In my search for genuine Christian Community, Northern Leg, although only a brief interlude, expresses much of what I seek. While I am not going to pretend that it would be possible to live year round as we lived last week: that level of sleep deprivation can only be suffered for so long, maybe it is closer to "the real world" than it first appears. In its ability to create an intense community experience and build genuinely close relationships in the space of just one week, Student Cross surely holds lessons for what is required to build community.
Student Cross is Christian to its very core: carrying a life size wooden cross for over a hundred miles could hardly be anything other. The very act of being part of student cross is already a prayer, an act of faith. But because the Christianity is so ingrained in its very being, Northern Leg has no need to pretend to be any more, or any less, than it really is. We are pilgrims throughout the week, in all that we do: we are pilgrims on the road, walking with the cross, and pilgrims in the churches we visit and the prayers we say. But we are no less pilgrims when we are drinking in the pubs in the evening, or singing irreverent songs. The irreverence is deeply ingrained with a faith we are already living.
For a whole week, we walk. We stay up late and sleep on hard church hall floors, and then walk some more. This shared physical challenge and discomfort is an important element of building a community that is mutually interdependent. A community that learns very quickly to care for and support each other. A community that is too tired to hide behind masks and pretend its emotions aren't real, that sees each other in its moments of vulnerability and weakness: and loves each other anyway.
In the space of such time and distance, with nothing to do but walk and talk, we are sometimes silent together, but often speaking together; with conversations which range from serious discussion to ridiculous banter. Both are inevitable. Both are essential. I love the rambling theological discussions, the willingness to share deeply personal stories, the hours spent resolving the ills of the world; but I recognise there is no less value in the ability to laugh at and with each other in between. In order to take ourselves and each other seriously, it is important not to take ourselves too seriously (and that makes sense to me even if it doesn't to anyone else!)
These are among the key elements that I think make for the real Christian Community I am seeking. I found them last week. So thank you, Northern Leg, see you next year!