Since becoming a practising Christian I have gone to a few extra church services around Holy Week and Easter, but otherwise it has just been a normal week for me. Last year, though, I decided I wanted to do something different. For a long time pilgrimage has been of interest to me, specifically walking pilgrimages. Having read about them I decided it was something I wanted to experience first-hand.
Student Cross is an annual pilgrimage that happens over Holy Week and the Easter Triduum. Several groups, or ‘legs’, carry a big cross to Walsingham starting at different places including Nottingham, Leicester and London. I walked with the Northern Leg which started in Keyworth, near Nottingham. We walked during the day, and in the evening we would spend time together singing songs and sharing stories. Throughout the day we would frequently stop walking to rest or share in liturgy.
As an introvert it felt quite scary to be going to spend a week with lots of new people but I am so glad I went. I felt welcomed into a live and active community whilst not feeling pressured to fit in. Another worry I had was the physical aspect of walking such a long distance. However, you can skip some stretches of the walking and help the support team by moving luggage from one location to another or setting up lunch.
Having the rhythm that linked both prayer and walking was really powerful, and it was a very active way of living out my faith. By walking somewhere, you are slowing everything down. No longer was Walsingham a couple of hours by train - it was days of walking away. It allows you to really think about what you are doing and where you are going. Student cross is about a lot more than just getting to Walsingham, though, and the the old cliché rings true; it really is about the journey not the destination.
Along the way you mostly stay in church halls or with local residents. For a brief amount of time you become part of a church’s community – for many of the hosts, accommodating us pilgrims is a big part of their Holy Week. Yet you only stay a night, or maybe an hour for lunch, and then you walk onwards. There is something really powerful at play there, and you feel both a part of the group you are walking with but also connected to the previous pilgrims from decades before who have walked the same way. The church has a lot of rituals that it follows, such as the Eucharist. And in taking part in them you feel connected to those who have celebrated and observed it throughout the ages. In a way, that is what walking on a pilgrimage is like.
It is hard to actually describe what it felt like to be on Student Cross, and to explain why I will definitely do it again. So much of our faith is a mystery. Why I walk, and why people have been walking for decades gone by, feels just as much of a mystery, but it is a mystery that draws you in.
Written by Jack Woodruff. Jack is an SCM member studying maths at the University of York, and is currently Secretary of York Christian Focus, an SCM Afffiliated Group.
Student Cross 2020 will take place from Friday 3rd April to Sunday 12th April. You can find out more information and book on at www.studentcross.org.uk.