Saturday, December 07, 2013

Utmost East

On a Friday morning, in the dark of winter, I watched the sunrise on the most easterly point of the  British Isles.  I had come to Lowestoft Ness to trace the mirror image of a walk I’d taken in the autumn. 




Then I had travelled south and east from Land’s End and finished at the church of St. Levan.  I had reversed the order of  east  and west,  but  lines from the hymn kept popping into my head, “From  utmost east for utmost west, where er man’s foot hath trod.....” And I thought of  St. Levan, who had evangelised that part of Cornwall and our early East Anglian missionary saints - Felix and Fursey, Botolf and Cedd. They all loved the sea and built their hermits’ cells and monasteries on the edge. All would have approved of the children’s chorus “Wide, wide as the ocean...”

Night turned to day as I started out along Gas Works Road towards the semi-redundant fish docks.  It doesn’t sound promising, does it? But not everything was gloom and doom. There were signs of  green shoots among the post industrial waste -  a gigantic wind turbine, a futuristic office block and support vessels where the drifter fleet had once tied up.  After a short while I passed Britain’s most easterly church. The notice board gave every sign that Christ Church was still in business, making disciples and adapting to the future.

Beyond the harbour, the townscape changed.  A promenade led me past a pier, hotels, guest houses, well manicured parks and gardens and substantial Victorian and Edwardian villas. So different from the Cornish Coastal Path as it  had snaked its green way uphill and down dale through heather, gorse and rough pasture! But it was the same sea and the sun glittered off it as it had in Cornwall.

As before, the  walk ended at an ancient church, full of light, life and interest, with an open door, inviting visitors “to kneel where prayer has been valid”.  More than that as I arrived at  All Saints and St. Margaret’s, Pakefield  people were gathering to say morning prayer. They made me very welcome!



On my journeys I caught a glimpse of  “the earth ........filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea”, heard echoes of  “the voice of many messengers” proclaiming the gospel and renewed my response to Jesus words (once addressed to the fishermen of old) “Come and follow me” !

a

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Christmas is Coming

“The Nativity - in the coldest, darkest, dog days of the year something to celebrate! New life! New life from another world! To which we may draw near! “

These words do just as well when applied to Christmas, or the Grey Seals born on our beaches from November to January each year! The parallels continue -
“Usually, there’s plenty of room for everyone but at Christmas it’s hard to find a parking place!” Etc..

Horsey had a bumper season last year with over 600 baby seals.  For the  first 3 weeks they remain on the beach fed by their mums. They are very appealing, very photogenic and people love them.   On Boxing day and New Years Day there was parking chaos when thousands of people turned up on the same days. The pub was so crowded that it was a repeat performance of no room in the inn!
If you can find a place, parking is at Horsey Corner with a walk of about 1.5 miles.  Alternatively, it’s 2 miles from Winterton or the National Trust Horsey Mere car park to where the bulk of the seals are hauled out.
In 2012, in mid December and at  mid-week,  there was plenty of space and very few visitors. I found the  beach  closed and the viewing platform set up to keep people and seals apart.  Only no one had told the seals!  Some pups had come under the rope and were high in the  dunes.   It was  difficult to keep out of their way.
At busiest  times Friends of Horsey Seals do a great job marshaling the crowds. Their notices  advise visitors:
·        Keep your distance from the seals.
·        Watch for seals in the dunes and give them a wide berth.


·        Seals have a nasty bite – be careful!
·        Keep your dog on a lead.

·        Keep to the  marked viewing areas and respect the fences.


·        Grey seals are wild animals.  Do not approach!

On the way back to my car I detoured to visit All Saints’, Horsey’s  round-toweredchurch.  Sitting in quietness I thought about the journey and the homage I’d paid that day. They didn’t compare with those of the Wise Men and Shepherds!  But, of course, what they’d gone to see was a zillion times more wonderful than  -  even the  cutest   - Grey Seal pup!


(If you definitely want to make a visit to the seals part of your Christmas or New Year holiday why not go to Blakeney?  It’s a fine lung stretching 3 mile walk from the car park at Cley Beach to Blakeney Point !  Alternatively you could book onto one of the widely advertised seal trips from Morston Quay.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

From Utmost West

We joined the coastal footpath just a mile south of Landsend.
What a place to have a picnic!

How we missed the packaged experience and the retail opportunity!!

Eventually, past amorous seals and flights of gannets fishing close in shore, we came to the  Church of St. Levan.

He famously preached to the fishes. 
What, I wondered, might I say?
Surely I would quote from St. Paul, In him we live move and have our being."  "God is the sea, then ?" I hear them asking and reply, "Yes! Yes and no! More than the sea! More like the sea, behind the sea!"
But I said to much and thought too little!



By the side of the church is a legendary stone
The saint, so it is said struck it with his staff and split it! Others say,  it was a famous pagan stone known as a place of  fertility and that the round-headed celtic cross erected beside it was to Christianize it! To me the juxtaposition of stone and cross look like a British version of a Yoni and Lignam

Since I last paid my respects to St. Levan the Lady Chapel has been designated the Walkers Chapel.
Hospitality was provided by way of bottled water and cereal bars.
I was invited to pray and a simple prayer card gave me directions.




