It might surprise you that until about three years ago I wasn't a walker. I didn't learn till I was 19 months old, 'cos crawling was where it was at, and when I left home my family delighted in going on a walking holiday without me to hold them back. I'm not saying I couldn't walk, more that I wouldn't unless I really had to.
I walk a lot now, mostly out of necessity to get to and from train stations. (Train count update: 1588!) My average day to and from Salford makes sure I hit the 6000 steps my phone demands. But I also walk for fun. My addiction to geocaching gets me out and about - it's funny what some tupperware hidden away for me to find and log does to get me moving - and the SCM staff steps competition is good motivation too.
The turning point for me in my relationship with walking was when I went on pilgrimage in the summer of 2016. Knowing I was about to start my new job at SCM, I booked with Methodist Women in Britain to walk to Lindisfarne on a 30-ish mile, 3-day hike, carrying everything I needed with 11 other women. It wasn't easy. A couple of times during practice walks I'd had to call home to get picked up and by day two of the actual pilgrimage the walking shoes I was certain I'd broken in were giving me blisters. The final day of walking I was helped by my new friends who took things out of my bag to make it lighter, and the final 3 miles of barefoot walking along the Pilgrim's Way to that thin place of Holy Island just slightly easier. I learnt a lot in this walking, about myself and about God.
After the pilgrimage I started my new job with SCM, and life continued on. My usual commute to work is busy; I mostly get a seat on the train but we're all crammed in together, and occasionally it involves running across a station to make a connection. It’s not really a place I can seek God in the peace! But in walking, I can. In the repetitiveness of placing one foot in front of the other on paths that I walk over and over again, I can find a rhythm and my mind can be open to God and to thoughts.
I also find, however, that an openess to God can be found in the less obvious pilgrimages we make. Earlier in February I got to visit the University of Keele's Chaplaincy. I spent time in the afternoon with staff there, and the evening with the CathSoc. Together we explored the core of what SCM is, and we looked at Matthew 16:13-20, where Jesus' identity is revealed to Simon and he is renamed Peter, the rock on which the church is built. It was a really great evening of fellowship, but for me there was also something special about getting the bus from Stoke (my place of origin) to Keele. As we passed the hospital I was born in and the places I grew up around I felt like I was connecting in to who I am. I reflected on the journey, both physical and spiritual, that I have been on so far.
Sometimes our pilgrimages are obvious, like a 30 mile walk to Holy Island. Sometimes they are special and sometimes they are mundane, like a bus ride through a familiar place, but they always leave us more open to God, and changed (hopefully) for the better.
Pilgrimage is one of the themes of Wondering and Wandering, our National Gathering in Cardiff on the 8-10th March. During the weekend people who have experienced different pilgrimages will be sharing their journeys with us on a Pilgrimage Panel, and there is also the chance to go on a mini-pilgrimage as one of the workshops. Bookings are still open! Why don't you join us?