Regular readers of this blog will know this is not the first time I have walked Northern Leg of Student Cross, a walking pilgrimage during Holy Week, ending up in Walsingham on Good Friday and celebrating Easter together with other groups who have walked from different places.
This year I experienced it in a slightly strange way, having to come back and teach for three days in the middle, but it was still a wonderful way to celebrate Holy Week and Easter, and I am grateful to the people who offer food for thought (or just food), who make it a beautiful community experience and, quite frankly, just a lot of fun!
On Easter Sunday morning, during the "Holy Trot" when together we walk around the village of Walsingham carrying our crosses for the last time, this time decorated for Easter, I felt hugely privileged to be invited to give one of the "Stations", moments of reflection shared together. I thought I'd also share what I said here:
Student Cross allows us to live the story of the passion and the resurrection together for one week. But as people of the Gospel, this is a pilgrimage we are called to live not just here but throughout our lives.
For the last two and a half years, I have taught English at St Chad's Sanctuary, a place of welcome for refugees and asylum seekers in Birmingham. It is a place I have come to love very dearly. It is a place I have come to love very dearly. It is a place where I know I have learned far more than I have taught. Yet speaking about my experiences there hasn't always proved easy ... which doesn't mean I am not going to try.
My experiences have been overwhelmingly positive - building beautiful relationships which have been life-affirming as well as life changing ...
But these are among the most vulnerable of our society: people who have fled horrific situations in their home countries, undergone unimaginable journeys to get here, and continue to face suspicion and exclusion on arrival. How do I share the joy they bring me without glorying in their suffering? How do I explain that a place which can bring me to tears is a place of joy and life?
How do we sing of the resurrection without denying the reality of the crucifixion?
My students come from all over the world. Most come with very little and have left much behind: but they all bring an intractable belief that something better is possible. And through all their struggles, they continue to smile.
Ultimately, perhaps, my love for this place is very simple. It is a place of humanity and of hope. It is a place where human dignity is restored by simple gestures. It is a place where I encounter students who, in spite of all they have lived and all they are living, remain people of hope. Perhaps because they know real suffering, they also know the meaning of true hope: a hope which is tangible, even if it is hard to explain.
A resurrection hope, even in places of crucifixion.
I feel hugely privileged that they are able to share even a part of that hope with me.
The stories I have heard, the people I have met have been a source of sadness, and frustration and even anger. They have been, even more, a source of joy and of life.
They have changed who I am.
So this for me is the passion. And this for me is Easter. The encounter which, through its tears, holds tight to a smile. The encounter which enables me, which enables us, to be more fully alive.
This simple place
Of meeting with the other
To find I also meet
The myself I thought I knew
To know who you are
Is to discover who I am
As both offering and open
We meet here
Face to face
Where language sometimes falters
But simple words speak trust
And found in broken English
Is the wholeness of a soul
From which is born
The fragile friendship
Of our shared humanity
And so I leave
This simple place of meeting
The same, but changed