One of the interesting things about being a pilgrim is being asked “Is this a religious thing?”
From the perspective of our partners and sponsors Projects For All the Listening Pilgrimage is not religious. Projects For All is not affiliated with a religion. Its projects are secular and inclusive. Similarly, our friends at The British Pilgrimage Trust take an inclusive approach to pilgrimage, encouraging pilgrims to BYOB — Bring Your Own Beliefs.
We are all sensitive to the divisive potential of religious labels, so this is a theme that we have to approach thoughtfully from the very start. For the record then, here is my personal response to the question, ‘Is this a religious thing?’
I was baptised and confirmed in the Church of England. I grew up in a series of villages in rural Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. My family would go to church sporadically, especially for Easter and Christmas services. The church played a big role in the social life of the village, as it has done throughout England for many years. I attended a Methodist school and studied A-level Theology. I had my atheistic tendencies, inspired by ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins, and managed to shrug off habits of worship that I had grown up with but never examined. In recent years I have come back to faith with an open mind, and now I can say without blushing: I am a pilgrim.
Is pilgrimage religious? It depends on the pilgrim.
There are forms of pilgrimage in all religions, and some that are purely secular. If you wish to understand pilgrimage, pick a destination that means something to you, that calls you. It could be a temple, a spring, a battlefield, a football stadium, whatever.
Now get there, under your own power if possible, or with the help of friends. If you can, walk.
Be open to your surroundings and welcome all encounters. Go in the spirit of giving, not taking. Learn from each meeting and every challenge. Reflect on the history of those who have walked the path before you. Trust in the way and the kindness of strangers.
When you get to your destination, you will know something of what pilgrimage is.
Bring your own beliefs, be open minded, and don’t be afraid to enter places of worship.
In just two days walking we have been in or around nearly twenty churches and one cathedral — the spiritual heart of a global religion. As we progress, we intend to visit synagogues and mosques, temples and meeting-houses. We set off to collect stories about refugees, but at the same time we are exploring the history and state of faith in these islands. The two strands are intertwined.