When we left Northumbria I thought we were never coming back. I remember going down to St. Cuthbert’s Island to offer up to him the broken pieces of our departure, and then visiting the church at Bamburgh the site where St. Aidan died to do the same and to say goodbye.
I certainly would not have agreed to come back to Northumbria if I thought it was just going to be a walk down memory lane. John and I had managed to rebuild our lives and moved on in the purposes of God after our traumatic departure and ongoing exile from the community. We had made the inward journey through our bitterness, desolation and despair, and had woken on another shore ! Thanks to the love and faithfulness of God we had arrived in Ephesus, as the Lord had promised, with our ongoing vision still within our hearts, the Celtic Arc!
However, I knew it was important for Andy, John and I to record the hidden years on which the Northumbria Community was founded and established. All I was thinking: get the job done and head back to our adopted home!
I hadn’t been on the Island very long when I sensed God may have another purpose for bringing us all together here again. We all seemed to be looking out on the same horizons, and even when we were looking backwards and telling the story we were very much on the same page.
The first video with myself, John and Andy took place at the very same spot, opposite Cuthbert’s Island where some ten years earlier I had stood alone, saying goodbye. The video was unscripted, and we just said what was on our hearts. Afterwards it felt right, God was up to something and I wanted to go with it.
Most of our visit to Northumberland was spent on Holy Island. If we were not talking with or enjoying Anna and Andy’s hospitality then one or both of us were out and about on the Island. John spent many hours talking with Andy and recording video’s while Anna and I would go off walking or visiting people and places.
We had received a warm welcome from Andy, Anna, Joel and Martha and after many hours talking it was easy to see that God had been working in a similar way with Anna as He was with me and her vision was not only local but international. I could identify with the isolation and hardships that were part of her daily circumstances, and admired her ability to press on when times were hard, as well as the joy of hearing of the new opportunities God had opened up for her in ministry.
Talking with Anna I recognised a similar calling to the desert, the aloneness, the call to pray and the hardships and joys that go with the territory.
Walking the Island, it was impossible not to be overcome with lots of memories. The most prominent in my mind were the photographs of the first Easter workshops with the Alnwick folk all gathered round the village green, sitting on the benches, waiting for the rest of the Easter folk to arrive: Keith and Nicola, Rob and Geraldine, Ronnie, Ebbs, Kirsten , Sheila and Alan, Chris and Sandra, Brenda and the list goes on……! These were very special times for all of us, especially the kids (there were lots of them!) who just loved Holy Island and Easter Workshops,
Being close to Cuthbert’s island reminded me of the Easter baptisms that took place, including two of my own kids Sadie and Ben, boy those were cold waters! I think Sarah and Robert Haggerstone were baptised at the same time, and whisky was on hand for John and Andy afterwards to overcome the icy cold water and chilling winds.
Images of Kev and his coracles came flooding back, as he launched these tiny vulnerable boats into the waters encouraging folk to take a turn getting in them! There were a few rescue moments as the current decided to take several people further than they had wanted to go…….a prophetic moment in the making!
Another memory was of Ken and Norma , Pat , Brenda , Alan , Andy , Jayne , Sara , Sadie and Ben, John and I and others on Cuthbert’s island freezing to death dancing at the foot of the cross yet loving every minute of it! And more serious times, as we prayed and danced in the Priory pushing back the darkness for another year.
As the years passed by, more faces were added to the memories, and people from all over the country made it there business to be with us at Easter.
One painful memory was standing on the edge of the rock close by Cuthbert’s island where we had committed Chris Coulter’s ashes into the sea and into the hands of His Father! It’s hard to believe even now that we lost Chris so young, and yet he had grasped so much internally and represented so much of what we were about. He was actually on his way to an Easter Workshop when he had his fatal accident. Easter passed very solemnly for those of us who knew and loved Chris.
We visited St. Mary’s Church, and it was fantastic to see the sculpture of Cuthbert’s Coffin being carried by his monks: what an amazing piece of art. I felt the oneness again between the communities past and present, a sense of peace and continuity.
We were able to say a quick hello to Mark and Mary who have an amazing place and partnership expressing a way for living and much more in Mary’s art work. Again it evoked memories of Easter workshop when Mark and Neil would do combat with sticks and swords, and flirt with the young ladies, Mary included!!
It was captivating walking into Andy’s Hut at the back of the house where all the walls are covered in pictures and posters of memories, so many of them we recognised or shared, so many good and cherished times.
Our coracle took us down another more ancient path, to Ephesus and the community of the Beloved John and Mother Mary. Yet our beginnings are here, Uppersprings and Nethersprings, and it became clear in the days ahead that God had brought us home and back with Andy for a specific purpose, one which we just never anticipated or expected.