I was overwhelmed  by the words,

God's House, they wrote , is a place of peace, not just an absence of noise and bustle, but a place of spiritual re-fueling and refreshment. Take God's peace with you as you leave St. Levan. Spread God's peace where ever you travel when leaving this place. Use God's peace to help your life reflect his love for you and all creation.





Thank you people of St. Levan for an open door and warm hospitality.

I still wonder what I might say when preaching the Gospel to a fish!

St. Just-in-Roseland

Fast forward from the year dot 

when  legend says Joseph of Arimathea landed here with the boy Jesus - to the 5th century when St. Just established a  church and hermitage on the shores of the River Fal.

Ever since then, the Churches mission here has been to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ and to invite men and women, boys and girls to follow him!

A 13th century church replaced the original chapel and those who continue the saint's mission keep  an open door and welcome visitors from near and far. 


What burdens visitors carry, they may let go 




And they can find a new direction in their lives



Friday, September 06, 2013

When will we ever learn

With the sandy soil of Breckland beneath my feet    I walked the Desert Rats trail in ThetfordForest. 
The 7th Armoured Division,  who had earned their nickname in the sands of North Africa,   had been stationed here in the months leading up to D. Day in 1944.  
There is a  Cromwell Tank beside the A1065 between Mundford and Swaffham which is a war memorial to their dead and marks the beginning of
the walk.

A  way-marked path with interpretation boards leads visitors around the site of the former camp and tells the  history of the famous fighting force. I made the easy 2 mile walk in reflective mood.  It was, you could say, an act of remembrance.  I am a war baby and my father had served alongside the Desert Rats in North Africa. By way of coincidence my son is serving with the 7th Armoured Brigade  today, providing boots on the (sandy) ground  in Afghanistan.

 The sounds of military aircraft overhead and the crump of demolition charges from the Training Area were sufficient reminders that wars and rumours of war have not gone away.  As I walked my heart was full with prayers for my loved ones but mostly for those who suffer through war.  “When will they ever learn? ” asked Joan Baez in the words of a song that repeated inside my head and I pondered “Is war ever the right option ?”  I find my answer in the memory of another walk.

The Desert Rats ended the war in a former German Army base on Luneburg Heath. That is where the 7th Armoured Brigade is still based.  When  I visited in the summer,   I  found the barracks are equidistant from the railhead and the camps at Bergen-Belsen. A walk around  Belsen site with its mass graves and memorials is a sobering experience. Strangely it is the same sort of forested sandy heath land  as the Norfolk’s Brecks


To help one’s remembrance the site has a documentation centre in which the lives tens thousand, out of the hundred thousands  who perished , are recorded and displayed  along with filmed interviews of survivors and photo documentation from every period of the camps history. I think it was the beautifully kept toilets in the documentation centre that gave most pause for thought. When one contrasted their spotless cleanliness with the degradation that so many had to endure in the past the mind boggled. 

And that same song “repeats and repeats in my ear" "

When will we ever learn?”

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Summer Days in Lower Saxony




There are charming villages, old towns, summer beer kellers under shade giving trees.
Its everso clean and affluent. But there in the midst - you could overlook it if you chose - a reminder of darkness.




They have done a brilliant job documenting 10,000 of the hundreds of thousands who died in the camp.
The displays of pictures, videos etc. are wonderfully well done but it was the contrast of the amazing facilities loos with running water as much as you want and a cafe with cool drinks compared with the sheer bloody harshness of the prisoners lives that made the biggest impression.

I was challenged by the Jewish memorial:

we must not let the earth forget the blood shed.

As I contemplated the Jews, Jehovas Witnesses, Gay Men and others treated inhumanely it semed not to be my role to forgive. Victims, their family and loved ones, God even, yes they might forgive. "Judgement is mine!" saith the Lord. Yes and forgiveness too!
And I reckoned that one of the problems that the Church has had with abusing ministers is that we've forgiven them too easily!

Monday, July 01, 2013

Walking on Water ?!

It’s difficult to follow in the steps of someone who walked on water! The best I can do is to take to my canoe!


On a summer’s evening I slipped it into the water and went with the flow. Biblical references bubbled up in my mind –  “The river of God is full of water” (Psalm 96); Ezekiel’s vision of a flood of  water flowing from the temple bringing life to the desert and Dead Sea (Ezekiel 47); Jesus’ baptism,  his Galilee ministry and the promise of streams of living water springing up to eternal life. Birdsong filled the air,  I was intoxicated by the beauty around me and  my attention was focused slightly beyond, hoping to catch a glimpse of the mystery  - of the Lord who walked in the cool of the evening !

