Cheltenham to Birmingham (Billesley)
‘As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.’
The above passage is from Acts 8 in the Bible, verse 36-40. For the what and why of how the Philip met the eunuch you’ll need to look it up if interested, I’ll add a link below. Needless to say this verse was on my mind today, indeed top of it. As discussed previously we had to adapt our schedule and itinerary as it was quite clear that whilst we’d made one day of 17 miles after 13, we would struggle to make York trying to repeat it. At the same time, in an age where nothing appears authentic or honest, I was concerned about a #Walk2York which didn’t make it clear that a short part had seen the cross move, not by sheer physical effort, but by car. At the same time the background to this in its entirety is about the symbol of the cross moving, this is a symbolic journey, not our journey.
That moves me on to Billy Graham. I watched a documentary about him on Netflix a few days ago. As someone who really only came to faith in 2012, I don’t have the years of pedigree regarding the Christian community nor much of its more recent history. I simply don’t know and thus my awareness of Billy Graham was simply that he was an American evangelist I’d vaguely heard about. Much of what I’ve seen of the American movement doesn’t appeal to me. These crass continuous requests for donations, backed up by stories of the evangelist needing another jet, seem to my heart more akin to some of the ways the gospel warns against, rather than truly being the mission of our God. Thus in watching this documentary, which I would heartily recommend, I was stunned at what appears to be a truly devout man, who exhibited all of the biblical traits, including humbleness. His influence and reach was beyond belief and quite possibly exceeded that of my namesake and forebear. I’d recommend watching it, I was glad I did.
The form of evangelism that seems to have followed on from him, some of which I have had the misfortune to see, is often not so healthy. I’ve noticed in this country if you look carefully you will see the ‘circuits’ of religious speakers who form a clique within an industry. Some of the crass wealth exhibited in the USA or in the prosperity gospel in some African areas isn’t so obvious, but it is there and it is unhealthy. Likewise the ‘industry’ has its own mouthpieces and these tend to gear towards promoting specific people and specific campaigns or ideals. Whilst this isn’t all bad, it does exhibit coveting by its very nature and in coveting this culture gets extended into many religious communities.
It is here that I think the rediscovery of the early church and Celtic Spirituality, specifically within or around the framework of new monasticism, offers a chance to refresh the religious landscape. We’ve got so tied up within the net of consumerism we seem to have allowed that to trap our faith into needing monetary worth. It doesn’t. We often smile at the thoughts of victorian gentry with their reserved pews and Mrs Smith who has to sit in her place in church but in reality the culture that engendered that has not disappeared, it has actually grown as more people have disposable wealth. Thus as we move the cross from Malmesbury to York there is a danger that folk will see this as something being done by Andy, Adele or the charity Navigators of Faith. It isn’t. If the cross we have the honour to carry moves by foot without us then that is a considerable blessing. You see it may be something I made but it is not my cross. This symbol is one which reminds us of the considerable sacrifice of Jesus, given by God to all humankind. As we move through Lent this period makes us reflect upon that sacrifice but it should make us reflect also on the ‘all’. ‘All’ of us so that we ‘all’ might be saved. This cross belongs to all, and for that reason all are invited to help carry it, help move it but above all, respect it.
To demonstrate that ourselves we still travelled the same route as planned and made sure sure we visited the churches yesterday on route.
It was a great sadness not to have walked it into Evesham to All Saints Parish Church. I was met by John Inwood, the jovial and welcoming church warden who’s picture is at the top of this blog. I hadn’t realised but Evesham was one of the most important religious sites in our country at one point. As I neared, seeing the Tudor buildings, remains of the Abbey and its vast site with not one but two parish churches in front, I was in awe. It truly is a place of visual splendour and it was a blessing to both visit and to meet John. It was so imposing that we will return there to revisit, Evesham is a true undiscovered gem in our national crown.
With that thought process, we have moved the cross to ‘Azotus’, not miraculously but with gratitude and ‘Azotus’ for us today is symbolised by the church of the Holy Cross, Billesley in Birmingham where we will set out from on Saturday 16th March at 06:30.
Many thanks to Father Anthony and Father Craig at the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Redditch. Their offer to help store the cross was a blessing.
Link to Acts 8 below