It’s a couple of years now since I went on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Those who know me will also know that I didn’t walk the Camino but in a very ‘inclusive’ way took a group by coach – people who might not have been able to do the walking but wanted to do the travelling. The downside is that you don’t receive the certificate to say that you travelled the Camino but that was as little compared with the joy of arriving in that wonderful city.
Apart from the places we visited on the way (and you can read all of this in my blog ‘Southwark Camino’) one of the real joys was seeing the people who were doing it properly. They were walking that ancient route that generations had been taking before them. Some were in groups – clusters of people all with their pilgrim shell hanging from their rucksack – others were in pairs and many were alone. But you didn’t travel far without seeing the next pilgrims.
The wonderful thing about the Camino is the signposting that goes on along the way. There are markers to show that you are on the right way and heading in the right direction. The shell is the symbol but picked out in yellow on the marker stones it looks like a sunrise, pointing you to your destination. I would love to do the walk, to meet people on the way, to catch some up, to let others go ahead, to fall behind when I was tired, to stop when I needed to see something. And when I got going again I would always know that there were people on the journey with me, that I was not alone.
The word we often use for the people with whom we walk is ‘companions’ and, as you know, the word derives from Middle English roots meaning ‘one who breaks bread with another.’ It’s a powerful word for Christians who are a community of bread-breakers, bread-sharers and it shows how much communion, companion and journey are linked for us.
The communique at the conclusion of last week’s meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion included the sentence
‘It is our unanimous desire to walk together.’
I suppose that, given what I’ve said in reflecting on the Camino, that this is a positive note in what I felt was a very negative outcome. I had been one of the 100+ senior Anglicans to sign the open letter calling on the Primates to repent of the way in which LGBT people have been and are being treated and it was good to hear and I was grateful to Archbishop Justin for apologising from his own position. But I came away from reading the statement and hearing the Press Conference feeling that the wrong people were being called to repentance.
I signed the letter – I’m not a huge fan of open letters to be honest – because, I believe, there is a mission imperative in this country, as in other places in the west, to move on this issue. I took part in the Shared Conversations for the same reason. The recent report that attendance at Church of England churches is still declining cannot simply be laid at the door of our inability or unwillingness to deal with the issues of equal marriage and same-sex attraction but those issues and our inability to deal maturely with them is an indication that we might well be on a journey but we are so out of step, so far behind where others are, that people who used to walk with us are now walking alone and seem to be happy about that.
The Episcopal Church (TEC), I believe, has boldly attempted to do the right thing, to respond to where God is in that society and to present a compassionate face to the world, which, in this ‘Year of Mercy’, is our common calling. The churches in Africa, the Middle East, the Southern Cone and elsewhere have other serious issues to attend to – poverty, violence, persecution – (though the way LGBT people are treated in some other countries is scandalous and the church can easily stand by or tacitly support it by saying and doing nothing) and of course they must address them as must we.
People say its no good just to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk but we seem to have the reverse problem. Our words and actions and beliefs and decisions are all out of kilter and we cannot move forward like this.
Two of the verses from the popular song ‘Brother, sister, let me serve you’ stand out for me.
We are pilgrims on a journey,
and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ-light for you
in the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.
I want to walk, I want to journey, I don’t want to abandon any with whom we have been travelling, I want to be a true companion, the Christ-light holder but I’m just not sure about where we are heading and whether the desire is to catch others up who seem to be ahead of us or that we’re expecting others to backtrack and join us on the same path, as though they took the wrong fork at a junction. I’ve been so impressed by the reaction so far of TEC and its leaders and their commitment to the LGBT members of the church not to abandon them, not to go back on decisions already made. So what is this journey, this walk about, where do we imagine we’re going?
For me, one of the most moving and painfully realistic passages from the Gospels is John 6.66-69.
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’
Even for some of those walking with Jesus the journey was too much, the implications too great, the reality too painful. We shouldn’t expect it to be any different for ourselves.
God of our journey,
bless us as we continue to walk together,
be the signpost on the way,
be the light in the dark stretches,
be the goal and destination,
and be the bread to sustain us