Friday, 19 August 2016

Mercy Tour, North: The Island and the Queen

By Isaac Withers

So there we are, another night, another church, and it’s five minutes to seven. Set up’s gone well, but suddenly, as I put my figures to the keys, all that comes out is the sound of an organ. Panicked, I search for the button that changes the voice of the keyboard, but nothing works. I’m aware it’s getting closer to the time, and as I look down to the floor, there’s loads of pedals, like on an actual organ. Is this an organ? What? It’s seven – time to go. Aaaaaaaah.

That was a legit nightmare I had the day after the Mercy Tour, on the train ride home. I then blurted it all out to the people on the other side of the table and ended up chatting to them about music and the church with a friend of mine (#missionneverends). It was weird. The tour had got so in my head that it was now in my dreams. It was like my body expected it to keep going, in a whirlwind or takeaways, churches, tea lights and van-packing. Because, the truth was it was the most intense venture most of us on the team had ever been part of. 13 days of mission, travelling and praise, without much time to yourself. Everyone hit a wall at some point.

But, one thing that really pulled us all through, and the best surprise of all, was just how supported we were. By incredible priests and communities. To speak only of those in the north, Fr Christopher, who took great joy in pointing to all corners of Sheffield Cathedral, telling us, ‘this is Sheffield stone, Sheffield slate, Sheffield steel, and then the gold is a little more exotic, it’s Polish’. To Fr Lee who got in the biggest Balti curry I’ve ever been involved in, Fr Adrian for his skill at giving buzz cuts (…), and then the Jesuit and Chaplaincy communities that greeted us in Manchester. The Pendleton family for an immense breakfast before our journey over the border into Scotland. Our dear friend Kate Curran in Glasgow who greeted us on the sunny banks of the river Clyde with a full picnic and the whole RCAG youth team, then all those from Nottingham Cathedral who were so helpful, lending us a functioning keyboard for the night, and taking us to a cave/pub afterwards.

After all this, perhaps my biggest takeaway from the whole tour, is that my image of the British Church was wrong. I was so used to hearing about a lack of vocations, churches closing, parishes becoming dormant, that my image of the Church in my country was a pessimistic one. Effectively, I’d lost hope. I hadn’t expected to encounter time after time, outstanding generosity, incredible priests and lively communities. And that’s really what kept us sane, I think. That became the real joy of it all, and even on the smaller ones, hey, we were opening church doors to the streets every night, and over the course of the whole tour, hundreds came in. And what churches to invite people into! (Guys in the North, you have been architecturally blessed.)

Sheffield Cathedral (the most beautiful church in the UK?)

It was awesome to see people gravitating towards the vision too, and almost biblically, getting up and following for a couple days. From Michele who we met in Plymouth, who came with us all the way up to Manchester, to Naz and Rob who joined there too, Eleanor who joined us in Leicester and George who joined us at a few northern nights, to Bernadette and Charlie who joined us from Sheffield all the way to the end, to Catherine who met us in Manchester, to Rory who lent us his guitar talents for the northern stretch. All of these guys gave a new energy to the tour on joining, swelling it to fifteen at some points.

And even beyond those things, it was really cool to be able to involve people who couldn’t even be there, through the live streams. We knew someone in hospital who watched from their bed and told us it really lifted them, someone’s grandma was watching every morning. It really felt like a unifying of the church behind this project.

And everywhere we went, we took our Lady of Walsingham with us. There was a really beautiful moment when, just before we headed to Leicester, we played for a friend’s wedding mass. After the signing of the registry, they presented the statue with flowers and just knelt there praying for a moment. Like many of the priests we met across the tour, the couple were so grateful to have the statue suddenly arrive where they were, straight from England’s national shrine. It really felt like the national church uniting.

And so on that note, everywhere we’ve been going, we’ve been telling people to head to Walsingham at the end of this month for the Youth 2000 prayer festival. From the 25th-29th August, we’ll be doing what we did for all of the tour, praising Jesus, with him at the centre of the room, to help others encounter him. Or in this case, the centre of the tent, with about fifteen hundred young Catholics. Youth 2000, and this festival, is what brought our team together, ignited faith in a lot of us, and is responsible in a big way for the vision of this tour: to take reconciliation, adoration and praise, out to people, to their parishes, to where they live.

And we’d love to see you all again there.

God Bless from everyone involved in The Mercy Tour 2016. Until next time.

‘In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us. Pardoning offences becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves.’ 

Pope Francis

Day 10: Sheffield Cathedral

Day 11: Holy Name, Manchester

 Day 12: St. Andrew's Cathedral, Glasgow. Taken outdoors because of incense and smoke alarms...

Day 13: the fantastic last day of tour in Nottingham Cathedral


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