navigation was stunning to walk along but, by the time we got to it we were tired and footsore and, truth be told, starting to fray around the edges. There was markedly less chat. At every rest stop everyone stretched or sat massaging their legs. Yet for all that, only Brian - who was really suffering with his feet - accepted Tina’s offer of a lift. Of all of us, Rev Hev has pretty much always taken up the rear, along with Revd Jeanette, whose job it is to wear a bright yellow tabard and be the ‘rearguard’. But despite struggling at times, Heather isn’t giving up. I heard someone suggest she go in the car, but without hesitation she replied, “I’m not stopping until I fall over.”

I’ve noticed that some people are being fairly puritan about the journey - and funnily enough they’re not necessarily the churchgoers. Alison has been carrying all her belongings – sleeping bag, clothes etc, the whole way, because, "That’s what pilgrimage is all about!” For my part, I’m extremely glad that Stuart, Tina and Owen are ferrying our bags around for us.

A highlight for Jayne was some good news about her Mum, when she heard that her tumour had shrunk. The results are as good as can be expected, and mean that she can continue with her chemotherapy treatment.

Coming into Leeds along the canal, Alison suddenly spotted a kingfisher the other side of the water. We all crowded round – and suddenly a flash of vivid blue and orange streaked along the water. Amazing! It was an example of the natural world infiltrating the city, much as, in Wakefield, the sacred Cathedral infiltrates the secular shopping centre. And as we walked through the hustle and bustle of the city, we pilgrims started to look out of place among the commuters – grubby, footsore infiltrators in the smart, sharp-suited city.

When we arrived at Headingley Methodist Church we were met by Barbara, who showed us to our carpeted rooms and allowed us to take pew cushions out of the church to use as makeshift beds. Alas we weren't allowed to sleep in the church itself, because of insurance restrictions. We were tired, and there was a bit of argy bargy about it. By this point in the journey people clearly LOVED sleeping in the heart of the church - and that applies to churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike.

I shared a room with Helena, Jayne, Alison and Barbara. Just as we were settling down, Barbara came round to check that we were okay. Someone asked her about ghosts, and she told us that the church ghost is a little butterfly, which has been known to fly out at funerals. A ghostly butterfly! - it seemed a lovely image to fall asleep to at the end of a long day.