My reverie was broken by passing boats.  A hire cruiser pushed up river towards conviviality, food, drink  and  warm welcome that awaited at Coltishall’s Rising Sun.  In the opposite direction, a late day boat hurried back to Wroxham. Unfairly, a bit of me felt quite indignant!  Did they not appreciate the calm and beauty? I thought not!

But, as the thump of diesel engines faded in the distance and calm returned, I remembered the countless occasions I rush past and rush on!   What a fool I am!  Do I  not know that there is a pearl of great price waiting to be found?! “ In returning and rest you shall be saved;   in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30.15)
The boats’ wake and my anger quickly dispersed and calm settled back on the river and my heart. Around me creation sang  and a blackbird added a descant to the evening hymn. I found myself praying in the words of a  Churches Together on the Broads prayer

O Lord you moved on the waters of creation
Establishing calm over chaos.
May these waters of Broadland refresh the spirits
Of those who sail on them.
May this landscape call to mind your son’s ministry in Galilee.
And may we show forth your love to those who seek
Your peace and presence here.   Amen.

Find details of Churches Together on the Broads at www.churchestogetheronthebroads.org.uk/. You can slip a canoe into the River Bure behind Horstead Church, where the Horstead Centre launch their canoes, or at Horstead Mill.  You can hire canoes on the River Bure from http://www.thecanoeman.com or at http://www.salhousebroad.org.uk.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Consider the Flowers at Hethel


The people of Hethel want you to use their church and the surrounding area for your spiritual well-being.  Their notice board and their entry on the www.achurchnearyou.com  website make it equally clear. You couldn’t be more warmly welcomed!

If you were  looking for a place to heed Jesus’ call to “ Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ (Matt.6.31), or to  “Consider the lilies, how they grow.” (Luke 12.27) All Saints’, Hethel  would suit your needs perfectly.

Next door to the church is the country’s  smallest nature reserve with the country’s oldest Hawthorn tree. It is inevitable that someone should have claimed it as having sprung from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff but it is only 700 year old! 


 Across the road from the church,  maps and a series of way marks invite you to saunter round Permissive Footpaths through woods and pastures. In April the last of the snowdrops and primroses lined the way. By the beginning of May there will be a profusion of bluebells!  In the churchyard  snowdrops, give way to wild daffodils, while the star of the summer flowers  - at their best in June  - are pyramidal orchids. Lots of them !


(The writer understands that orchids are no more  the work of God’s hands than a daisy!  But Solomon in all his splendour was not arrayed as one of these!)

Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Wymondham Nature Group,  manage the churchyard in ways that encourage wildflowers.  Considering the flowers for them means a working party to mow after the
 flowers have bloomed and then raking up all the hay and cuttings.



Inside the church there are some resources to help visitors thoughts and prayers. The website gives wise advice about being still in the presence of God.


 “.......  you could begin to listen to the sounds around you: your breathing, bird song, the wind, the silence. Simply focus on each one for a short time until your mind has slowed down and you are present to this moment, this place and your time with God now.
Thou shalt know him when he comes,
not by any din of drum, nor the vantage of airs
nor by anything he wears,
neither by his crown nor his gown.
For his presence known shall be
by the holy harmony
that his coming makes in thee.
                                                                     (15th century poem)”


Monday, March 04, 2013

Incongruous!


Incongruous  - is a word that covers it!  Seen from afar it looked like a small rural bus stop miles from the nearest road. The open fronted shelter stands beside the Hereward Way  long distance footpath  where it wends its way through a Thetford Forest fire break.

This was my destination. I’d come to visit it and take in the carved  wooden plaque on the rear wall. Its subject?  The Tree of Life!  What a place to pause for thought! A small notice explains that the artwork and shelter belong to the Via Beata and names the artist as Cathy Stables.





The Via Beata  - it translates as Way of Blessing -  is a project that aims to establish a path from Lowestoft Ness in the east to St. David’s Head in the west and  punctuate it with works of art that turn hearts and minds to the things of God.  In 2009 I had walked part of the Via from the first way station at Banham to Quidenham.  That was before any art work had been installed. Now a crucifix stands on the green outside the Children’s Hospice.






On a snowy day in the early spring, I took up where I had left off and explored the next leg, going via East Harling to Roudham Heath. On the way I found an open door, snowdrops and welcome at  Quidenham church.  In Roudham, next to the ruined church,   I discovered  a fragment of Saxon coffin lid built in to a pedestrian shelter.



  After crossing under the A11, and on through forest tracks, I came to the Roudham Heath way station.
On my way cross country  I thought of the cross and I turned the significance of the project over in my mind. It seemed to me that crossing  England and Wales, “from utmost east to utmost west”,   claims the land for Christ and that perhaps a north/south route is called for!
With 6 way stations in place between Lowestoft and Brandon, pathfinders have been testing out the route before publishing a guide to the East Anglian section.  For the time being there is a wide gap between Brandon and the next way station on the Welsh border at Hay on Wye.  It’s a work in progress!



You can find out more about the Via online at www.viabeata.wordpress.com or by phoning Steve and Gill Eggleton. Tel 01953 887579