The workshops were to be
small schools of creativity
a place for sharing vision
a time of sharing and
joining together as one.
At Jarrow, the Priest decided at the last minute to cancel the venue. Months of planning were dismissed in a moment. Sixty people were waiting outside, ready for Easter workshop. No explanation was given, just a veiled reference to a conversation with the Assistant Bishop. John insisted that the agreement be honoured and invited everybody to gather in the church. The Church Wardens were called, and they took position at the back of the church, ready to turn everybody out when the right moment presented itself. The pre-arranged introduction to the Jarrow Easter Workshop went ahead and as previously agreed, was led by the Priest. The ten minute introduction had become an epic. After sixty minutes John had decided enough was enough. There were several vulnerable individuals whose sensitivity to the overwhelming hostility was making them very distressed. John was getting ready to stand up and ‘clear the air.’ It was Rob who put his hand on John’s shoulder, ‘leave it, let the Lord sort it out.’ The introduction ended and the workshop began. Slowly, the gentle Spirit of God began to absorb the hostility. The wardens moved from the back and into the middle and joined in the worship. Unable to adjust, the Priest stayed in his chosen isolation. This was the first, but would not be the last time that we would have to overcome suspicion and hostility before we could be welcomed into a particular church community. Quite rightly such confidence and trust needs to be earned….
Following the first Easter Workshop in 1980 it became a much looked forward to annual event. A network of relationships developed throughout the old borders of Northumbria and beyond. Kids loved the workshops for they lacked the conventional restraints of Church, and they were included, without saying, in all the activities. Some of the children began Easter Workshops together as babies and toddlers and ended as teens. The formula was simple. Hire a church hall somewhere in Northumbria, preferably with support from the host Church. Move in for three days, a week or a fortnight, everybody sleep on the floor, cook simple meals. Split into flock groups, to share the chores and the prayers. Leave watches at home, spend as much time as possible together. Share hopes and dreams, disappointment and loss, be yourself and share in the workshops.
From the beginning it was decided to have alternative times for the workshops each year. One year, the workshops would take place over the Easter period, taking in most of Holy Week. The next year, the workshops would begin before and end on Palm Sunday. The reason was simple. Most participants were members of a Church. It was unfair to encourage them to be away from their Church every Easter, a major festival in the Christian year. However, whatever the venue or time of the workshops they concluded on Holy Island, even if only a few could make this final event. This became an essential feature of the gatherings.
During Easter Week there were several activities that became a feature of the workshops. Footwashing on Maundy Thursday created an opportunity for a year of accumulated difficulties in relationships to be washed away. Folk would just sit around, often drinking coffee, while towels and dishes were made available. Footwashing was not only a way of saying sorry, it was also a point of contact, a moment of affirmation. Stations of the Cross the dramatization of Jesus’ walk to Calvary would sometimes take place in public, with music and dance the vehicle for telling the story. Whenever possible, tides allowing, all joined in the celebration of the Easter Eucharist at the Parish Church on the Island. Failing that Eucharist was said on St. Cuthbert’s Island. A Presentation would take place, beside the statue of St. Aidan and within the grounds of the Priory an act of worship and proclamation. Finally, Easter Baptisms. The workshops were always an ecumenical gathering and all were encouraged to celebrate and honour the rich diversity that was ours in Christ. The baptisms at Easter were a reflection of that diversity. A brave move in the cold temperature of the sea off Holy Island, but a moment never forgotten.
Many of the teaching themes that developed at the workshops can now be found in the language of the Northumbria Community, just as life at the Nethersprings became a daily reflection of ethos of the Easter gathering. But it was not just the Northumbria Community that would benefit from the workshops, other communities and individuals would go on to their own vocation and calling. Perhaps this is the message of Easter and indeed the Uppersprings, that the Life cannot be contained or become the property of any one community or individual. The spirituality of Holy Island Uppersprings is flowing, vibrant and becomes stagnant when the movement becomes restricted. A truth echoed in the spirituality of the Nethersprings where the ‘one thing necessary’ not only reminds but demands that we hold lightly to all that is familiar and established.