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Vicar rides virtually to Damascus to raise money for Common Fund

22 May 2020

The Revd Dom Wright with the computer screen

The Revd Dom Wright with the computer screen

A VICAR in the West Midlands embarked on his own “road to Damascus” this week, but went no further than his front drive, in an effort to raise the outstanding payment due from his church to the diocesan common fund.

The Vicar of St Margaret’s, Olton, in Birmingham diocese, the Revd Dom Wright, pedalled the 190 miles from the Temple Gate in Jerusalem to the House of Ananias on a Street Called Straight, in Damascus — all on a computer simulator. He was able to post his journey on the church’s Facebook page, thanks to skills that he had learnt while streaming services online.

Mr Wright, who is 44, linked a route downloaded from the internet with a program connected to a stationary training device on his bike’s back wheel, which increased or reduced pressure to replicate the effects of going up or down hills. A rolling view of the road was displayed on his computer on a table in front of him.

For the journey, which was due to end yesterday, he was all set to broadcast his ride on his church’s Facebook page, and had his laptop and PowerPoint to show pictures of locations taken during a visit to the Holy Land in 2014.

Dom WrightThe Revd Dom Wright with the computer in front of him

“I practised from behind the communion table when presiding online, switching from PowerPoint slides to people doing intercessions on Zoom,” he said. “I had done a couple of live-streams prior to lockdown, but, once it started, I downloaded the software that allowed me to do it well.”

The ride itself, however, started badly on Sunday, when all the technology failed, and a pedal crank broke; but he was eventually able to continue, using his 15-year-old daughter’s bike.

Mr Wright, whose previous rides have included Birmingham to Paris in 2014, and Paris to Geneva last year, in which he raised £2000 for charity, came up with the idea for this ride after Olton Churches Together made their annual Good Friday walk of witness in the town’s High Street an online event, using Google Street View.

“It really brought the whole community together,” he said. “We had emails from lots of people who had joined in. One person said their sister in Canada had got up at 6 a.m. to take part.”

His aim is to raise at least £5710, the amount still outstanding for his church’s Common Fund. “I feel that is a very important thing, and I want to support it,” he said. “Birmingham is the poorest diocese in the country, and under huge financial strain due to the pandemic. It needs a much bigger figure than my contribution, so whatever money I raise will go to the diocese.”

He also organised a Beat the Vicar contest, challenging Olton’s primary-school pupils to raise £10 by walking, riding, or scooting ten miiles. “I think they smashed it,” he said.

On his first stage, on Sunday afternoon, the 25 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho, he was accompanied, virtually, by the British international cyclist Verity Atkins, a former member of the congregation of St Margaret’s. The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, “Zoomed in” on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday afternoon, he rode with Jonathan Browning, the former chairman of British Cycling, up into the Golan Heights.

“The simulator was quite realistic,” he said. “It showed the terrain, the vegetation and all the twists and turns of the road. When I started, there was a feeling of raw fear, especially with the embarrassment of everything not working, but, as I went on, I really got into it. It really felt like I have been in the Holy Land.”

Click here to sponsor Mr Wright

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