A Parable of Radical Inclusion: the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage

Please see my daily Facebook posts on this year’s pilgrimage following this post. Please do think about taking a group next year. I am happy to help with any practical matters if you contact me by email.

Vibrant, high energy liturgical worship and music led by a powerful, spirit-filled black woman. Over five hundred young people, showing more racial and class diversity than any other group of young Anglicans that I have ever been to. A wonderful array of regional accents.

Young people hungry to learn about the Bible, learning sections of Philippians by heart. Young people queueing up to make their confessions, to receive laying on of hands from male and female priests, to be anointed, and praying all night long before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Young people who might be part of a small group in their home parish, or even the only young person, talking faith, morals and love of Jesus with other young people. Young people using social media to make and maintain contact with other Christians.

Boys and girls exploring what vocation means to marriage, parenthood, priesthood, religious life and more.

Young people meeting and talking to a multitude of priests and deacons, young, old and in-between, men and women, black and white, LGBT+, single, celibate, civilly partnered and married. Young people asking questions about their own moral and life choices, and having deep and challenging conversations. Young people seeing people of radically different points of view, praying, dancing, singing, eating, erecting tents and putting them down together. Laughing, crying, teasing, together.

Young people seeing mutual flourishing at its best and experiencing the total joy of our wonderful Anglicanism, this “experiment in ecumenism”.

The Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage is the best example I have seen of Radical Inclusion put into practice. I would recommend it to anyone. It’s wonderful diversity would be increased by more people going. More ordained women, more BAME priests, more disabled priests. Please come.

*

At the final Mass Bishop Philip’s opening words reminded us that we had arrived as individuals and had become a family, a family centred on Jesus. For me this was one of the most powerful things about the week. Anyone who knows me will have seen the powerful icon of Jesus and a friend which is so much used at Taizé.

Perhaps remembering my love of this icon, in which Christ, standing alongside his friend has his hand on his shoulder, a bishop friend put her hand on my shoulder recently as she said, “Write it Richard, write down what it means to stand with only Jesus between you and those who think differently to you.” Hence, this slightly too long post!

While I was at Taizé this summer, for the UK Anglican Schools’ week, I read:

It is a beautiful book. It is clear is that Br Roger had not so much a systematic theology as a theological method. The paper, by Beate Bengard, “Brother Roger and Paul Ricoeur: Ways of Mutual Theological Enrichment” is particularly profound and helpful in understanding this methodology of encounter and reconciliation. Gottfried Hammann’s paper “Did Brother Roger Have A Theology” includes a quote from Br Roger that I think appears in a number of his books but is cited here to page 52 of God is Love Alone:

“Marked by the lived witness [of my grandmother’s] life, while I was still very young, following her I found my own Christian identity by reconciling within myself the faith of my [Protestant] origins within the mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking faith with anyone.”

This is the fundamental ‘method’ of Br Roger’s theology: “reconciling within myself.” When we ‘other’, people, think of them as ‘them’ and ‘not us’, reconciliation is impossible. Reconciliation is first and foremost inner work. Because of my own close relationship to my grandmother and her modelling of not being contained by walls this particular part of Br Roger’s biography particularly resonates with me. I wrote about that here.

Friendship as the fundamental relationship with Jesus ensures that we never see others as not us. In friendship – with all the conflicts and working through and getting to know one another that is the part of any meaningful friendship – the ‘stranger’ is no longer strange. I sometimes receive criticism, occasionally harsh and persistent criticism for my friendships with those Catholic Anglicans who are not able to receive the ordination of women, I equally receive criticism for my friendships with Evangelical Anglicans who oppose same-sex relationships.

The icon of Christ and a friend has helped me understand friendships where there are deep differences. Anyone who knows me at all will have no doubt of my unfailing devotion to Jesus in his Eucharistic presence. I have the great privilege of celebrating the Eucharist every day. Rublev’s icon of the Trinity with its Eucharistic table at the centre has been hugely important. But in the icon of Jesus and his friend there is no table, no Eucharist. Just Jesus. When I encounter Christian brothers and sisters with whom I am not able to share Eucharist, this icon reminds me that we are united in our love of Jesus. More than that, even with those from whom I am most divided our love of Jesus holds us close. After a particularly searing conversation a few weeks ago I was praying with this icon in front of me and chewing on Psalm 55 v 12. It suddenly struck me that the person I had been talking to was stood alongside Jesus with his arm around him just as I was. With Jesus between us it is impossible to have his arm around our shoulder and not be in touch with, in communion with, the person on the other side.

