From Land’s End… to Canterbury
A Baptist minister is planning to walk across the south of England during his sabbatical this summer
The Revd David Mann, minister of Bethel Baptist Church in Swavesey, Cambridgeshire, will set off from Land's End in July and arrive in Canterbury around seven weeks later.
He plans to walk between 12 and 15 miles each day, and take in as many places of historical spiritual significance along the 550 mile route as possible.
As well as being an opportunity to take 'a real break from my work' and engage with the spiritual landscape of the country, he is interested in investigating Christian hospitality at a time when many people in the world 'are forced to embark upon journeys, often of much greater distance than my own, in search of refuge'.
To that end he has contacted churches and communities along the route, and is delighted to have received offers of accommodation for the majority of nights he’ll be on the road for.
The Baptist Times caught up with him as he finalised his pilgrimage plans.
Have you done a pilgrimage before?
No. this will be my first genuine pilgrimage.
Could you say a little more about how you got the idea?
The idea came out of having had to postpone my earlier plans for my sabbatical in 2016. At that time I was working around the idea of some reading and writing on the topic of ‘The Theology of Play’, something that has interested me for quite a long time.
After postponing my plans last year I realised that using this topic was more of a convenience than a real purposeful plan, and so I decided to step back and consider what might God really want me to do with my sabbatical.
I had watched a couple of episodes of Michael Portillo’s train journey series, and the idea of possibly doing a series of train journeys to sites of spiritual significance came to my mind. I began looking in to possibilities and started to feel that perhaps there was something more significant that I could be doing.
I have been challenged for some time by the ongoing refugee situations around the world, and spent a lot of time praying about, and trying to understand what it takes to compel somebody to leave behind everything and set off on a journey across the world, in search of hope, refuge, and sanctuary.
It seemed to me that this idea of pilgrimage, and these questions somehow had something connecting them.
What's your route, and what's been the response from Christians in those areas?
I have drawn up a route which lasts seven weeks. It takes me from Land’s End through Cornwall and Devon (Exeter) and then on to Winchester. From Winchester I travel down to Brighton and then meander between coast to countryside as far as Pegwell Bay (The site of S Augustine’s landing in Britain), before turning towards Canterbury.
I contacted churches and communities in the area in which I will end each day, asking if they might be able to offer me shelter in their church, church hall, porch or graveyard.
Although initially the response was slow, things really picked up. The generosity and warmth of the response to my request has been fantastic, and in very many of the locations I have been offered hospitality in the homes of church members.
I plan to walk for the main part on my own, but am extending an invitation for people to join me at weekends, or perhaps other days where there may be some particular significance to that leg of the journey.
(The only dates that I still have not confirmed are:
Sunday 13 August Winchester
Sunday 20 August Seaford
Monday 28 August New Romney
Friday 1 September Minster)
Why is it important for you to investigate the nature of Christian hospitality?
Connected to this ‘journey of the refugee’ issue is, for me, a question of how we respond to people who turn up on our ‘doorstep’ in need. There has been a lot of media coverage of the refugees; their motives for travelling, whether we can trust them, and what the response of governments and agencies is. It seems to me that we need to consider our own response at a more personal level (and local church level).
We might sympathise with these unnamed individuals on our TV screens and in our papers, but what would we do if they knocked on our door (church or home) and asked for shelter?
What are your hopes for the pilgrimage?
I guess that there are two things.
Firstly there is the personal hope: That I will find some refreshing for myself as I walk through, and engage with, the spiritual landscape and history of England (the Southern part at least!) That it would be a time to heal some wounds too.
Secondly there is the hospitality thing: That there will opportunities to meet with individuals and church communities along the way, and to talk, and share and pray with them about the health of hospitality in the country and the church in the 21st century.
That these conversations will encourage those individuals and church communities to continue to reflect on the questions. And that the Christian voice and values of hospitality might rise up above the clamour of fear, division, difference, prejudice and hate.
David aims to keep a daily record of my journey; using social media, photos, videos and voice recordings, along with short written pieces.