Thursday 27th. February, 2014 In Conference at Vadstena 

Some of the folk gathered around the table as our talks began

Up at 6.30 a.m. to shower and have a short walk before breakfast at 7.30 a.m. (egg, cold meats, cheese, coffee) and then it was off to Church (Bridget’s Church and, after a fire at the original one, the parish church) for Holy Communion. It was, of course, all in Swedish but I followed it fine (because of my knowledge of the liturgy rather than of the language).

Inside the church it is really quite dark – so excuse the quality – but this little corner of the Church is where we gathered for morning prayers

Back in our centre we moved into the conference room and started our discussions. The morning was spent in catching up; in hearing how things were developing in India, in China and in Japan.

In India they are gearing up for the Hindu Environment Week during which plans to green Temples will be shared, with a big meeting planned for the end of this year.

Bethlehem is now linked with Trondheim and there will be a conference to discuss the greening of Bethlehem next week.

Santiago de Compostela’s plans to join the network are advancing and there will be a conference there, possibly in September in conjunction with the World Tourist Organisation, or possibly early next year.

Work is progressing on the Canterbury to Rome to Jerusalem pilgrimage way. Work in Jerusalem is refocusing on representation of the different faiths resident there.

In China work is moving forward quickly. Six new organic nurseries, a new Green Temple and three new places to come on line this year.

Confuscianism has adopted Green Pilgrimage and in Japan the Shinto are also developing their programmes.

Some of the folk at the other side of the table

We discussed Etchmiadzin, the Haj (to Mecca and to the Suffi Shrines to which pilgrims travel in huge numbers from Indonesia, Malaysia and Nigeria). And then we heard a little about Sweden’s tourist routes: Bridget’s and the longer (300 km) Cloister route. Routes are now built around Youth Hostels and sleeping places because so many of the smaller churches have been sold. Local people stressed the importance of a good experience for the hosts of the pilgrims to enable routes to develop and grow. What a lot is going on!

We looked at developments in Green Pilgrimage in Europe where there is a great deal of excitement and interest in Green Pilgrimage with denominations making staff available to take advantage of the new opportunities which are being presented. I was enormously encouraged by the investment by the churches in Norway and Sweden and in England too, in pilgrimage. The Pilgrimage Centre in Vadstena now has six ministerial staff provided by the Church and has seen its work develop exponentially over almost twenty years – there is a Pilgrim chaplain at the Abbey Church and services are held several times every day; Pilgrim ministers are available to lead people on pilgrimage because this is seen as both as part of the service of the church and as a great means of mission and outreach.

A picture of part of the interior of the Church

At lunchtime we went first to the Church for the mid-day prayer service (fifteen minutes including a song from Taize) – this was one of the services provided by the pilgrimage staff, in this case a volunteer – and then we went to the former monastery, now owned by the state and run as a hotel, for a magnificent lunch as guests of the Town Council.

I took this picture of the restaurant after our tour – it had been put back together again – but look at the vaulted ceilings under which the monks slept in time gone-by

Again we ate cod with salad and vegetables – we started with an onion soup. (Cod is a favourite we discovered. It is extremely tasty and I think that Swedish people live on fish.) We were taken on a tour of the former monastery and then into the former convent/palace by an enthusiastic guide who spoke as if the events of long ago had happened in his recent memory.

Some of us are listening intently as our guide describes the changes which have taken place to this former monastery

Back at base we started to make plans for the future: the visits which will have to be made to assist new groups to join the network; major conferences which are to happen over the next year; a task force to take forward new opportunities and so on. It was all good stuff. I was just a little sorry that I was no longer going to be able to help Argyll grasp the opportunities which other people were reaching out for with such enthusiasm – but other people will pick up that baton.

We broke in the middle of the afternoon to go to the official Pilgrimage Centre to see their coffee bar (and drink their coffee), to visit their bookshop (and buy some of the books) and to take some of the pictures I had missed last night because it had been dark.

The large Pilgrim Rosary on the wall of the Church

I was given a pilgrimage rosary with beads to wear around my wrist – each bead stands for a part of one’s prayer cycle and, if I remember, it goes something like this: the gold bead stands for God (where all our prayers begin), a little bead for silence is followed by a small white bead for me and a larger white bead for my Baptism which makes me what I am; a silence is followed by a brown bead to give me the opportunity of bringing my worries to God (and sometimes the desert place in which I find myself). A further silence is followed by a blue bead to challenge me to count my blessings and to recall my happy times; a silence is followed by two red beads: the first for all of the love given to me and the second for the love which I give to other people (we love because we are first loved). Three white beads follow: they are for my secrets – the special things about me which I wish to share with God. A black bead enables me to bring my losses to God, for those who have died whom I miss, and then a silence followed by a white bead for revelation: what God has said to me as I take part in the prayer exercise, because the aim of the cycle is to enable us to place ourselves before God and then to listen to him in the silence and in the prayer. A final silence brings one back to the gold bead, brings one back to God.

One of the ladies of Vadstena with a Pilgrim Rosary Bracelet

Well, my beads weren’t quite like that. The first of my secret beads had been replaced with a green bead – signifying life, service and pilgrimage. It was a lovely gift and it originated here in this diocese twenty years ago. (The green bead is a much more recent alteration.)

Back to work to round off plans for the major conference this time next year and by the time that was done it was time to have a quick break before going back to the Abbey Church, this time to be shown round by a guide.

Look closely at this model and you can see the platform where the nuns used to come into Church and worship

The Abbey Church is an enormous building – and by Bridget’s decree a very plain and austere building. Between the six front pillars had originally been a platform at first floor height with a surrounding fence. This was for the nuns who entered at first-floor level and were thus unseen by anyone in the church – pilgrims and monks – the townsfolk were not allowed to come in. This platform is now long gone. There are many treasures in the Church – ancient altar screens, fabulous altars and sculptures.

How is this for a vicarage? – quite the biggest manse I have ever seen

Our hour just flew by and we were a few minutes late when we arrived at the two-hundred-year-old vicarage for our evening meal. It is a huge vicarage and wonderfully furnished. Again we ate royally. The salmon was in huge chunks as if it were fresh – but it was smoked and served with salad, vegetables, potatoes and a sauce of crème fraiche, mayonnaise, and caviar! This was followed by a cheese cake with cream and strawberries. Wonderful.

The conversation flowed until it was time to come back to base, to unwind, and to reflect a little on an exceptional day, before bed.


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