“Let’s go for a walk this afternoon.” This innocent sounding invitation, usually asked by my wife, gets me thinking. Surely I had a sermon to work on, or a visit to make, or even a deadline for a newspaper column to meet?
I’m not sure whether it’s the preparations, finding the right shoes, coat, making a decision about where to go, that dampens my enthusiasm. Or maybe the thought of what I should be doing instead. Or maybe it’s the ‘exercise’ thing.
I am not a keen walker.
Which makes it very odd that I should be embarking on not just an afternoon, but ten days of walking, nearly 70 miles all together.
On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, Bishop Mike, and I start on a pilgrimage across our beautiful county, from Dunwich beach to the cathedral at Bury St Edmunds where we will arrive on Saturday ten days later.
We are beginning where St Felix of Burgundy, who is credited with bringing Christianity to East Anglia, was established as the first bishop of East Anglia, in around 630 AD.
The Venerable Bede, the historian, wrote a hundred years later that Felix delivered “all the province of East Anglia from long-standing unrighteousness and unhappiness”.
I like Bede’s thought that Christianity delivers us from unhappiness.
We are finishing our walk where St Edmund, our county’s and once our country’s patron saint, was buried. He was killed a century after Bede wrote about Felix.
His body, enshrined in the abbey at Bury, one of the greatest abbeys in the land, was lost when Henry VIII’s forces confiscated the abbey from the monks.
So we are on a pilgrimage between two places rich in the tradition of the Christian faith in our county, a tradition reflected in our titles – Bishop of Dunwich and Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
So why are we doing this?
First, because it is Lent. Mike has been in post a year in March, and I will have been bishop for two years in May, so this is our first Lent together, and we wanted to mark Lent in a distinctive way.
Lent is a time to think and pray about our relationship with God and in particular about what gets in the way of our loving God and loving our neighbour – and in ways that make a difference.
Taking time out to do that is important for Christians, and so one way we decided to keep Lent this year by disrupting our usual schedule and way of working, and living our days differently.
We are calling our pilgrimage “Walking Together” which is not just about Mike striding forward and me struggling to keep up.
It is also about what we are planning to do along the way.
We will walk on average seven or eight miles each day, which for those of you who are fit walkers, is not very far.
But that means we can spend time with people. We can spend time in the communities we pass through, visiting community programmes, businesses, schools, farms, and of course churches.
We will see people in our congregations and communities making a difference in the lives of others, particularly those in poverty and need.
Each day has been carefully planned to include several visits, as we walk together with the people of our county, sharing in their daily lives.
It is part of Mike’s and my calling to celebrate and pray for all the people of Suffolk in their daily lives, and give thanks for the gifts and sacrifices that people make to help our communities flourish.
So we will be walking together witnessing people’s gifts and talents, and their needs and hopes. The Church exists for this, to help transform people’s lives through prayer, through bringing hope, and through compassionate action.
Our hope is that we can make a difference, even a small difference, by celebrating gifts and raising awareness of need.
We will also be literally walking together with any of you who want to join us. The route is on the Diocesan website and that points out where we hope to be at particular points, and good stretches to join us for. Details can be found at http://www.cofesuffolk.org/bishops-pilgrimage.
There will of course be good stretches each day when it is probably just a few of us, or just Mike and me.
These are times for us to reflect and think.
We want to use the time to think about what we have seen and experienced, and to think about how God is at work in people’s daily lives.
We want to use it as a time to think with each other about our faith, and how we better live that for the sake of the people of our wonderful county.
We will pray as we go, as we soak in the beauty of Suffolk, of Suffolk’s people – and doubtless, Suffolk rain.
I might even end up thinking I quite enjoy walking, and will meet my wife’s suggestion a bit more enthusiastically!
-- The Right Rev Martin Seeley is Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich