An Assistants reflection on the Communities 2013 Pilgrimage

In 2013 our community pilgrimage followed part of a route called St Swithun’s Way running from the cathedral in Winchester, once the capital of Saxon England and the site of St. Swithun’s shrine, eastward to Farnham. From there it joins the pilgrim’s way to Canterbury cathedral.

The idea was that we would follow an ancient pilgrimage route lying within reach of Bognor Regis, and connect with the religious heritage of the area in which we live. Aside from the personal and communal journey we would go on, we hoped to discover more of the local history, culture and natural beauty, much of which is hidden away in tiny thatched hamlets, Saxon churches and along country lanes. Also, that we were beginning a journey ultimately leading to Canterbury, chimed well with the fact that in 2014 we are celebrating L’Arche’s 50th Jubilee in Canterbury. L’Arche Bognor was already on its way to the Jubilee!

The theme of the pilgrimage was “Walk in the light.” We began with a beautiful service in Winchester cathedral before the high altar where we celebrated our own distinctive service led by core-members and assistants. This was enthusiastically supported by the cathedral clergy. During the service we lit candles from each of the houses and work-areas to guide us on our journey, and the Reverend Canon Gregory blessed bread we had baked the night before as nourishment along the way. As we began to walk, there was a strong sense of our going with the appreciation of the cathedral community.

We walked for four days, the first three along St. Swithun’s Way from Winchester to Easton onto Ropley and finishing at Chawton, the village where Jane Austen once lived. We broke off from St Swithun’s Way on our fourth day and, as we have done for several years now, walked to Heyshott village near the South Downs. Here the vicar and his wife greeted us with their usual warm hospitality, cakes and hot drinks before we celebrated Communion together in the church.

That we finished walking with a service of Communion was fitting since over the course of the week there was a sense of growing communion: communion with the past and all those pilgrims who had walked before us and who had left reminders in churchyards and place names; communion also with the natural beauty, power and fragility of the landscape, with the river Ichten, watercress beds, ancient oak woods, crop fields, and chalky descents. And then there were all the moments of encounter during the pilgrimage: assistants and core-members accompanying each other along winding paths or spending time together in the village halls; stopping off in a church to eat lunch and seek shelter from the rain; looking forward to a cup of tea at the end; and enjoying each other’s laughter and song and so too with the families and friends who joined us. There was also a real sense of overcoming obstacles together such as climbing over the many stiles or getting lost because we’d missed one of the elusive way-markers. The pub meal at the end of the third day served as a great way to spend time together over a relaxed pilgrim’s meal, resting wearied feet and sharing stories, including the tales of those who had visited Jane Austen’s house or been on the steam train along the Watercress Line.

I remember one of our core-members telling me during the steep descent from the top of the South Downs to Heyshott that it is often easy to think only of our own pilgrimage through life. On this pilgrimage, she had been reminded of how much we always travel together with the light of others.

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