Over the weekend of 25th to 27th March, groups across Urban Saints took part in Our Big Journey - journeying together as one as a sign of belonging and togetherness. We had Journeys taking place along coasts, in parks, through the streets and even by canoe. So what was Our Big Journey all about and what happens next?
Our Big Journey was devised as an opportunity for groups, volunteers and supporters to do something together even though we are still in the period where Covid limits how much we can do things all together in the same place. Inspired by The Long Walk in the Same Direction (travelling from North London to Luton in 2019), it challenged Groups and anyone connected to Urban Saints to take on a Journey near to them with others. The Journey needed to be "self-powered", accessible to as many people as possible and significant to the group taking part - but beyond that no more specific requirements were given.
This March, Journeys took place in 10 locations across England, Scotland and Wales (with people in Ireland also taking part virtually) in a range of locations and Journey types. Covid still played a part this year with last-minute changes of plan and cancellations taking place but it was great to see a range of Journeys happening. The experience was different on each of them but there was a shared sense that each person taking part was doing so together with others across the movement.
The Group in Ramsey and Dovercourt, Essex (pictured above) were keen to do something different that would benefit others and opted for a beach clean as part of their Journey. Leaders and young people joined forces to help pick up litter along a 2 mile stretch of the coast near the port of Harwich.
Group Leader, Nigel told us: "We started small in number but as the day went on had 24 people of all ages - and a dog too - getting involved with the beach clean! We were all pleased with our efforts - a Journey in beautiful weather, along a beachscape that is a North Essex gem. Many passers-by acknowledged our efforts, even saying 'Thank you' so a really 'feel good factor' was established."
Another group of travellers - including Additional Needs Ministry Director Mark Arnold and Chair of Trustees Sharon Prior - also headed along the coast at the other end of the British Isles. Their Journey went from Poole Harbour in Dorset to Christchurch Harbour, taking in Bournemouth sea front on the way. Great conversations were had on the way, between the group and with passers-by. A man from a local church prayed for us and said he would get his church to pray for Urban Saints the next day.
"Seeing some mountain goats grazing on the cliffs above the beach, reminded me that if we are doing what God made us for, following his calling on our lives, then he equips us to do that work well. At Urban Saints, God has called us to serve children and young people, and their leaders, all of them, and he offers us the wonderful opportunity to join in with the amazing work that he is doing. We might feel like a mountain goat sometimes, but God is there with us and if we follow him our footing will be sure" Mark reflected after their Journey.
Lighthouse Prestonpans Group up in Edinburgh also ventured along the coast, with the young people using the Journey to raise sponsorship to help them get to this summer's Spree in the Borders.
Another Journey took place along the coast on the Isle of Wight, starting at Ryde heading towards Bembridge. Both places have significance in the history of Urban Saints Camps and there was even a stop-off at the Urban Saints Westbrook Centre (which was bustling with a youth group in residence!)
At the end of our Journey, I felt an immense gratitude for God’s faithfulness to his work on the island over all these years," said Claire Murphy, Urban Saints' People Lead, "and I felt a sense of anticipation for all those young people who will journey to the Isle of Wight with us in the future. It is a place which radiates God through his creation, and a place which can bring a hope and a future for so many – young people and leaders."
Kinmel Bay Urban Saints Group suffered a last-minute change of plans but still managed to take on a two-day canoe Journey. The Montgomery Canal stood in for the River Wye but it was no less epic an adventure. Plenty of time on the water featured as did water fights, camp fires, sleeping under canvas and great conversations too - many of the ingredients that make Urban Saints Camps such a wonderful experience for young people.
Eight people took on the Journey in Lichfield, stopping at various points to pray, including local high schools, the Cathedral and the park. It was the perfect opportunity to pray for the young people in local schools and Groups and for the development of work across the Central region too. A similar Journey took place in Croydon, with Group Leaders from Croydon and Thornton Heath as well as Chief Mission Officer Ant Horton joining in.
A small group took on the Journey recreating that original Long Walk, inspired by the founder of the movement. Starting in Elthorne Park in Crouch End, London - where Albert Kestin had met the very first Urban Saints Group - they headed towards the Urban Saints office in Luton. The Journey also stopped off at the old Crusader offices in St Albans, in the sight of the Cathedral. The route took them by different Urban Saints Group locations old, new and even potential ones for the future too. Only two of the group completed the entire 30-mile Journey but many different people took part, covering various stretches of the Journey over the course of the day as the baton was passed along the way.
"It was a fantastic, if exhausting, day for all involved. It was a great feeling to recreate the Crouch End to Luton Journey from 2019. However what was even better was to realise that what started as one walk has grown into 10 Journeys taking place over the same weekend, around the nations. Imagine where it might go in the future!" said Paul, who had taken part in both Journeys
Everyone taking part in Our Big Journey had a great time travelling together. The weather was very kind on all the Journeys and good food featured prominently throughout. It made for a memorable weekend and a significant experience for Urban Saints as we seek to find more opportunities to grow together as a movement.
We'd love to see more Journeys taking place in 2023 and even more parts of the country represented. We're currently working on plans for repeating Our Big Journey again, with the likely date being 24th-26th March 2023 so put that in your diaries and there will be more information about this in future months.
In the meantime, if you would like to get more involved in Urban Saints as a volunteer or a supporter, check out the different pages of the website for more information about how to get involved: