I have only been on a few short pilgrimages in my life, but when I have they have been a rich blessing. I am always grateful for even just a few hours walking along paths where others have trod before and alongside those who walk with me now. And on any pilgrimage, or even a good hearty walk, what we experience, see and hear can speak to our souls.
And so I enjoyed a September Saturday in good company walking from St Mary’s Richmond to St Michael’s Downholme, via Hudswell in the heart of the Dales. There was much I received that day, but I share just a few thoughts about ‘being church’ that particularly touched me.
We began and ended our day in church, in prayer. This is where we as Christians must start. But then we stepped outside and walked with others who were many in number and diverse in spirit. Some had association with the church but many did not. Some were local, others had already travelled far. We walked together, joined in spirit, held together in community. While the church and prayer was at start and end, the church oozed beyond its walls, as it must, to share the Christ who is living and walks with all.
Secondly, we did stop at another church for much needed tea, pie and cake! But on paper St Michael’s, Hudswell church closed 6 years ago and what has grown out of the apparent death of a church is tremendous new life and hope. Led by the incredible Michael Taylor, he with others had a vision to re-purpose this now unused church as a walkers’ hostel. The project is still in progress, but with half the funds raised and plans drawn up, it will happen. Another conversation with a seasoned Camino pilgrim helped me see that this church was being re-born as a place of Christian witness. It will offer sanctuary, rest, kindness and pastoral care, enabling those who are on both outer and inner journeys to receive something of God.
Finally, five minutes from the end a group of us took a wrong turn. We found ourselves trapped with no way out of a deep gulley. Beyond someone was tolling the bell of Downholme church to guide us home. My two ‘tween’ children had taken a different turn ahead of us seeing a gate they thought was the right way and calling us to come. But was it the right way? Didn’t we adults known best? Well some half an hour or so later when we retraced our steps and found the same gate the only two youngsters with us had instinctively known was right, we all found each other in the light, warmth and peace of the church. Was God saying to me and to us, ‘listen to the young, be guided by them, trust what they have to say for there you’ll find church, and God.’
A few hours, one Saturday, walking, talking, listening and praying with others. But the conversations will continue in the hearts and minds of those pilgrims for many days to come. And continue to guide and to bless.