It is easy in our church debates to ‘other’ people to accuse them of being homophobic or racist, or sexist, or revisionist, or unbiblical. A particularly powerful encounter for me was a conversation with a conservative Evangelical colleague last year. His brother in law was to be married to his same sex partner. Should he go? With me he wept about this. He decided not to go, but his wife and children did. He and I decided to spend part of the day of the wedding together. I asked him to talk me through how he writes his sermons. I was fascinated, and impressed, by the length of time he commits to this. We had lunch and then walked his dog on the beach.

We do not remain the same when we commit ourselves to friendship. We do not become someone else, we become more ourselves. My life has been enriched immeasurably by relationships with people who are different to me. In Lewisham my life was profoundly changed by my encounter, engagement and friendship with black Pentecostal Christians. At Walsingham as Jo Boyce from CJM Music called out “God is good,” and the hundreds of young people called out, “All the time.” I remembered first hearing that in Lewisham’s Pentecostal churches, and I wept with the joy of it.

***

One of the great gifts of ministry as a priest in the Catholic stream of the Church of England is hearing confessions. I suspect that the low numbers of people using this great sacrament in our times diminishes our understanding, as priests, of human nature and ourselves. One line I use frequently when giving spiritual counsel, as part of the sacrament, is to “not let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. That line could be applied to the church. Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage is not perfect, but it is very good indeed, it is the most inclusive Anglican youth event I know.

***

The point of criticism I receive about the youth pilgrimage and attending the National Pilgrimage is that women who are priests and bishops are not permitted to exercise a sacramental ministry. In fact only male priests who are Priest Associates of the Holy House, as I am, may do so. In time, as people like me die, only priests of the Society will be priest associates. I wish, with all my heart, that were not so. I believe the catholicity of our witness is diminished by that. All of us are diminished. The Shrine go as far as they feel able to, women priests lead pilgrimages to the shrine, administer water from the holy well and lay on hands as part of the liturgies celebrated. Women clergy are, thankfully, not invisible. Most priests of the Sodality, when in Walsingham, men and women, wear not just clerical collars but cassocks. Women priests at the youth pilgrimage were referred to publicly, and often, in the ministries that they, like some of their male priest colleagues undertook, running the lighting, sound, and other work.

I metaphorically, spill blood working for mutual flourishing and the Five Guiding Principles to succeed. This was a solemn commitment of the Church of England’s highest body. If we are not truthful, if we do not mean what we say, we will, truly, be lost. I equally fight for that flourishing to be properly mutual, so that, in the spirit of the best ecumenism we do together everything that we can do together, that we recognise that walking together is an “exchange of gifts”. Jo Boyce of CJM Music is a Roman Catholic, at the youth pilgrimage we walked to the Roman Catholic shrine where the New Dawn Conference was taking place. As we Anglicans walked along the road praying the Rosary, a priest carried the Blessed Sacrament across the road from their big top worship place back to the Slipper Chapel. We all fell to our knees. Jesus unites us.

***

The least inclusive thing about the youth pilgrimage are the rows of white male concelebrants at Mass (although, even then, a good thing is the youthfulness demonstrated). But lack of BAME priests is an issue for every part of the Church of England. From my seat among them, for which I am grateful to the Guardians of the shrine, I can see my priest friends in the crowd who are not sat with us either because they choose not to be, are not Priest Associates or are women. I ask them if they would rather I sat with them and they say no. We discuss holding a Sodality Mass in a nearby parish, where women could preside and concelebrate, on the way to the pilgrimage and on the free afternoons, they say no.

Children and young people are not easily indoctrinated. Seeing this all male, almost all white, public sign makes them ask really important questions and have significant conversations. I could hardly walk around the site without being engaged by these. Three Society priests asked me to talk to girls in their groups who had a sense of vocation to priesthood, I did so and introduced them each to one of the women priests present. One Society priest asked me to meet with his group so they could ask me questions, mainly about gender and sexuality to start with, but soon getting to Jesus, prayer and what it “really means” to commit oneself to Jesus.

***

Radical inclusion, mutual flourishing, is hard, it costs. But in this fractured world it is the most Christ-like thing I know to do. To reconcile within oneself the opposing streams. To live with difference and disagreement. It needs humility and self denial. At the Edmonton Episcopal Area conference a few weeks ago Bishop Sarah preached about the blessing she received at the hand of a disabled member of her last congregation. The implication was clear. We human beings can be a blessing to each other whoever we are, whatever we believe about the sacrament of holy order.

