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Benefice Pilgrimage May 2016 – Update and pictures

A reflection on this Pilgrimage around the new Whorlton Benefice by Avril Rhodes, reader from St Mary Magdalene, Yarm.

A Grand Day Out – with apologies to Wallace and Gromit

You could call it “The Pilgrimage of Thanksgiving and Unity” or the 26km time trial (if Robert Opala’s Soviet made GPS is anything to go by), or a walk resembling extreme team building for parishioners, starting at Middleton-on-Leven church and progressing to Carlton, via Crathorne, Hutton Rudby, Potto, Swainby, Whorlton, and Faceby.

This was a day marked by grey skies and the constant presence of light rain, but great camaraderie and large groups of people, varying in number as time went on, and new people joined parts of the walk or formed welcoming groups at each church.  Sometimes it was chaotic – the group got split up early on and some went to Crathorne from Middleton, via Crathorne Hall Hotel grounds and even – wait for it – Five Houses, whilst the group on the real route went along the Leven Valley, ascending at the end of this leg to Crathorne church, only discovering the problem with everyone else on arrival at Crathorne.  Sometimes we got very overdue – at one point running at least an hour behind time.  Sometimes we were crushed together, such as the shuffling around needed for everyone to receive communion at Whorlton Old Church.  Sometimes I felt like I was doing some kind of walking marathon – I was personally congratulated on arriving at Hutton Rudby by one of welcomers, much to my surprise.  Only at one point did I wonder whether I would stay the course, when a dog (and there were lots of them on this walk) unintentionally knocked me a bit off balance and I thought I was going to fall back off a footbridge into some long grass.  However, by the end we had made up half an hour and we finished with a great sense of achievement.

This was a walk on which to behold the wonders of nature. Everything was growing – almost as you looked at it.  The fresh green of the countryside, later Spring flowers, sturdy lambs, elegant horses, beautiful country cottages, trees loaded with blossom, were all in abundance.  It was a lesson in just how rural parts of Stokesley Deanery are and, for me, how quickly I had no idea where we were, and how long most of the legs of the walk turned out to be, apart from the last two, thankfully, though we did go the wrong way across one very large field.  Whilst I know most of the churches pretty well, it was also a lesson in how each one has its own character and most particular architectural points of interest as well. At each church (which Robert described as a ‘station’, borrowed I imagine from the idea of stations of the cross) we joined together in a short act of worship using a style of worship and/or content from the period of the Saint who the church was dedicated to. We carried a booklet which was a composite of all the different acts of worship illustrated with pictures of the churches and/or saints, and it formed a souvenir in it’s own right, though I lost mine in the fray at Whorlton!

So what was the point of this? The parishes visited will form a new greater Benefice of Whorlton, so this was a way of introducing people to churches they may have never or very infrequently visited, but more importantly, developing and strengthening relationships between individual church members and their friends. At most of the churches Robert invited the church warden to lead the service as well, a subtle way of letting folks know who the church warden is, if ever there was one! On a more serious note it was also a way of affirming lay leadership in each place. As a relative outsider I was impressed with the organisation, the tolerance shown when plans had to be adjusted and the willingness to work together. This should be a good foundation for the future.