Last Saturday, under clear blue skies, coaches from Stockton and Newton Aycliffe headed north through the Diocese picking up pilgrims, and joined by other minibuses on route. After months of planning and preparation, the youth pilgrimage to Holy Island was finally under way! Bishop Mark, exchanging mitre for sunhat, explained to everyone how we were going to use our prayer beads during the day as we all prayed ‘Christ be with me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ to comfort and restore me.

So we finally set off, a stream of 130 pilgrims including 100 young people, first on the roadside and then onto the mud and sand, still wet from the retreating tide. Wading, paddling, slipping …  Everyone was in good spirits under the warm July sun, cooled by the sea breeze. Conversations buzzed and new friends were made as we snaked across the sands following the marker poles of the ancient Pilgrim’s Way, many finding shells and small stones to collect in their small hessian pilgrim bags.

At midpoint we paused. Bishop Mark again led us through our rhythm of prayer, and we sang together ‘Siyahamba, we are marching in the light of God’, repeating as we continued on our way.

On reaching the small sandy beach on the other side, those who had chosen barefoot put shoes back on. Again we paused for prayer. For some the 3 miles had been a challenge, but all were safely across and we headed up to the village hall for refreshments and the chance to get ice cream! News was just filtering through that England had just taken the lead against Sweden.

We gathered in the beautiful church of St Mary, almost filling the nave, as sunlight poured through the ancient windows. Together we sang ‘My lighthouse, my lighthouse, shining in the darkness, I will follow you.’ A 16 year old visitor from Ukraine spoke of how she had come to faith and the difference God was making in her life. Bishop Mark challenged us with a story about Aidan, the saint who had brought Christianity to Northumbria as Bishop of Lindisfarne back in the 7th century. Young people led us in Bible readings and prayers, including a spontaneous prayer of thanks for the second England goal! Many wrote on footprints what they wanted to say today to God on their journey of faith and brought them to the front and queues formed to light a candle. We thumbed through our prayer beads one final time together, quietening to a whisper, as we are encouraged to take and use this prayer as we returned to our everyday lives. A final blessing, ‘May God the Father who created you, guide your footsteps; may God the Son who redeemed you, share your journey; may God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you, lead you on life’s pilgrimage, and the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you wherever you may go.  Amen’

We returned to the village hall where our amazing catering team had put on a welcome meal of baked potatoes, chilli, cheese, beans and salad for us all before heading to our coaches and back home again. This has been a day we won’t forget!

A huge thanks to Kate Martin for all her organisation, to Sharon Pritchard and the Children’s Council and to everyone on the island for their hospitality at the church and in the village hall. Thanks also to all our amazing youth leaders, mostly volunteers, who brought their groups on pilgrimage, and to everyone who joined us and made it such a special day.

Mark Harrison, youth leader from 6:47 in Gateshead, said their group had had an excellent day, ‘… something to engage everyone no matter where they are on their journey of faith.’ Sam Quilty, church warden on Holy Island wrote, It was so wonderful having St Mary’s full of young people and seeing the place so ‘alive’. I felt quite emotional!’

Hopefully we will do a similar event in the future. The Pulse will be back at Durham Cathedral in the autumn, this time in the Chapter House, at 7pm on Sunday 14th October.

Andy Harris (Leader of Youth Mission and Ministry)