Our recent 60-mile pilgrimage from Edinburgh to St. Andrews, Scotland was another deeply significant journey for Amy and me, physically and spiritually. We’re grateful for the interest so many of your expressed by “walking” with us through Amy’s daily prayer guide. Putting your faith where your feet are (or your feet where your faith is?), again proved meaningful.
The route might have been more beautiful than El Camino de Santiago, but one disappointment was that no churches were open along the way. Every Spanish chapel or cathedral was open for pilgrims, but many of the Scottish churches were, well… no longer even churches. Many had been converted to government offices, museums, cafes, and two beautiful churches on our path were in ruins.
In Spain we walked with an English couple with whom we’ve remained in touch. When we landed, Tony and Kate were there to meet us, having flown from Manchester to share the first 12 miles of the Way of St. Margaret. These friends are well-educated and share our convictions for justice, generosity, and good will, but years ago they gave up on the Church in which they were raised. After saying our goodbyes we stayed in touch for the rest of our pilgrimage, and in one email Kate sent her prayers. (“If God hears secular prayers!” LOL!)
Before we parted I had taken the opportunity to ask a daring question. “No preacherly pressure or guilt intended,” I said, “But I need to ask about the English Church. Many people feel the US is going the way of European secularism, and the US Church may also become a casualty. So, I need to know what is missing from England without the influence of the Church. Is anything missing?”
I braced myself, honestly expecting ambivalence or even antipathy toward the institution… Instead, Kate responded in fortissimo: “Yes! The family…” This retired teacher talked about the concerns she has for the family structure, for parenting, for English children who are no longer being formed by the Church. And Tony, a retired attorney, bemoaned the loss of “codes.” We talked about ethical codes, codes of conduct, the loss of cultural decency, dignity, decorum, the failings in moral conduct he also connects to the loss of Church.
St. Andrews cathedral was once the most significant church in Scotland, but it is also in ruins and stands in the midst of its own cemetery, eerily appearing as the largest of the headstones in that manicured graveyard. Standing within the two roofless, floor-less, windowless “tombs” of a church we had passed along the way, we had offered our mid-day prayers, speaking your names as we prayed our way through our vibrant congregation. And, standing there singing simple sacred harmonies, we were disquieted. How did one of the centers of European Christianity, and Europe itself, the heart of the Western church, lose its faith?
Will we? Before the Church in American becomes another beautiful gravestone maybe we’ll be able to look forward to remember what we’ll miss if it does.
See you on Sundays?