Postcard from Chippenham

Everyone reckons I’m bringing the hot weather with me. Whether or not it’s down to me today’s another bakingly hot day, and this morning I hitch hiked from Oxford to Chippenham. And I have to say for my first try at hitch hiking in …. years it went extremely well. I set off from Oxford at around 9.00, and got a lift in about 3 minutes. The guy who pulled over for me was James, the son-in-law of an Anglican Vicar who, it turned out, has a new role in the Oxford Diocese to help support pilgrimage – yes! – and he spotted and recognised the pilgrim scallop shell on my backpack. He also runs a restaurant in the Cowley Road that I remember passing, called Atomic Pizza, which was always packed. He was on his way to Bristol for a meeting with his new restaurant manager there.

So after another lift from the M4,where I also waited all of about 5 minutes,  I got to Chippenham in plenty of time for the drop in session at Doorway which I had hoped to be able to visit whilst on these travels. It was great to finally meet Lisa and her team, having been in touch with her on Twitter for almost the last 2 years.

Here she is with Kev, her Support Service manager, at their office.

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And here is one of Lisa and me outside the office, taken by Kev.

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I’ve spent the day with Lisa, chatting and comparing notes on homelessness services, and have really enjoyed our conversation. At the drop in – where I should have taken some photos but forgot – I also had some really good chats with the volunteers and some of the guys using the Doorway services.

Homelessness services pick up on the failings of society, and especially on the shortcomings of statutory support toward the vulnerable. And Lisa is such a good example of someone who works and campaigns on behalf of the people who other people don’t care that much about – the awkward ones, the challenging ones, the misfits, those who don’t have much in the way of family or friendship networks backing them up.

As always there is so much more to say, but it’s nearly dinner time, and I’m going to have to leave it there. I can’t keep my hosts waiting! I am though keeping notes and will hopefully be able to expand and expound further on some of this stuff, before the trail goes too cold.

 

Preparedness

Less than a week to go now and I am feeling some trepidation. To leave behind my wife, home and friends, work routines and support systems for 2 months is fairly radical. Of course I knew this all along but as the start date of 1st July approaches I find myself feeling quite unprepared. A bit daunted too, in truth. But even if I did somehow have the illusion of feeling prepared, it is still a big enterprise.

Other than a couple of items I have most of the kit I need for the journey. Some good boots and a waterproof jacket, an excellent backpack and sleeping bag kindly loaned by Brother Vaughan. And thanks to my friend from Phoenix Housing  Penny Quinton I have a wonderful Hennessy Hammock to sleep in.

Something about the idea of going with just the clothes I am wearing appeals. Didn’t Jesus send the disciples out telling them to take only the absolute minimum and to trust God for the rest? And when the early Celtic monks and saints set out on their voyages they considered their lives as offerings, giving up all their rights and self sufficiency and praying that the Lord would guide them where He wanted them to go. And I also consciously making the decision to give up my (illusory) self sufficiency on this pilgrimage.

But I am going to need a phone and maps and other essential paraphernalia. I’m not exactly Bear Grylls after all.. And I do have a not-very-cunning plan on the route, you might be pleased to hear. At least I know the starting point – my front door – and end point – Iona – and a few of the places in between!

On Monday, ready or not, rain or shine, I will set off walking along the Thames Path to Oxford.

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Hopefully by the end of the first day I’ll have reached The Community of the Sisters of the Church at Ham Common where hospitality is offered. Amongst those who live in the community are some who are in Home Office limbo, without recourse to state support or public funds. Housing Justice is involved in developing better accommodation and support for people facing this difficult situation, especially through London Hosting, with colleagues from Praxis, Spare Room, the Catholic Worker and others.

Much of my 9 weeks on the road and on the street is lightly sketched, for the reasons already outlined. But among the places I hope to visit, if the winds are fair, are Hillfields, St David’s, Whitby and Holy Island. Hitch hiking is maybe the modern equivalent of setting out in a little leather coracle – my way of trusting the Lord to lead me where he wants me to be. If it doesn’t go well, of course, I could end up stuck at a Service Station in deepest Wiltshire.

Join me in the adventure by checking back with this blog now and again. And if you are a believer don’t forget to pray for me! Especially that I don’t get stuck at the service station. Thank you