For the past three years The Bishops of Suffolk: Bishop Mike Harrison and Bishop Martin Seeley, have carried out pilgrimages during Lent across the county. In 2017 this was from Dunwich and in 2018 from Bures to Bury St Edmunds.
This year they set off from Southwold on Ash Wednesday to arrive in Stowmarket 11 days later. In the East Anglian Daily Times Bishop Martin is quoted:
‘‘The one thing I always try to do after trekking across our beautiful county is to help connect the gifts of one person, with the needs of another of those I meet. To make connections between people, and to make a real difference in these uncertain times.’’
I joined the bishops on their eighth day at the church of St Mary, Rickinghall . We stood wondering if this was the correct church (this was Rickinghall Inferior, and there is another called Superior, but this is currently redundant) A shaft of sunlight filled the porch and a cheery lady arrived to confirm we were in the right place.
The bishops arrived wearing purple high-vis jackets printed with “Walking Together” on the back, and after a short service we set off in the company of the Vicar’s brother. The weather looked a bit better than the downpours they had endured the day before, but was windy, with occasional shafts of sunshine fleeting across the fields.
Making connections seemed very much a priority of the walk. At Walsham-le-Willows we joined a primary school where they gave an assembly, then a pottery, where the potter patiently taught them both how to make a pot. The moment when this was decorated was impressive and the bishops seemed justly pleased with their efforts:
Lunchtime in the pub was briefly interrupted for an update with the local radio before we set off again to Wyken Hall , where they were treated in style by the Carlisles. I bought a lovely blue jug from their shop.
Any association with hardship, indulgences, hair shirts or endurance rather deteriorated after that. The Carlisles very kindly gave us all a lift to the next village, Ixworth, and on the way Carla drove some of us up to the vineyards, which she described as looking like gravestones: row upon row of black sticks reaching down the slopes.
The final event for me was a short service at All Saints, Ixworth Thorpe. This is a tiny thatched church on a hill, with a Norman Door- yet another Grade one listed building I had never seen before. The main thing which I witnessed was the amount of goodwill shown. There was a cheery group to meet them there and people felt privileged and pleased. The whole scene seemed strangely out of time, particularly now with a political scene in turmoil. Connections were providing mutual support and encouragement. How counter-cultural, at a time when we are threatened with barriers to education, research, industry and international connection, to simply walk out and meet people. The bishops’ next appointment was a Darts’ Match- I hope they won, but I wouldn’t bet on it.