Sabbatical Reflection 8 - A Pilgrimage to The Holy Island of Lindisfarne by Revd Rick Ormrod our incoming Superintendent who we welcome to the Circuit from the 1st September.
You catch glimpses of the castle about five miles before the turning of the A1 as you travel north, a familiar shape seen in many pictures, more the shape than the detail, but it is definitely there. The shape that brings joy to the heart that you are close to a very special place; the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, the cradle of English Christianity.
People visit Lindisfarne in their thousands each year. Some simply because it is a well-known tourist destination with a castle and ruined priory to visit and beaches to enjoy, others to watch the birds and other wildlife and some, like me, come on pilgrimage, seeking God in what is widely acknowledged to be a thin place, a sacred place, a holy island.
When I planned my sabbatical back in November 2019 the major focus was to be a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. So many Minister friends who have been there have told me how such a visit has transformed their faith and their ministry and I’ve always said that I want to be the best Minister that, by the grace of God, I’m capable of being. I guess I was hoping for a similar transformation by sailing on a boat on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus sailed, by walking the dusty paths he walked, immersing myself in the River Jordan and visiting significant places like the place of Jesus birth in Bethlehem, the place of the crucifixion and his tomb in Jerusalem.
It was not to be. Covid intervened and the disruption of my Sabbatical plans is probably the least significant consequence of Covid that is possible.
The backup plan that I eventually came up with, with the help and guidance of my lovely Sabbaticals Support Group, was to increase the amount of theological reading I’d planned to undertake and to undertake a two-day pilgrimage to Lindisfarne.
Why Lindisfarne? There were several places I could have chosen, including Iona (the other UK Holy Island), Walsingham or even Glastonbury whose Christian tradition is just as reach as the more recent “New Age” spirituality with which it is now commonly associated. I chose Lindisfarne because it was a place I knew resonated with me on a deep spiritual level, a place I’d visited three times before but only for a few hours; a place I felt God drawing me to for a longer stay.
I would have loved to have walked Cuthbert’s Way, from Cuthbert’s final resting place in Durham Cathedral to Lindisfarne, but asthma and arthritis meant that would be a very difficult proposition indeed. Instead, I drove to the island in the comfort of my car with the air conditioning turned on full blast, stopping only for a breakfast muffin at McDonalds on the way. I stayed at The Ship Inn which is managed by Paul who was associated with the Boys Brigade at Rhyddings Methodist Church, Oswaldtwistle in his younger days.
Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook will have seen that I took a lot of photographs during my two-night stay, but I also did a lot of thinking and a lot of praying, both talking to God and listening to God. I feel deep within myself that the pilgrimage to Lindisfarne has been as spiritually significant and beneficial for me as the planned visit to the Holy Land would have been.
Three particular moments stand out for me.
The first involves Pilgrims Coffee House and Roastery, where I had probably the best cup of coffee I have ever drunk. Whilst sitting at an outside table two small birds landed on the table and hopped right up to my hand. It was an incredible, special and Holy moment, a shared bond between a human being and a tiny creature normally fearful of people, a moment when I think I caught a glimpse of what it truly means to be one of the stewards of God’s earth. Tiny, beautiful, wonderful creatures like these tiny birds, creations of a loving God, are affected by the decisions we human beings make. We must do a much better job of fulfilling our God given role as stewards of this earth and all that lives upon it.
The second moment case on the first evening as I sat on an old wooden bench on the shoreline us below St Mary’s Church, overlooking Cuthbert’s island and the sandbanks beyond. That morning I had been awoken by the most glorious bird song and heard those wonderful avian melodies again during the afternoon when the tide was in and the day trippers had largely deserted the island. That evening I heard a different song, the song of the seals! Its actually the roar of seals, but with the difference pitches and tones it sounds remarkably like a choir of voices blending together in harmony.
It struck me as never before how much music is an integral and essential part of God’s creation. Perhaps that is why we sing as part of our worship of our amazing creator. Perhaps that is why so many of us are struggling to worship at the moment because we can’t sing hymns and spiritual songs.
The third moment came late on the afternoon on the second day when I intentionally found a space on the island where I could be completely alone with God. With the tide in and most of the day trippers gone finding a deserted spot was relatively easy. There is also a change in the feel of Lindisfarne when the tide is in: the quality of the light changes and heaven and God feel even closer
The picture above shows the view I had as I consciously spent time with God.
I was there some time, reflecting on the ministry I have done over the past few years in West Pennine Moors Methodist Circuit and also thinking ahead to my coming appointment as Circuit Superintendent of Burnley and Pendle Circuit.
It’s natural that these things were on my mind and its natural that my mind began to concentrate on all of the things I thought I could have done better and concerns about whether I am up to the task of Superintendency. When we see ourselves in the light of God’s love and purity, we always find ourselves wanting.
I felt the urge to look up and saw a herring gull flying high, then another joined it and then a third. They flew through the sky together in perfect harmony, flapping their wings and turning and wheeling in unison. It was quite beautiful and immediately brought to mind the harmony of the Holy Trinity, the God we worship, praise and adore.
And I felt God speaking to me, not in audible words but in a memory of my Ordination service when the congregation said of those of us about to be ordained, “you are worthy!” We were worthy not because of our ow achievements but because God had declared us worthy by the Holy Spirit to be ordained as Presbyters and had equipped us for the task ahead.
I realised that I needed to have greater faith that I had achieved at least some of the things the Lord wanted me to achieve in my present churches, otherwise I wouldn’t be moving to pastures new. I also realised and had it reaffirmed for me that God has called me to Superintendency in Burnley and Pendle and has equipped me by his Holy Spirit for the daunting task ahead.
On the morning I left Lindisfarne, Holy Island, I felt a total sense of peace and calm about all that lies ahead. It was a blessing to spend time there and I felt myself receiving afresh God’s blessing for my future as a Presbyter in the Methodist Church.