By Phil Mellor-Smith
On Saturday 26 May, 20 young people from Anglican Churches across Darlington, accompanied by their leaders, went over to Patterdale in the Lake District for the day to climb a Mountain. They were led by myself along with Martin Stand, a Youth Worker for Darlington Area Churches Youth Ministry (email@example.com) and Adrian Cooke, the qualified Mountain Leader who specialises in Church outdoor activities (Adrian@cookehouse.co.uk). As a group we climbed St Sunday Crag (825 metres) the eldest of our group was 71 and the youngest was eight years old.
The aim of the day was to allow the young people to experience the beauty of the natural world, the exhilaration and personal challenge of mountain walking and the enjoyment of the company of others on the same common purpose. I have found in my life that mountain walking can help nurture self-confidence, relieve stress, forge relationships and give perspective to life, and I wanted to share those deeply spiritual issues with others.
I think the outdoors can be a place where the spiritual aspect of life and the reality of God can be felt keenly and be a source of comfort and refreshment to take away and to help us in the task of daily life. In a world that can in all sorts of ways feel quite crammed, electronically cerebral and full of unhelpful distractions, mountains and the outdoor world can help us find those open spaces of grace and joy that are gifts from God as we are grounded in his ‘good’ creation.
It was my hope that a group we would find and enjoy those open spaces. The fusion of liturgical Eucharistic worship in the geographical context of a mountain as well as the spiritual and emotional task of the challenge of climbing a mountain have a positive and inspirational influence that serves to nourish and nurture the spiritual lives of the young people on many different levels… as well as the hope that it would be also just good fun!
Over eight hours we walked 11 miles. It was for many of us a huge challenge, for some it was the first mountain they had ever climbed. The way up was steep and, coupled with the hot sunshine, the young people showed great determination and courage as they supported each other to face the challenge and conquer the mountain.
Water and Sun cream were the order of the day!
On the top of the Mountain surrounded by the beautiful vistas of Fairfield, Helvelyne and the Scarfel Masif in the distance, we celebrated a service of Holy Eucharist, made all the more dramatic by a 45mph wind! I am sure that has been done before, but not that many times. It was a privilege and a joy to be together in worship and prayer in such a dramatic and awe inspiring location; “the best reredos for a church I’ve ever seen,” said one member of the group, “I didn’t think I would make it, but I did, I climbed a mountain and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” said another.
After the service we then made a descent to Grisdale Tarn where we had a profound time sitting in silence and taking in the beautiful views while reflecting on the challenges of the day. We then made a tired but happy way back down the valley back to Patterdale for a well-earned Fish and Chip dinner. Thank you to all who helped organise and lead the day and a special thanks to the Durham Diocese Mission Micro Grant Scheme that helped us fund the day.
Part of my short sermon during the Eucharist said: “The reason I wanted to bring you guys up here is because for a long time whenever I think about God the image I have in my mind is of a big mountain and when I climb a mountain I feel like I am literally climbing up God. I love to sit on a rock and feel my spine against it, it feels like I am plugging myself into God!
“Mountains are for me places of peace, solitude and joy where I can encounter the beauty and raw power of the world. Mountains are a refuge for me from the chaotic and uncertain times that we live in, and they give me perspective and hope when feeling bogged down by the stresses and strains of life. If you look around there is so much worry in the world, the financial situation, pressures of School and work, relationships… and it can be hard not to worry about how things are and what might happen in the future.
“But, just as this mountain has been here for thousands and thousands of years, never changing, solid and firm, then so do I believe that God is a God whose love for his creation never changes, it is solid and firm.
“Part of growing up for all of us is about discerning who and what to trust and it can be hard in our lives to know sometimes. We all hopefully have at least one person who we know loves us and who we can trust, but there are also so many things in life that try to lure us to trust in them but only later will let us down. Have you ever tried to make an important, maybe even life-saving, phone call on a mobile only to find that the battery is flat, you have no signal or you’re out of credit? As a society we have put trust in money and material gain but again and again they let us down, money will not buy us happiness or security.
“Yet as we see God all around us in the beauty of the Lake District and as we celebrate the presence of God made known to us in the Eucharist then so can we trust that, like this ancient mountain which we are sat on, we can trust God who loves every single one of us deeply and who will never let us down.”
The Rev Fr Phil Mellor-Smith is assistant curate of
St Mark’s, Darlington,