What the children and young people learn from the parable of the Youth Pilgrimage is that adults can disagree deeply, can hurt each other tremendously, and yet still love one another. Still do all those things that made us, as Bishop Philip said, a family, a family just like all our families, a little broken, a little divided, but still family.

We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We must love the church as it is as well as how we think God would like it to be. We must let Jesus put his arm around us knowing that he may have his other arm around someone we profoundly disagree with. It is Jesus who holds us together. It is hard to walk with someone’s arm around your shoulder, it takes practice and skill, but walk we must.

***

WALSINGHAM YOUTH PILGRIMAGE 2018

For more photos please see my Facebook page. Mostly no pictures of children on my FB or Twitter account, for obvious reasons. Official photos are on the Shrine website here.

Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage Day 1

Thank you to Fr Daniel Howard for brilliant organisation and leadership of the Liverpool Diocese group. Great to be here with young people from several parishes and a big group from St Hilda’s School. A long drive yesterday (glad to be useful as a mini-bus driver, just because I am old enough to do so!) but all in good spirits and fabulous opening worship and procession last night. A good group of Sodality priests and deacon-aspirants, looking forward to praying Lauds together before breakfast. Many old and not so old friends here and a big group from the Swedish Lutheran church. Bible study after breakfast, I’m going to go to the Engage group for those on or just across the threshold of faith. Always good to start at the beginning! And interested to hear Philip North with this group.

Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage Day 2

Having observed hundreds, probably thousands of lessons, it was hard not to bring my critical faculties to the Bible Study that began the formal part of Day 2. It was one of the best examples of this I have seen. Bp Philip is a superb teacher. Working with colleague Clare he carefully talked the young people through what the structure of each session would be. I was thrilled that there was group learning by heart, an activity that has returned to schools in recent years and is essential to deep learning. There was some partner work but also real, substantial silence and reflection too. Superb.

The pilgrimage Mass followed. As always, CJM Music were fabulous. The whole Mass was slickly done, the organisation of the event is excellent, and it was a fabulous example of perfect Catholic liturgy with contemporary music. Catholic Anglicanism without Victorian culture.

The afternoon was free. We took the Liverpool children swimming which was great fun. I haven’t been down a swimming pool slide for several decades. The group off-site activities on residentials are really important in giving children a break and in the formation of the group dynamic. I realised too how useful a Scouse accent is in identifying where our group were in the pool.

The evening activity was a walk to the RC Slipper Chapel and the Holy Mile walked back praying the Rosary. The procession ended with Benediction in the Shrine grounds. It was deeply moving to see so many young people choosing to walk barefoot and then kneeling before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage 2018 Day 3

At the start of the Bible Studies, after a silly game, there is a short testimony, one person talking about the journey of faith. It is very powerful and fascinating to watch the young people’s faces. This really holds their attention. More learning by heart, more careful explanation of the route of the learning. Brilliant again.

Today’s Mass was a votive of the Nativity and suitably themed with Christmas tree and carols woven into the music superbly by CJM music. The acting out of the readings by young people has. shown real talent. The sermon slot was particularly strong both on the truth of Jesus and the passages in the bible that demonstrate who he is but also in preparing the gathering for a sense of making a choice for themselves and the evening’s opportunities for ministry.

Bishop Philip and Fr Philip Barnes do a great double act which in the morning and evening included pictures of them both growing up.

In week long camps like this Wednesday day time is often the low energy point and there was, as always an element of that but it was particularly good natured and laid back and there was a strong sense of anticipation for the evening’s liturgies, ministries and all night vigil.

The music and preaching in the evening were pitched perfectly to lead into anointing, laying on of hands and confessions for those that wanted.

It was a profound moment to be one of a dozen or so priests hearing confessions stationed around the big tent so that when the music had finished there was the quiet murmuring of the sacrament all around. This ‘altar call’ time of ministries, like the prayer around the cross at Taizé is carefully timed in the pattern of the week not as a final climax but as a stage which can be set into returning to our homes and work.

Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage 2018 Day 4

I have mentioned each day how thrilled I’ve been that Bishop Philip and Clare have been helping children to memorise Scripture. All learning is memory, it is nothing else, and learning things by heart is what every culture in every time and place has taught children to do. The loss of memorising Scripture among Christians in the West over the last 50-70 years has had catastrophic consequences.

Anyway, off the soap box! Philip and Clare have shown how simple it is. The way to learn things is to repeat them out loud as often as possible and to re-cap them regularly. Using a football to be thrown around the room with the person who catches it saying the next word in the text is one way. But essentially any method used will just be a way of getting people to say the words out loud over and over again.

