I grew up in a Free Church tradition. I attended a Baptist Church at home and when I went to university I found the SCM-affiliated Methodist Society, and through it St Paul’s Methodist Church where I was later baptised. Despite that, this year will be my sixth participating in Student Cross, a seven-day walking pilgrimage. Over Holy Week. To Walsingham. Carrying a life-size cross. It’s pretty cliché Catholic. So, what keeps me coming back despite the fact that it’s so outside my own tradition, and involves blisters, sleep deprivation, lack of showers and all?
- Walking approximately 125 miles over a week leaves a lot of time to talk. Being so radically removed from everyday life gives space to reflect, relax, build friendships and discuss faith in a way that is really hard to do in more conventional circumstances.
- It brings a new dimension to my Easter. The celebrations throughout the Easter weekend after arriving in Walsingham on Good Friday are so significant because of the pilgrimage you’ve just walked. There’s a better understanding of what Christ went through (although it obviously pales in comparison.)
- It’s enriching to my faith. I walk alongside people who have very different ideas on certain aspects of our shared faith, but also a lot in common. Talking and discussing these things leads to a better understanding of my own faith, as well as a better understanding of theirs.
- We meet parishioners along the way, and they welcome us in and show us hospitality. We stop several times a day – at meal times, but also in between.
Some of my closest friendships are friends that I’ve made on Student Cross. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting, and in many ways unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been vulnerable, sleep deprived and overwhelmed. But it’s in those moments that the kindness of others is so significant, when people step up to carry the cross for you – often literally. By its very nature it leads to people caring for each other, and the love of Christ so visibly shines through this small community every Holy Week.
I will be leading the “London Leg” (the name of our group of 20-30 pilgrims who set off from Epping) of Student Cross over Holy Week in 2019. If cake, singing, faith and community sound good to you, we would love it if you were to join us!
If you are interested in walking a leg, but would prefer to meet some of us first and get a better idea of what’s involved we’re having an informal reunion on 8th-10th February in Sheffield. Please get in touch if you’d like to join us!
Written by Jacque Ryan.