Members of the community across the Upper Wreake Benefice recently enjoyed a prayerful week of pilgrim walks, taking in the beautiful, rural landscape and reflecting on where God was at work in their villages and the wider diocese.
The four walks each covered between two and five miles and took place among the parishes of Frisby, Hoby, Rotherby, Ragdale, Kirby Bellars and Brooksby.
Every walk began with prayer, the themes being: cattle, crops, water, and remembering people such as those in the church graveyards walked through and the legacy they left behind.
At other moments during the rambles, the group sat, prayed, and contemplated life, allowing the conversation to flow naturally.
The daily pilgrimage was the idea of Pioneer Minister, Reverend Crystal McAllister, who wanted to take her community on a local journey of discovery and adventure, while giving them the time and space to think and reflect, before bringing those insights back into their everyday lives.
“A really important part of pioneering is being immersed in context - you can glean so much from the space you’re living and working in - and I was really keen to get to know the area and see what God was saying to us at this time,” explains Crystal. “We get so hooked on doing stuff rather than just being, and I thought, let’s just be together and see where God takes us on this journey.”
Their guide and route planner was Reader and Canon, Malcolm Britton, who ‘knows the land like the back of his hand’, and everyone in the community was invited to join in.
“The magical part was being with others and the conversations that took place,” says Crystal. “We heard about families and faith, struggles of life, and when it came to praying for the land and what we could see, it was really moving.
“At one point, standing in the middle of a field, we could see the city of Leicester and its landmarks. It made us open ourselves up to the plight of our whole diocese and as we prayed, we thought about what we’ve all been through in the last year.”
Prayers for people, places, troubles and triumphs, were all handed over to God, during the rambles.
“It was amazing, and such an honour to walk the land with Malcolm as our guide, and the others that joined in,” says Crystal.
“Malcolm is full of wisdom and it’s a delight to hear that knowledge of the past come to fruition, and to witness the intergenerational bonding over land and place and faith, knowing the next generation will carry that along and forge their new path.
“I’ve been challenged to see what the ‘soil’ says about the land that we trod. I know that buttercups grow on the hills and not in the valleys and I can now identify barley and wheat at a glance. I have found a new love of bulls and discovered the power of water running through brooks and streams. I’ve learned that travelling light is a good thing. I have learned that in silence you can hear so much more.
“However, what I have truly learned is that it’s the people on the way that guide us, teach us and inspire us in this beautiful dance called life - and what a privilege that is.
“It’s been a week of prayer and being church,” she continues. “We have trod through muddy puddles, climbed gates and stiles. We have met all sorts of four legged creatures and spoken to many people, but most of all we have learned that we are just pilgrims passing through.”
It’s clear that this week of walks has been really valuable for these rural church communities, opening up new conversations with people who might not have walked, but have instead engaged with reflections and photos posted on social media.
“We stood up and said ‘we are here and praying for this land and listening to you,’ and that has been really well received,” explains Crystal. “God works through it somehow and often when we go into something without that expectation, we realise He is actually here, doing his stuff, and that’s exciting.”
Pilgrim walks can quite easily become part of our everyday prayer, whether we walk alone with God, or come together in small groups or as a whole community.
“I would encourage people to just get out and do it,” says Crystal. “Ours wasn’t really planned - although we knew the route we would take and had risk assessed it. It was rather more about having confidence, and using that confidence to lead and take others along with us.”
The Upper Wreake Benefice chose afternoons for their walks, which was great for those who are retired or don’t work at those times, but hope to be able to do this again in the evenings or at the weekend, to open it up to more people, including families with children.
“We’re blessed with beautiful countryside here, but there are no barriers to where you can walk,” says Crystal. “In urban areas, the buildings and roads speak of so much history and the people who live there.
“You’ll be surprised, when you take the time to look at what’s around you and later reflect. You’ll notice where God is at work and what He’s doing and saying to you.”
Could pilgrim walks be a way to come together in everyday prayer in your parish?