The three short texts memorised this week have been:

A word of hope Phil. 1:6

A word of challenge Phil. 2:5

A word of encouragement Phil. 4:13

One of the great things about attending bible studies is that no matter who the target audience is we all have something to learn. I shall be holding on to these three words in my prayer and meditations over the next few weeks. I felt very strongly that Jesus was speaking to me in these words this week.

Equally impressive was the way in which Philip and Clare have modelled giving faith testimonies in the first two sessions and then got young people to give testimonies in this third and final session. We need more of this. Often when I am observing lessons I watch the children not the teacher. It was powerful (and not really surprising) to see the attention which children gave to their peers talking about their faith.

Today’s Mass was Resurrection themed. CJM Music once again created an experience that moved me to tears and it was interesting to see a deeper engagement among the young people following the intense experience of the previous evening.

Bishop Philip’s sermon was a model of the use of rhetoric of encouragement to give oneself to Jesus and of basic Christian teaching.

I often write and talk about episodic and semantic memory. We find it easy to remember dramatic or exciting ‘episodes’ but harder to learn the lessons, the meaning, the explanation of things. Philip and the team are good at creating strong episodic memories – for example, using a water gun in his sermon – but he is also good at the semantic material. Constant use of the phrase ‘generation hope’ reinforcing the message. It was good to speak to some of our young people later and check out what they remembered. A great deal.

The afternoon was free for trips out and we took the Liverpool group for a seaside experience at Hunstanton.

The evening was the final disco, much anticipated and much enjoyed.

Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage Day 5

The pilgrimage ends. Despite the previous evening’s disco everyone is up early to get tents down and buses packed before Mass. The sun is shining and it is dry, a huge relief.

Mass is of Corpus Christi and the meaning and purpose of the Eucharist. Once again CJM Music do an incredible job in creating the right atmosphere. The great gifts that Jo Boyce of CJM brings is her own deep faith and her knowledge of the liturgy. The music always complements the liturgical action beautifully and enhances and highlights its meanings and content. Today a beautiful ‘Behold the Lamb’ sung at the elevations in the Eucharistic Prayer was wonderful. CJM also use traditional hymn texts and tunes to great effect as well as contemporary worship songs.

Bishop Philip presided and preached (brilliantly). Introducing the penitential rite with “There is nothing like camping and discos to give opportunities for sin.”

Philip’s preaching style at these events is high energy, he uses movement and his hands, the ‘sermons’ are clearly highly crafted and well prepared but he is most definitely not reading a text. Throughout the week other members of the ministry team have contributed in a variety of dramatic ways. There is an ongoing joke with Fr Philip Richard Barnes in which Fr Philip is the Madge to Bishop Philip’s Dame Edna. The butt of jokes and the poor unfortunate misunderstanding what is happening. It is done well and manages to avoid cruelty because of their obvious friendship and the love everyone present has for both of them. At other times strategically placed members of the team call out possible objections to something Philip has said, voicing teenage concerns. This also is done well.

In this final sermon the point is fundamentally: Jesus loves you, go to Mass. It addresses how to continue the energy and vibrancy of the pilgrimage in our daily lives and especially when our churches on Sunday are not going to be as exciting. This is very well done. Philip suggests ways that teenagers might cope with going to church when it is their parents that want them to – go at different times, don’t arrive or sit together etc. He talks about how to do sports and still go to church if Sunday mornings are busy.

“If Jesus can get out of the tomb for you, you can get out of bed for him.”

Mass ends and the buses and cars quickly fill and leave.

Fr Paul Robinson of our diocese is a brilliant parish priest and does amazing work in the three schools in his parish, with probably the highest number of confirmands in the diocese. Last year he suggested I attend the YP for the day. I was hugely impressed. When Fr Daniel Howard and Fr Derek Lloyd of the diocese asked me to drive the minibus this year for the young people attending I jumped at the chance. They led the group superbly and the organisation was excellent. A real privilege to see young priests at work.

I will be doing everything I can to promote #WYP2019 in the diocese, among Directors of Education and in the Sodality.

It is highly effective for 11-16 year olds and would I think make a good track for work with young people leading to pilgrimages to Taizé for 15 – 25 year olds.

Many thanks, prayers and blessings to Bishop Philip, the ministry team, CJM Music, the shrine staff, and everyone who was there or who, especially through the god-parent sponsorship scheme made it possible.

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2 Comments

  1. What a lovely article, Father Richard. Thank you so much. Our unity is in Jesus Christ, not in uniformity. We may be diverse but we can still include, involve, seek one another’s flourishing, love one another.

    Like

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