More than 100 pilgrims from the Church of England Diocese of Durham gathered this week to hear personal reflections from two prolific pilgrim trail Bishops. The Bishops speaking were The Rt Revd Paul Butler Bishop of Durham and the Rt Revd Stephen Cotterill currently Bishop of Chelmsford, and soon to be the next Archbishop of York.
The gathering was one of the launch events for the Diocese of Durham 2020 Year of Pilgrimage, a year that will see the whole diocese engage in activities that help grow people in their faith and journey home to God. The event also signified the countdown to Bishop Paul embarking on walking four of the six new ‘Northern Saints Trails’ which will be opening on St Cuthbert’s Day, March 20th. Bishop Paul will lead inaugural pilgrimages along The Way of Life, The Way of Love, The Way of Learning and The Way of Light which all lead to the shrine of St Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral.
Two other routes, The Angel’s Way and The Way of the Sea provide links to give pilgrims continuous pilgrimage routes between Lindisfarne and Durham.
The fact that the individual routes are all called ‘ways’ has a particular resonance for Christians because in earlier times the Christian Faith was referred to as ‘The Way’.
Bishop Stephen spoke about his own experiences journeying along the way of the Camino del Norte (Camino being Spanish for Way) – the Northern route of the Camino Santiago in 2016. He said: “Pilgrimage is the way – it’s the journey of life, it teaches us to learn as we journey through life. We must be the first generation of Christians that think that pilgrimage is about arriving rather than the journey – our forebears knew the truth that we have neglected: that all the important things are learned on the way!”
“Pilgrimage is important because the whole of life is a journey and pilgrimage helps us understand that life is a journey home to God, so it’s both a way of receiving truths about the Christian faith and then sharing them.”
Bishop Paul reflected on his own experiences of his annual Prayer Walks around the diocese and the opportunity the four Northern Saints Trails offer, when he embarks on the first inaugural walk of them as Diocesan pilgrimage routes on Palm Sunday (April 5th). He said: “I think the big thing is it encourages people to take a bit of time-out. To walk, to discover things about themselves, about other people, about Communities but above all about God.
So for me, walking these routes is a means by which people have an opportunity to spend some time discovering the living God as they discover themselves and people around them. One of the things I love about the new routes is that they are short enough for a large number of people to do them. We’re also going to work on ways of sharing in those walks even if you can’t do them – that’s the next stage for us.
Bishop Stephen added:” I also think that nowadays we have fallen into a bit of a trap of seeing pilgrimage as ecclesiastical sightseeing. So churches go on a pilgrimage which means they get on a bus and go somewhere and that’s not a pilgrimage! It’s still a good thing to do but, it’s not a pilgrimage.
“So what I like about these Northern Saints routes is that they are achievable and they will experience all the important things you learn on the way, not at the destination. I think this will have a significant impact on people and their walk with God.
“Two of the most important things I learnt on my Camino Pilgrimage were ‘How to travel light’ and ‘What enough looks like’.”
Asked what bearing these had on his thinking on modern-day life, Bishop Stephen was quick to point out their importance. He said: “It’s hard to think of a more important thing for us to learn as a world and a global community with the environmental crisis that we are facing that we’ve got to learn a different way of inhabiting life.
“We’ve got to learn to live within our means to learn to tread lightly, and these are all the things you just learnt naturally on pilgrimage because when you’re on a pilgrimage, you can’t take a load of stuff with you!”
‘Discovering you are a pilgrim is the way of you living your whole life‘ was Bishop Paul’s response when asked the one thing that he would say to a person considering journeying further in their faith through pilgrimage. He added: “I would say take some time-out, take time to just journey, and in that journey, discover more of who you are and who God wants you to be.”
Full details of the Bishops Inaugural Northern Saints Pilgrimages are here: https://durhamdiocese.org/our-faith/2020-a-year-of-pilgrimage/
The Way of Life Pilgrimage – Gainford green – 3 pm on Sunday 5th April (Palm Sunday) for a short service.
The walk formally starts on the 6th – concluding Maundy Thursday (9th) with a procession to Durham Cathedral via Prebends Bridge and then annual Chrism Eucharist at 11 am.
Each evening 7.30 – 9.00 pm (Monday 6th – Wednesday 8th) we are holding ‘In conversation with Lord Bates and friends’. Monday at Witton Park Village Hall will be on Encouraging Young Aspirations; Tuesday at Whitworth Hall Hotel on Walking as Witness; Wednesday in St Oswald’s Durham on International Development.
The Way of Love Pilgrimage – May 21-23 Hartlepool to Durham
The Way of Learning Pilgrimage – May 25-27 Jarrow to Durham
The Way of Light Pilgrimage – May 28-31st Heavenfield/Hexham to Durham.
Northern Saints Trails – The six Northern Saints Trails will be launched on St Cuthberts Day March 20th at Durham Cathedral.