When I was at school I played rugby quite a bit. My height dictated the position, I was the cheeky, scrum half who worked behind the lumbering forwards who did all the effort.
My main task was to then pass the ball out to the fast backs who would seek the glory of the try line. I loved being the position as it allowed me to sometimes get involved in the action and on the odd occasion where I could see the gap even I could dash through.
Then disaster struck! Both of my knees became problematic and while I was quite good, I wasn’t good enough to be able to justify surgery. My playing days were over, as my coach put it, “Everitt, if you were a horse, we would put you down.”
The doctors were clear, all would be fine as long as I stopped playing rugby and avoided a job that involved being dependent on my knees. The first I’ve done, the second, is a more problematic one as kneeling for a clergyman is an occupational hazard.
This meant I took up walking. I did the South West coastal path in three different holidays and the Pennine Way with my brothers in what felt to be the wettest summer ever. The prettiest walk was the West Highland way, where if you forget the midges it is heavenly. I especially enjoy walking in cities. Going through their different communities, seeing buildings or routes that speak of the past, noticing the realities of the present. A town walk gives me as much pleasure as a country one with beautiful views and wildlife.
This weekend is Rogation Sunday. A time when Christians ask God to bless the work and communities in which they live. In years gone by there would be walks around the parish boundaries, marking the boundary stones, “beating the bounds.” It was a time to deliberately walk around the parish praying for all who live and work within it.
This year on the following weekend (the 12th) I am going to walk around the city where I live. In addition to being Archdeacon of Lancaster I am now also Vicar of Preston, so I will walk their Guild Wheel. This is a 21-mile circular walk surrounding the city, and I will be praying for the city and its people, asking God for his blessing.
An intentional prayer walk forces you to look at a place differently. Instead of a place being simply its geography or architecture, it is also the setting for the complexities, joys and sorrows of life. Things which otherwise might be distractions, derelict buildings or problematic situations become like Icons, windows on to the eternal. The places where we live become the threshold of heaven. It won’t be as athletic as my rugby playing days, and will involve me not doing much kneeling, but praying and walking this May will enable me to see Lancashire in a whole new way.