Pilgrimpace's Blog

The Built Environment, Churches, Transformation, Spirituality

NECN had this enquiry:

 “I’m interested in how the church can facilitate the transformation of the built environment. I’m interested in the psychological effect of social housing on inhabitants and how good design can facilitate the presence of God in a community.

I’ve done a little reading in this area but I was wondering whether you might be able to direct me to any persons, resources, or organisations that you know of who work in this area or are exploring these issues.”

 There have been a good number of comments in different places.  This post is to gather them together.  Please add to this and keep the conversation going in the comments below.


Gosh … Thamesmead. Yes.
Heard a fascinating R4 programme in the summer which describes Thamesmead South (where I am) as being built by architects according to atheist principles … ie if you meet purely physical needs, you have met all human needs.
Issues like beauty / social spaces / spiritual inspiration were ignored.
The built environment therefore directly militates against everything a church aims for.
Still working out a cohesive approach … other than picking up the spiritual bits which the environment causes.


Headspace – the psychology of city living” by Dr.Paul Keedwell is a helpful read. It deals with aspects of the built environment and how it impacts…


Tim Gorringe The Built Environment


David Walker: “Reading my book, God’s Belongers may be a start. I’m also part of the NHF Great Places Commission and we’ve seen churches in real anchor roles.”


Anne Power Estates on the Edge


“It is also worth following current housing discussions following government releasing cap on council borrowing for new building and following Grenfell wish to avoid some of the errors of the past. How the church can influence these discussions nationally is a challenge as it has not been a major player since days of Faith in the City. However in many local areas housing associations were begunChristians, and still have significant involvement. See recent tributes to Michael Eastman or Richard Farnell.”


Les Crossland: Principalities, Powers and Social Structures



Foxes have holes. Christian reflections on Britain’s housing needs” ed Andrew Francis available through Ekklesia.


“I would suggest looking at work by Stephen Hill and also the latest publication by CSAN (Catholic Social Action Network) called ‘Abide in Me’ http://www.csan.org.uk/…/2018/11/Abide-in-Me-CSAN.pdf. Suggests more Catholic parishes should be exploring this area…”


“I wonder if the communities that engaged with the Grenfell Tower fire 18 months ago have reflections to share.”


“My tuppenny worth is that the key to an environment in which people can thrive, even a not very beautiful (to some eyes) brutalist one, is some sense of collective ownership, neighbourliness, love and attention. Even so called “sink” estates can be great places to live when there is a sense of community safety, good regular maintenance and upkeep, some green planting and well used children’s areas. These things can be helped by design but don’t depend on it. Look at privately run tower blocks like those of the Barbican. The only difference between them and a council run Tower block is a concierge type service and good maintenance. A small but committed Christian presence in a community can be the catalyst for this kind of regeneration.”


“A very practical one is the offer of non commercial meeting / conversation space – in areas of vast “urban sprawl” with no high street etc they are one of the few “public” spaces”


“Minimising sensory hell and adding some ownership.”

nature writing – 6

The last day of the blossom.  On Saturday I walked to a neighbouring parish to conduct a wedding.  Cherry blossom lay under the trees like confetti.  The winds are already picking up for the storm forecast for today and tomorrow.  I think this will be the last day of the blossom, although I have a forlorn hope that the apple tree in front of this window may stay pink and red.

Yesterday I dug one of the beds in my vegetable plot.  We have peas ready to go on as soon as the soil is warm.  I listened to blackbirds and crows, watched a robin and bluetits.  I saw a cat sitting patiently by a mouse’s nest.  When I sat and warmed my back in the sun I read Esther Woolfson’s excellent Field Notes From a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary.  I recommend this.  She observes the nature around her in the city of Aberdeen.  It helps me to notice and to pay attention; it challenges us to reflect on how our actions effect and harm others – of vital importance in this week of a General Election where the Campaign has not concentrated on the needs of the environment (or indeed those people in great need in British society).  The book also meditates deeply on why so many of live in the city but do not engage with the nature around us, and why nature writing concentrates so often on the wild or where human beings are little present.


