The pilgrims reached Milton Keynes on Tuesday 30 May after a difficult few days, with weather extremes going from blistering heat to torrential downpours. Having battled overgrown, sodden fields of oil seed rape, one of the pilgrims (Fred) beat them all here, arriving at A&E after lunch needing emergency treatment for his feet after walking miles in wet trainers. Geoff was apparently the man of the hour as he had slashed his way through several nettle beds to lead the others safely south unscathed.
By four o’clock they had reached Great Linford, where they were greeted by applause at St Andrew’s Church from a veritable crowd who had turned out to walk with them the rest of the way. Boosted by tea and cake, they set off along the Grand Union Canal once more, winding their way down towards Peatree Bridge, where they were joined by several more ladies for the final stretch in silent prayer. Guided through the “vast corridors” of the hospital, they finally arrived to find the chapel packed with 40 people waiting in eager anticipation to welcome them and offer prayer and encouragement.
Several minutes later the support team arrived with booklets and the St Mary’s music group led everyone with inspiring worship. The singing was so enthusiastic during “Walk in the Light” (very apt!) that I think they could have heard us back in Great Linford! The service was lead by hospital chaplain Revd Philip Winn, along with the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson, and input from hospital staff and several of the pilgrims. Bishop Alan spoke movingly of the need to be grateful for the care we so freely receive:-
“We’ve been praying “Thy Kingdom Come” between Ascension Day and Pentecost and we know that healing and wellbeing are aspects of the kingdom Jesus came to bring, but joining in the prayer pilgrimage service at MK made me realise how much I’ve taken the NHS for granted. We need to appreciate the value of our Health Service and I hope we can develop more opportunities to celebrate and support those whose dedication makes it happen.”
Becky’s son Matt looked as fresh as a daisy while he confidently spoke of their experiences en route, despite this being the second time he’d walked the 180 mile pilgrimage (the first time to map out the route!).
During the service, Revd Dawn Saunders lit the “Thy Kingdom Come” candle, which will journey round different events in Milton Keynes to mark awareness of this global wave of prayer.
Geoff led the anointing and prayer ministry, assisted by Isabel and Matt.
After collecting a much-recovered Fred, the team drove to Christ the Vine church, where a magnificent feast awaited them, prepared by ladies from various churches in Woughton Ecumenical Partnership. Those hosting the pilgrims for the night had been invited to join them at the dinner and were treated to tales of the journey so far, obstacles overcome, and God’s hand on it all. I’m sure we would have talked well into the night had the pilgrims not been waiting to crash into bed! (If you want to hear about it too, see Becky’s Blog on http://nhsprayerwalk.blogspot.co.uk/. If you wish to help defray the cost of the prayer books, banner etc, you can do so at https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/nhsprayerwalk. Any surplus will be donated to hospital Trusts. See also http://www.nhsprayerwalk.co.uk/index.php/get-involved.) The lovely prayer and worship book which was specially designed for the pilgrimage seems to be taking on a life of its own! It’s still available to freely download if you wish to use it (http://www.nhsprayerwalk.co.uk/images/Resources/GOD-LOVES-THE-NHS-WORSHIP-online.pdf).
The following morning, refreshed after a good night’s sleep, the three remaining pilgrims met with hospital staff for prayer and worship in the hospital chapel. Carrying the cross, they then set off along the canal towpath on the next leg of their pilgrimage, towards Luton and Dunstable Hospital.
It was both moving and inspiring to see people from different traditions and faiths come together to pray. The pilgrims have endured many difficulties, but with God’s help keep overcoming them. People have ebbed and flowed during the journey, not just walkers but also those who have prayed for healing. Although Saturday will mark the end of the walk, the ripples of this pilgrimage will continue to spread for a long time to come. Huge thanks to Philip Winn for his quiet and able handling of the organising, and to the many people who came together to welcome and encourage the walkers: musicians, hosts and hostesses, churches and parishes. We are truly blessed by the pilgrims’ journey through our lovely city and give thanks to God for the vision he gave Becky. As the banner said, “God loves the NHS”.