AT TWO o’clock one morning in the summer of 2016, the Priest-in-Charge of St Francis’s, Mackworth, in Derbyshire, the Revd Alasdair Kay, found himself in a nightclub in Spain “surrounded by Millennials wanting to talk to me about God”.
It was one of several experiences along the Camino de Santiago which convinced him of the need for a greater priestly presence on the pilgrimage. On his return to England, he told his archdeacon that “there are thousands of people on it who want to talk to someone about God”.
In March, the diocese in Europe announced that the Camino de Santiago Chaplaincy, a fresh expression, would be launched in May. Anglican clergy, all volunteers with permission to officiate, will stay in Santiago and provide pastoral care and support for pilgrims.
Serving from May to June, and again from September to October, they will also celebrate the eucharist on Sundays and other holy days. Each of the chaplains, who are expected to come from many parts of the Anglican Communion, will serve for about two weeks. They will serve not only Anglicans but also English-speaking Christians of other denominations, and others “searching for spiritual meaning in their lives”, a press release says.
Although chaplaincy is currently provided by the Roman Catholic Church, which offers a daily mass, in English, in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the sacrament is not administered to those who are not communicants in the RC Church. Key RC leaders have been consulted, and the Dean of the Cathedral, Don Segundo Leonardo Pérez López, supports the venture.
“It has long been thought that English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from the Anglican Communion, would value coming together in Santiago at the end of a pilgrimage to worship, pray, and share their experiences and how much walking the Camino means to them and their Christian lives,” the Archdeacon of Gibraltar, the Ven. Geoffrey Johnston, said.
Need had grown, he said, as the numbers taking part in the pilgrimage grew; last year, about 300,000 walked just one of the caminos.
Mr Kay, who will advise, liaise, and co-ordinate the chaplains, said that, within 48 hours of embarking on his pilgrimage, after word spread that he was a priest, he was spending up to four hours a day in “spiritual direction, talking to people”.
“People may have given up on church, but not on God,” he said. “There is no doubt that people are walking to find something. They don’t always know what it is they are searching for, but they believe there’s something spiritual beyond this world that they have not got. Money and materialism are not answering their questions.”
Common issues raised were cancer diagnoses and the loss of loved ones. Many young people told him: “I have a degree, but don’t know who I am.” The most common confession from those in financial services was: “I made a stack of money and I am miserable.” A question that kept arising was: “Why am I alive? I am not living.”
At the end of his first pilgrimage, he travelled on to Cape Finisterre, on the west coast of Galicia, to conduct a blessing for a couple who had been together for 25 years. The man — an actor, Alan Lovell — went on to write and perform in a one-man play about the experience, I Am Pilgrim.
Mr Kay says that he, too, went on a “profound journey” that has shaped his ministry. “I learned that the reason I breathe is to tell people about Jesus Christ. . . We need to primarily, as a Church, get back to showing and telling people who Jesus is. The world is sick of our internal battles and worrying about who loves who and judgementalism. They are absolutely sick of our dogma, but they have not given up on Jesus.”
Sybille Yates, who lives in Santiago, will co-ordinate the chaplaincy on the ground. Accommodation will be provided. The hope is to recruit between 12 and 16 priests, with equal numbers of men and women. The Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid, will have episcopal oversight of the project.
Anglican clergy who have walked the Camino, and who would like to offer this ministry and can give of their time, and travel at their own expense, can contact Mr Kay at firstname.lastname@example.org.