I will post more on this soon.

nature catch up

Robert MacFarlane writes on Environment: New Words in the Wild here.  It’s an interesting exploration of the new nature writing and the effect it can have.

Richard Mabey writes on learning to enjoy the weather here.

There’s an excellent ebook here by Mission:Explore and The John Muir Trust inspiring us to follow in the footsteps of John Muir.

save our sacred woodlands

Following on from previous posts about green pilgrimage, the importance of the environment and the like, there is a very interesting article here by Matthew Cresswell on how religions can help save woodlands, forest and biodiversity; but also the terrible effects we can have, for example in pilgrims leaving vast amounts of litter and (literally) crap along the Way.

And great respect to Rebekah and Keith whose Advent discipline has been to clear up the Camino Frances in Palencia.

pilgrim numbers
November 28, 2011, 11:14 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

The Green Pilgrimage Network site gives the following information about pilgrim numbers.  

I find this fascinating, not least to see how low down the list Santiago is.  I would assume that most pilgrims in this list, unlike Santiago, travel for religious reasons.  There is also an interesting train of thought about how people travel to their destination; presumably most people fly or use train or coach.  How many walk or cycle (bearing in mind very few walking to Santiago have walked from home to their starting point)?

Pilgrim numbers


More than 100 million people go on pilgrimage every year – sometimes for hours, sometimes for days, and some leave home for many months. Here are some figures.

• 20 million pilgrims – Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe (Christian)

• 13 million pilgrims – Amritsar (Sikh)

• 10 million pilgrims – Kumbh Mela (takes place every three years, with some festivals attracting 10 million and others 50, 60 or 70 million – see below for notes) (Hindu)

• 8 million pilgrims – Lourdes (Christian)

• 8 million visitors – Brazil, Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida (Christian)

• 8 million pilgrims – Western Wall in 2009 (Jewish)

• 5 Million pilgrims – Dwarka (Hindu)

• 4-5 million pilgrims – Portugal, Fátima (Christian)

• 2 to 3 million pilgrims – Hajj (Islam) (including 1.8 million from overseas)

• 2.1 million pilgrims – Wutai Shan (Daoist)

• 1.7 million – World Youth Day (Roman Catholic), 4 million pilgrims every two to three years

• 1 million pilgrims – Varanasi (Hindu)

• 1.5 million pilgrims to the Qadiriyyah shrine in Kano

• Over 500,000 pilgrims – Taishan (Daoist)

• 500,000 pilgrims – Vrindavan, Braj (Hindu)

• Over 0.3 million pilgrims – Hua Shan (Daoist)

• Around 0.3 million pilgrims – Oingcheng Shan (Daoist)

• 250,000 pilgrims – Emei Shan (Daoist)

• 250,000 pilgrims – Iona (Christian)

• 250,000 pilgrims – Taize (Christian)

• 200,000 pilgrims – Santiago de Compostelo (Christian)

• 100,000 pilgrims – St Bishoy Monastery, Wadi El Natroun (Coptic Christian)

• 100,000 pilgrims – Walsingham Shrine of Our Lady (Christian)

• 43,000 (roughly) pilgrims – Lumbhini (Buddhist)

• 20-25,000 pilgrims – Etchmiadzin (Armenian Apostolic Christian)

• 8,000 pilgrims – Lough Derg (Roman Catholic)


There are around 90 million pilgrimages a year to these 25 destinations alone.


To reach the 100 million we calculated a modest extra 10 percent to account for all other pilgrimages (including short day visits to shrines and pilgrim places all around the world including Africa, Spanish-speaking Latin America, Russia, Greece, many Indian shrines and Australia). We believe the total figure to be substantially higher.

Calculating numbers for the Kumbh Mela is complicated. The normal Kumbh Mela is celebrated every three years, the Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is celebrated every six years at Haridwar and Prayag, the Maha (complete) Kumbh takes place every 12 years at four places (Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik).

