This summer I am taking a sabbatical from my work with the Christian homelessness charity Housing Justice. In July and August I’ll be doing something that has been on my heart for a while: a personal pilgrimage around this country.
I’ll be walking and hitch hiking, visiting places that have significance for me, like Whitby where I was born, and places that have significance as centres of the Christian life, like Holy Island and Iona.
I’m also going to spend some time living on the streets, among people who sleep rough and use homelessness support services.
So why am I using this time to go on a pilgrimage? Well, it’s because it connects to three of the issues I care most deeply about: my faith, homelessness and travelling.
Firstly, it connects to my Christian beliefs. I worship at the Bethnal Green Mission Church in Tower Hamlets and I love walking with a group of people in companionship and fellowship.
It is great to be part of a community where everyone really matters. As we read in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 12.12-27, a Christian community is “One body with many members” and each one is important. Everyone matters. Whatever you do, whatever your “station in life” and whatever your “status.”
This sense of a supportive community to belong to is something I really value. In my own life I have for various reasons had a sense of being an outsider. I know this is partly what drew me to work with homeless people.
But companionship, being together in fellowship with a community is vital to all of us. We need it to protect ourselves from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. Or, more simply, to help us to resist the alienating effects of “modern life”.
Secondly, this pilgrimage connects to my concerns about homelessness. I have worked with homeless people since 1990 and have worked and volunteered for many charities including The Passage, Emmaus and the West London Day Centre. During the coming months I will be spending time among those sleeping rough around the country.
Through my work with Housing Justice, we work alongside many churches and homeless charities nationwide. It is sad to say but from everywhere the situation across the whole country is getting worse and worse.
The world is becoming a harder place and especially for those destitute. I want to find out more about the situation from the street level: to stand (and sleep!) in solidarity with my homeless brothers and sisters.
Thirdly, it connects to my passion for travelling. During my 20’s and 30’s I tried out various careers and did a lot of travelling. I made a living for a time as a busker, in France, Italy and the US. I also lived in two radical communities: The Farm in Tennessee, and a small anarchist commune in Sardinia.
Over the last 7 years I’ve taken part in the Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields Pilgrimage to Canterbury. Each Spring Bank Holiday weekend over a hundred people come together to walk the 74 miles from St Martin’s in Trafalgar Square to Canterbury Cathedral, raising funds for the Connection’s work with homeless people.
In this community of pilgrimage we find the love of God and of each other. And we discover that all we need is in each other, and this is our real and lasting treasure.
Follow my adventures!
I have started a blog to chronicle my adventures in the coming weeks. If you want to keep updated with what I am doing and learning then join me on this pilgrimage via my blog http://alastairmurray.wordpress.com
Alastair Murray is Director of Projects at Housing Justice and has worked with homeless people for over 20 years. He lives in Tower Hamlets with his wife Francoise and son Theo. Follow his pilgrimage blog here.