Last year, before the pandemic, I heard Jane announce the Year of Pilgrimage. I have shared pilgrimages with Bishop John Hayden both to the Holy Land and to Greece in the footsteps of St Paul, so in a sense, every time I leave home I carry the same mindset.
In the autumn of 2019 we had bought a narrowboat and moored her in the lower basin at the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port. During the first lockdown in the spring of 2020 I worked to prepare Nellie Kate, refitting the bedroom and the storage so that at the beginning of July we were ready. We have a map of all the Inland Waterways of this country on the wall of our kitchen: how far could we get? With a deadly virus sweeping the world, where better to isolate?
What follows is not a complete account, (I am on my third notebook already), merely some notes on some churches.
By 12 July we had reached Nantwich and took ourselves to the 10.45 at St Mary’s. It was only their second service of Holy Communion since lockdown was eased. The readings were Romans 8 vv1-11 and Matthew 13 vv24-30.
9 August, we were made very welcome at St Mary’s Banbury. Their new vicar’s first proper service.
Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites, Paul wrote to the Romans referring to Isaiah 52v7 and Jesus walked on water. Sermon on the importance of prayer.
Tuesday 1 September, Coventry Cathedral. Litany of Reconciliation followed by midday communion in the nave, taken by the Dean – but what was special was that this was the first weekday service since lockdown. It was lovely to feel that we were surfing a wave as churches opened up again. We also stayed long enough to catch a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the shell of the old cathedral the next evening with a highly versatile cast of just three actors/musicians. When they asked us to imagine a fourth and fifth character on stage one of them would speak his or her lines through a stringless tennis racquet.
6 September, at St Peter’s, Shakerstone, on the Ashby Canal, we were welcomed by a very chatty churchwarden, Small congregation, all knew each other. Banns called – third time of asking – Communion service, monthly in that church, second since resumption. Matthew 18, ‘where two or three are gathered together’: a chance to show how Christians live together in love. At the end of the next day’s cruising, I had set off for my evening stroll to stretch my legs when I was hailed by someone sitting on a bench on the other side of the cut. I worked out a route that would take me over to his side and went and sat at the other end of his bench. Neil was then able to unload what had made him drive out to that lonely spot – problems with his council, his vulnerable mother, his father, his solicitor, his care worker. We discussed Christianity and I suggested that his mistake had been to try to do it himself – without prayer.
13 September – Service of the Word at St Peter’s, Mancetter, on the Coventry Canal. Linda the vicar has been in post less than a year after an interregnum of two years. Ezekial and St John’s Gospel: New beginnings. As I walked back over a bridge over the railway and saw bunches of flowers marking a particular spot, I thought again of Neil.
10am, 20 September at the Abbey of St Editha in Polesworth, a bit further up the Coventry Canal. Small choir to sing the hymns and parts of the service. In response to the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, Fr Vincent pointed out that those found at 3pm and 5pm could have been those who through infirmity or leading chaotic lives were unable to work for longer. Cf those we see in foodbanks today. All are valued in the Kingdom.
18 October – St Edward the Confessor, Leek, on the Caldon Canal. 700 years since its foundation in 1320. A site from which a double sunset may be observed: around the summer solstice the sun sets behind a nearby hill then reappears further down before setting again at the horizon. (Not seen today because trees have grown). Christianisation of an earlier pagan site? 10am Holy Communion with Bishop of Lichfield preaching. He took as his theme the emblem of the church, the Martlett. They are very small and delicate. They have great vision. They have no feet, so are always on a pilgrimage.
25 October – St Stephen’s Congleton, on the Macclesfield Canal. Vicar Ian Enticott new this week. A friendly service. Joan Proctor, in a newly knitted NHS rainbow sweater showed us how to sign to the chorus of the first hymn. Small socially distanced ladies choir sang the verse, Joan following the words on her hands. Ian had found a translation of 1 Thessalonians which had… ‘nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed’. We had a well organised sermon on Matthew 22 vv34-40, my notes say that it ‘finished when it should’! The Message is the Gospel, the Motive is for love and the Method is shared lives, so the person is the message.
1 November – The congregation of St James Buxworth, at the end of the Peak Forest Canal, were in a bit of a state because someone at the PCC meeting had then been told to isolate, so the whole PCC would also have to isolate. No vicar or churchwardens! Finally, Janet arrived to take the service. Revelation 7 and the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 for All Saints. She had a well prepared sermon: (Blessed are) those who are weak and feeble and have realised they can’t do it on their own. Meekness – being angry about the right things and not about the wrong things. Mourning is a privilege because you have loved and been loved.