For the second year in a row, Bishop David Edwards of the diocese of Fredericton spent the first two weeks of June walking the streets and highways to visit parishes, pray with Anglicans and witness to the communities he visited along the way.
From May 29 to June 12, Edwards visited six parishes of the geographically large but sparsely populated archdeaconry of Chatham, along New Brunswick’s rugged north shore. It was the second in a planned series of seven pilgrimages Edwards hopes to take through each of the diocese’s seven archdeaconries.
“It went extremely well. People were enthused…I think because it happened last year, that has enabled us to build up a little bit of momentum this year,” he said.
Over the course of 15 days, Edwards and his walking partner Trevor Fotheringham put a total of 170 kms behind them. Of those 170, Edwards estimates that they only spent six walking unaccompanied, with groups of parishioners joining them for most the journey.
“We had lots of people walking with us all through,” he said. “Maybe just one or two at times, but I think we had…30 or 40 people walking with us at one point.”
Edwards said walking the archdeaconries gives him a much more “holistic” sense of what the parishes in his diocese are really like.
“As a bishop you go out and visit churches, but it’s kind of you’re there and then you’re gone,” he said, noting that while walking the Chatham archdeaconry he often spent two or three days in a single multi-point parish.
“It enables people to have better access to me than sort of hit and run on a Sunday morning, and [it allows] me able to get a much better handle on what they are like as a community,” he said. “The feedback I get is that they really do feel more connected with me as their bishop.”
But Edwards noted that walking is also important for other reasons. Before setting out for Chatham, he stressed the importance of the walk as a way of moving church outside of the building.
“In a sense, this is a symbolic gesture on my part: to say to folks that we can’t sit in our buildings, the gospel is something to be proclaimed in the streets and on the hillsides,” he said.
As it turned out, Edwards ended up also proclaiming the gospel on fishing wharves and in fire halls.
At several points in his journey local people invited Edwards to join them in some of the activities characteristic of life in that part of the province, such as lobster fishing and a visit to the local volunteer fire department in Salmon Beach, and bass fishing at Wilson’s Point.
At other times, the people he met were simply other travellers on the road; as, for example, when a group of people honked and waved as they passed the bishop and his companions on a particularly rainy day, only to return on the way back from town with hot chocolate for the whole party.
“We met all kinds of different people en route,” Edwards chuckled.
In 2015, Edward’s first pilgrimage took him through the much smaller archdeaconry of St. Andrews, at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. This year, due to the size of the archdeaconry, Edwards and Fotheringham were driven between parishes at some points to save them having to spend days walking through large unpopulated areas.
The idea to walk around the diocese during summer came from Edwards’ mother, who told him stories when he was a child of how the bishop of her home diocese of Lichfield, England, would spend summers walking around the diocese. Following his election as bishop in 2014, Edwards thought it might be a good idea to try this approach in his own diocese.
“There is a degree of visibility [in walking]…and the opportunity to draw people in and to pray for people who may need prayer as we go along the road,” he said.
“Also, Jesus did a lot of walking, as far as I can see.”
You can read Edwards’ live blog of the experience here.
(Editor’s Note: A change to the photo credit has been made. )