The special Maha Kumbh Mela which comes every 144 years, is held at Allahabad. The most recent Maha Kumbh Mela, held in 2001, was one of these, and was attended by around 60 million people, making it at the time the largest gathering anywhere in the world in recorded history.

The 1998 Kumbh Mela saw over 10 million pilgrims visiting Hardwar, to take a dip in the holy Ganges river. So we calculated that every three and nine years there are up to 10 million, then every six and 12 years there are up to 50 million. Adding to 120 million every 12 years means average 10 million a year.

green pilgrimage network
November 26, 2011, 4:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

I’m really interested and pleased to see the launch of the Green Pilgrimage Network recently.

A ban on cars on pilgrimage routes; solar panels for cathedral roofs; provision of fresh clean, water for pilgrims, and the planting of thousands of trees around sacred sites – these are just some of the initiatives which the founder members of the Green Pilgrimage Network today pledged to implement. 

The Green Pilgrimage Network was launched today (November 1st) at the Sacred Land Celebration in Assisi, Italy, organised by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) in association with WWF. 

Representatives from 15 faith traditions from around the world gathered in the holy city of Assisi, Italy – one of the founder members – with secular and environmental organisations to launch the world’s first global commitment to green pilgrimage. 

ARC Secretary-General Martin Palmer said: “Cities from China to Norway and faiths from all around the world today commit to making one of the most powerful religious experiences – pilgrimage – a living witness to a commitment to protect our living planet. 

“This is an invitation to all holy places to put into practice what they preach – namely, that when we walk upon this Earth, we walk on sacred land” – ARC Secretary-General Martin Palmer

“This idea does not belong to these founder members or even to ARC or WWF. This is an invitation to all holy places to put into practice what they preach – namely, that when we walk upon this Earth, we walk on sacred land.” 

Around 100 million people a year become pilgrims, whether for a few hours, days or even weeks, according to figures compiled by ARC.1 The Green Pilgrimage Network brings together faiths and local governments to make their pilgrim cities and sacred sites as environmentally sustainable as possible, according their own theologies and understanding of the natural world. 

A ban on cars on pilgrimage routes is part of the Green Pilgrimage plan of Kano, Nigeria; solar panels are to be installed on St Albans’s cathedral roof in the UK; provision of fresh clean, water is to be provided for pilgrims to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, while the planting of thousands of trees around sacred sites is an initiative of Etchmiadzin, Armenia. 

Other plans announced today by the 12 founder Green Pilgrimage Network members include measures to protect nature (Louguan, China), teaching children about conservation (Luss, Scotland); protection of sacred forests (Jinja Honcho, Japan), reducing waste and encouraging recycling (Haifa, Israel); organising nature tours for pilgrims (Assisi, Italy)

Founder members of the Green Pilgrimage Network include:

Amritsar, India (for Sikhs);
Assisi, Italy (Roman Catholic);
Etchmiadzin, Armenia (Armenian Orthodox);
Haifa, Israel (Bahà’ì);
Jerusalem (for Jews, Christians and Muslims);
Jinja Honcho, the Association of Shinto shrines in Japan;
Kano, Nigeria (Islam’s Qadiriyyah Sufi tradition);
Louguan in the People’s Republic of China (Daoists);
St Albans, England (Church of England);
Luss, Loch Lomond, Scotland (Church of Scotland);
St Pishoy Monastery, Wadi El Natroun, Egypt (the Coptic Orthodox Church);
Trondheim, Norway (Lutheran Church of Norway).

St Albans cathedral writes about it:

St Albans is to become a founding member of a new global network aimed at greening religious pilgrimages. The Green Pilgrimage Network will be launched on 1st November in Assisi in Italy in the presence of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. It is to be coordinated by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), in association with WWF.

The idea of making a religious journey to a holy place is something shared across different religions, and the vision of this network is to make places of pilgrimage as environmentally sustainable as possible. As the oldest place of Christian pilgrimage in Great Britain, St Albans Cathedral was invited to be part of this network in partnership with the City and District Council. The Cathedral is also one of Britain’s oldest recycled buildings – since Roman bricks are still visible in the Norman tower and throughout the building.

