Extraordinary Meeting of Pilgrims, held 5pm, Wednesday, 16th August 2023

Pilgrims gathered informally at St James’ Church, Devizes (Rest Day on the Bristol to Arundel Pilgrimage). Attended by 25 of the 33 pilgrims registered at Devizes, including members of the committee.

Purpose: To discuss volunteers required for 2024 and future pilgrimages.

Fr. Anthony opened the meeting with a short prayer.

Introduction (by John Chenery (chief route planner) & David Fletcher (coordinator). The 25 June committee meeting raised concern that more support was needed for future pilgrimages. The pilgrimage was led by volunteers who had held posts for a very long time, and new volunteers were required to fill vacant posts. In the meeting there were 6 who had previously been Coordinator for the usual 4 year term (1 year as deputy, 2 yrs as coordinator, plus 1 year as deputy again). The deputy post has been vacant this year and there is no planned continuation for 2023-24, nor in our 50th Anniversary year 2025. John is at this September AGM proposing to stand as Coordinator for 2023-24 – it’s the first time in a 48 year history that a Coordinator has stood a second time. Aidan Simons is similarly considering 2024-25 in our Anniversary year.

Those gathered continued the discussion, which is summarised in the main comments below:

What’s the problem?

We have a shrinking organisation team in a climate of growing public interest in pilgrimage. (We need to grow our small active team to replace those retiring and accommodate a growth in numbers of walking pilgrims. Our special time on pilgrimage is made possible by our pilgrim community working together as volunteers. Providing an enjoyable time together on a spiritual journey, where the journey is just as important as the destination. To continue this journey together we now need more volunteers).

Is 4 years too long a post for coordinator? (It is not ideal for everyone, and we need to look at how we can achieve continuity in different situations).

How do we get the message out about our pilgrimage?

Is the best way to get growth by personal invitation. (We all need to bring pilgrimage into our everyday conversation).

Why do we not do more traditional mailings by post? (Cost is a factor).

Why do we not print posters for parishes? (Cost is a factor).

Why are the 2022/23 posters expensive to print? (We will provide a printer friendly version next time).

Do posters work? (They are intended to signpost people to the website https://thepilgrims.org.uk/ to get more information and book their time on pilgrimage. There is little evidence of posters found posted in halls we have visited. Getting a short note in the local newsletter can be more beneficial).

Do we tap into the Dioceses we will pass through? (The Diocese of Arundel & Brighton is in the ‘DNA’ of our ecumenical walking pilgrimage, but we need to target and reach out to others too, where we have been and plan to go).

Do we follow up and thank churches after our visit? (Yes we do).

Could we send out a 150 word text to parishes visited to invite them to join us and check our website for details? (A good suggestion, and for churches and chapels along the route and in the regions we intend to go next year, Also, churches can be asked by pilgrims to give a personal notice/invitation from the lectern at the end of church Mass/service).

Can we organise and coordinate outgoing messages? (Yes and we would like somebody to fill the vacant post of Communication & PR office at the AGM).

Should we change our format?

Should we plan for growth by using more popular routes? (We do consider all routes, popular, lost routes and new ones. Join us online at the AGM on 24 September to see where in England and Wales we might be walking in 2024).

Is 17 miles a day walking too long for many? (It can be for some, and we strive to aim for 15 miles or less. In reality the location of appropriate accommodation can dictate the length of the day’s walk. In most circumstances there is public transport if you wish to walk a half-day or miss out a day altogether).

Would we consider a shorter annual pilgrimage of say 7-10 days? (Yes, we will. But that’s also available now, simply book for a day or stay any time with us from 1-15 nights).

One week away walking is more easy to book early in the calendar than two weeks, with family and other commitments. (You can book one week now, but we also get the idea that a shorter pilgrimage might be attractive to more pilgrims).

Why do we choose August for our two-week walking pilgrimage? (We often are able to take advantage of schools offering hall accommodation in the summer. We avoid the busy time of Easter).

Why do we not do one day walks? (Our Southampton to Rye pilgrimage 2021 was a successful series of day walks without overnight accommodation, and we have also had mini-pilgrimage walks with overnight accommodation for those wishing to reunite for a shorter time. These mini-pilgrimages are usually organised by volunteers, and we hope to announce one for later this year, but would you be willing to organise one another time?).

Will a shorter trip be more expensive? (Our wholly not-for-profit pilgrimage is based on the expectation of adequate numbers joining the pilgrimage for the full duration to offset the cost of planning, hiring halls, preparing meals; and also vans hired for cooking equipment, supplies, and forward luggage facility. Pilgrims booking longer stays helps meeting costs, and we have a range of booking options for shorter stays. We also have a grant available for young persons joining us).

Should we encourage sleeping in their own tents? (No, but we have organised large tents recently for our community where built accommodation cannot be found in rural areas).

Can we research hostels and B&Bs for those wanting R&R from walking? (The idea needs a team member to research, can you help in one of our accommodation teams planning for next year?).

Are we encouraging new and younger walkers?

Should we encourage new young pilgrims to come and join us for a short stay. (We do and recognise not all young people attend church. We have contacted universities as well as churches).

In the early years the pilgrimage was popular with younger walkers because it was a fun holiday in a safe environment, for those happy to sleep on the floor but not always engaging in the spiritual journey. (Sleeping on the floor is not so popular in all ages, ‘indoor camping’ has improved the experience, but there are B&B options in places we pass through if that suits you. We are an ecumenical Christian community of the Roman Catholic Church with other Christian denominations, and we welcome non-church walkers not yet ready to begin their journey of faith).

Younger people are not so keen to walk on a pilgrimage, but where are the 25-40 year olds? (We have a few young people with us who might encourage their friends, and to accommodate groups we will need a larger supervision team. Do you have the necessary safeguarding skills? We think post university and ‘empty nesters’ might be encouraged more, but can you also help us get the invitation messages out?).

Do we need community youth-worker connections to grow the pilgrimage? (We contacted all university chaplains in England and Wales this year, with posters linking to our website. We need to do more and send 150 word texts to make passing the message on easier).

Can Instagram be a way of connecting new and younger people? We think so, but can you also share these messages with your friends on your preferred social network app?

Are we linking up with other walking groups?

Could we publish in ‘Ramblers’ to link up with those wanting to walk with us for charity causes? (We can look into this suggestion).

Could we also consider linking with the ‘Christian Walking Club’, ‘Walk for Christian Aid’ and other fundraising ventures? (We can look into this suggestion).

What help is needed?

How can I get involved with the 2024 pilgrimage? (Come and join us at the AGM on 24 September or contact us through Contact the Pilgrims! | Pilgrims Live!

Is help required for finding accommodation and Booking of halls? (Yes, part of the team is stepping down and we need your support).

Why do we need cooking equipment? (For preparing pilgrims breakfast, packed lunch and evening cooked meal. Our equipment is taken to pilgrimage each year, and we need a second van for transport. A volunteer oversees the storage of equipment, and over the years we have amassed a large quantity of equipment which needs review. Is this something you can help with?).

How do I join the team? (Contact the Pilgrims! | Pilgrims Live! and let us know you are interested. We can then talk it through with you and find out what suits you, what is needed and provide you with support, shadowing, etc. You can see all the roles in our AGM Agenda on Latest News | Pilgrims Live!).

And finally,

As a recent newcomer, why did I not learn about our pilgrimage earlier? (Hmm…?)

Our special pilgrimage needs to continue. (Amen).

The discussion closed about 6.30pm with thanks to all contributors, and in short prayer.

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