Deanery Day at Simonburn

The banner produced by the young pilrims walking from Bellingham to Simonburn for the Deanery Day illustrates the beginning of the adventure.....

We set out on the morning of Friday 21st October from Cuddy's Well (St Cuthbert's Well) in Bellingham, shown on the left of the banner just above Kay's feet.  The natural spring water is channelled through the spout of a Victorian stone pant.  It is said that since St Cuthbert blessed the well(spring) in the seventh century, it has never failed.  People who have lived here for eighty years report that it has never dried up.  
Nor has its flow ceased when everywhere else has been frozen.  (I checked it myself when the temperature was minus 16 last winter and the water was still gushing out.)
    After we had all drunk some of the fresh cool water from St Cuthbert's Well, we climbed the stone steps up to St Cuthbert's church where we had a pilgrim prayer and each placed a stone on the prayer cairn.    Now we were ready to start walking.
     [Our deanery logo represents a (Christian) cross above  the traditional way of guiding travellers through unfamiliar country, a cairn of .  The cross-on-cairn symbolises a guide to the spiritual journey.]
   Why were we doing this?  The original idea had been to hold a Deanery Day on Saturday with a series of  workshops to help us find better ways of welcoming visitors to our churches and parishes so as to enhance the spiritual aspect of their visits.  One of the workshops was to have been a meditative walk which we invited Ian Ball to lead.  He was reluctant to lead a circular walk because it would lack a sense of direction.  A pilgrimage should go somewhere with a sense of purpose, even thought pilgrims have to be ready to meet the unexpected on the way.  We wouldn't dicover anything if we knew what was coming!  So it was decided that the aim would be to walk to the workshops with Simonburn as the destination.
     This aspect of the Deanery event was optional.  Three adults and four boys aged between 9 and 13 walked the eight miles cross-coutnry from Bellingham to Wark where all but one (my feeble self) cooked their supper and slept on the floor of the Town Hall.  In the monring they were joined by half a dozen others to walk the last five miles to Simonburn where they were met at midday by the morning workshop participants at St Mungo's church.

Meanwhile, the people at Simonburn had been busy.  Buidling on our last Deanery workshop in 2009, we have produced a fold out guide to all the churches of the Deanery area, including other denominations.  "Eternal Horizons" captions each picture with a "spiritual strapline" to convey what is special about each church on an intangible dimension.   Individual churches have since begun to publish their own guides or local trails, designed in their own way but recognisably related to the rest of the deanery:

During the morning we had held two workshops, one in the village hall and one in the church.
The former looked at what kind of welcome people receive when they visit our church buildings on their own.  What sort of noticeboard greets them? 
     Might it be disastrously out of date, suggesting a dying Church? 

Who would guess that this church has regular services?

 Might it imply that there's nothing going on?  Might a noticeboard forget to mention worship and other activities?  Might it try to say too much?  Might it omit to give a contact number for anyone who wishes to get in touch?
      OR might it manage to say "Welcome" and to give some information   --  not forgetting worship!  We musn't give the impression that the building is a museum.  Each one of our churches is a place of worship where you are welcome to join the congregation if you wish  --  and welcome to visit privately to spend time quietly on your own.
       The NOTICEBOARD needs to be welcoming, informative and uncluttered.

It would be ideal to have a permanent one with the long-term information (including the name of the place so that travellers know where they are!) and also a weather-proof one on which current notices can be seen by people who don't regularly go inside the church.  This one might benefit from plain  --  or occasionally seasonal  --   backing paper.
        How can we make it imaginative?  Perhaps by quoting a few words from the "spiritual strapline" printed in the Deanery leaflet, Eternal Horizons.
        Now... what happens when the visitor goes into the building?...
If the noticeboard outside quotes something about the river nearby (like the reference from one church to "living waters"), does this get picked up inside?  What if someone has been prompted to visit because the mention of "Mount of Transfiguration" is intriguing?  What did the local people have in mind when they composed their "spiritual strapline"?

        If you're going to take the water theme, there's an opportunity to "plunge" straight into information about baptism, since most traditional churches have the baptismal font near the door, symbolic of entry into the Christian community.
         As one young workshop participant pointed out, there should be something straight ahead to catch your attention when you come in  (Perhaps simply "You are welcome to walk about and look round!")   --  and there should be a children's activity, easily noticed on entry rather than spotted on the way out.  (Suggestions included matching pictures to labels e.g. of font, altar or pulpit.  The correct label could be made of a shape to fit with the picture so that people know if they've got it right.    
         What about AIDS TO PRAYER ? 

A selection of items might be placed on a "prayer table"
 We considered these questions:
      What is essential for you to help you pray?
      Do you use words to pray?         (Should we provide a leaflet of favourite prayers?)
      Is posture important?      (We should make provision for people to stand, sit or kneel comfortably.)
      Do you prefer to have your eyes closed or open?  (If open, then what can we provide as a focus of attention?)
      Which senses can we cater for?     (What do we offer for people who cannot see?)

If we all answer these questions differently, how can we cater for the wide variety of visitors?
What can we offer?
What are we trying to do?
Can we guide visitors?           (Might we provide a Gideaon Bible with its suggestions for passages to read in particular circumstances?)
Can we offer an adventure in prayer?

The CHURCH TRAIL workshop began with a short history of St Mungo's to put everyone in the picture and help them realise that people had been visitng this special place since the late sixth century.
    For today we were going to "adopt" St Mungo's as "our" church and endeavour to make a trail which would enhance the visit of those who come now, many with very different expectations.
    Each group of participants was given four photographs of interesting church features together with the appropriate text.  The font, pulpit, lectern and altar had no text, so that their purpose could be explained by the group members.
    For children, there was also a question or something to find at each point.
Having completed the exercise, each group mounted their photographs and words on display boards in the appropriate order.  We then decided how we should welcome people at the begainning of the trail; and, then, how we should end it, in this case with a prayer.
    We managed to complete this task in 45 minutes, producing a template which could be used in any church.


After the morning workshops came the meeting on the village green with the walkers:

and we all shared a short act of worship in St Mungo's:



        The IT session came after a wonderful lunch.  "Could I stay awake?" wondered one participant; "could I concentrate and take in all that computer jargon and technical wizardry?"  Well, it proved to be an interesting and valuable session on how to put photos together using moviemaker, to produce a snapshot of the churches up and down the valley.  This could then be accessed by the internet for public interest and tourism, almost like a virtual trail, to inform people of the quiet, beautiful and reflective space we feel we have to offer here in Northumberland.
    Several participants had brought photos on memory sticks, which were then skilfully pieced together with music and moving slides, beginning to create a visual record of our churches.  Andrew Duff (of Inspired Northeast) made the session interesting and easy to follow.  At the end of the day we were able to add our short film clip to the worship along with other presentations that made for an enjoyable and successful day.
    Jane Abrams was nominated to carry on the project of producing a complete piece of film.  If you would like your church included on the film, please send about 2-3 photos capturing the essence of your special place to and she will see what she can come up with!

This Deanery event was described as  JOURNEYS....PILGRIMAGE.....EXPLORING

       That is what we experienced in the walk, in the workshops exploring ways of prayer and church trails and what we hope to be able to develop in each of the parishes so as to offer visitors a spiritual adventure.

       The day and its outcomes may not have been what we were expecting.  But that's part of exploration.  And, as somebody summed up  "What's not flexible will break".