The Mayor of the City and District of St Albans, Cllr Aislinn Lee, said, ‘I am honoured to welcome the nomination of St Albans as a Green Pilgrim City, joining a worldwide network alongside other destinations like Jerusalem, Amritsar and Assisi. We look to a future welcoming ever more visitors in which the vision of a green future becomes ever more vital and compelling. In this vision, we can all become those who tread lightly on the earth and leave behind a better place for those who follow.’

Canon Kevin Walton, the Canon Chancellor, who has been working on the project said, ‘This is a significant step marking out St Albans as an international place of pilgrimage. It is also a challenge for us to ensure that we do all we can to actively care for God’s creation. To this end, we have been working hard to put together a plan to enhance our environmental standards.’

 I am fascinated by this – green pilgrimage fits so well with those deep pilgrimage tropes of simplicity and gratitude.  I can feel a walk from home to St Albans Cathedral coming on, perhaps in the autumn.  It would be good to use this as an opportunity to pray this all through.

will self in praise of wind turbines
October 17, 2011, 10:19 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

Will Self has written a really interesting article on wind turbines, the countryside and human interaction with it here.  I must admit that I like wind turbines – and there was something very profound and beautiful in walking up to them – over many hours – in remote sierras in Spain.

forest victory
February 18, 2011, 12:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

It’s good to see that the Government have backed down on the proposal to sell off Britain’s forests.

There’s an excellent article on the victory of people’s power by David Babbs here.

It is important to keep the struggle going against the cuts in public services that are already having such an effect in the places I live and minister.

Many people have had fun with the Conservative party logo:

no more gear year
February 11, 2011, 4:46 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

There’s a very interesting post on the skills for wild lives blog called No More Gear Year (click here)

Here’s an extract:

With all the gloomy talk of austerity and cutting back, it’s not a bad time to take a step back and think. In 2011 I intend to focus 100% on stuff that can be done with the minimum of kit. You may get the idea looking elsewhere that you really need a heap of expensive stuff before you can even set foot outside. To put it bluntly, this is bullshit.

The outdoors has, and always will be, open to anyone who has the will to explore it, whatever they’re wearing or carrying. Why not just get out more and make use of the gear you already have? Even if you’re just getting into bushcraft or hiking or whatever, you’ll probably be surprised to find how far this takes you.

I find this in sympathy with my thinking.  There’s a whole industry manufacturing walking, camping and pilgrimage kit.  Some of it is very good, and, don’t mistake me, it is important to have good boots, waterproofs and the like.  But there is, at least for me, also a point when one steps over the line into unbridled consumerism, into fashion, and away from the gifts of simplicity, gratitude and the like which are at the heart of being a pilgrim.

It’s very possible to go with comfortable stout boots or shoes, a rucksack that is sturdy and inexpensive, and some sensible clothes.  As Nick Gallop writes in the blog I’ve quoted from:

Why not take a step back and make 2011 your No More Gear Year? I think you’ll be surprised.

a dark age?

I was struck by this post by Lucy Ridsdale:

How to minimise the impact and duration of a dark age?
1. Build Community
2. Radically simplify
3. Maximise creativity
4. Maximise non-violent solutions
5. Resacralise life
6. Store knowledge
7. Adopt a supportive financial system.

I’ve been inspired by John Croft (via Emski) to consider the very real possibility that we’re heading into a global dark age. These are seven ways we can keep it as short as possible.

This seems to me to be a very good manifesto for living, and is of importance to those of us living in what seems to be a very dark time in Britian at the moment.  I appreciate Lucy’s insights because I know they come from the tacit knowledge that is trod out in the painful miles of pilgrimage.  I am also reminded of Alasdair MacIntyre at the end of After Virtue:

It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead – often not recognizing full what they were doing – was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. if my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached the turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St Benedict.