Pilgrimage Day 1: Roadsigns and radios

Pilgrimage Day 1: Roadsigns and radios

If I said that I’d been on an emotional rollercoaster, I might sound like a contestant on the X Factor. However, I’ve been through an extremely wide range of emotion since yesterday evening, when I launched my pilgrimage of repentance for homophobia. This morning, I began the first leg of my walk from Birmingham to London.

From the surprise gifts from friends after yesterday’s launch event - including a cake and a waterproof jacket – to taking the first steps from Carr’s Lane Church this morning, to being interviewed by a Radio 4 journalist as I walked, to the odd feelings as I waved goodbye to the friends who had walked with me for the first few miles, it’s been a strange 24 hours.

Perhaps the most suprising thing has been the media interest. I had a sudden rush of media calls yesterday and there was much more coverage today than I’d expected. I’ve done five radio interviews since last night. I’ve had supportive messages and comments, as well as those asking critical but important questions.

As a former press officer, I’m used to handling media interest - but today was different. Not only because of the personal nature of the subject but because the media interest was developing as I was walking through the streets, with only a mobile phone to make me aware of it . Thankfully, my very efficient friend Hannah Brock was giving remote support, answering emails and monitoring coverage and making sure the BBC corrected their online story which mistakenly described me as “gay” in the headline (although it was great to see the story on the website; I was delighted that it made the “most read” list).

Hannah’s one of several friends and supporters who have truly humbled me with the time and care they have given to helping out. The friends I stayed with last night, and those I’m staying with tonight, have been really hospitable and given me great food (as has my friends’ dog, who jumped up and licked me the moment I entered the house today, looking considerably more lively than I felt after walking 16 miles). It’s been a very busy and confusing day, and possible only because of the people who have helped me through it, practically, spiritually and emotionally.

I’ve been asked if there is a danger of the publicity and support going to my head. It is a danger I’m aware of, and something I’m seeking to guard against. Perhaps the safest guard is the fact that I’m detached from the media interest by spending most of the time of the road. As I neared the end of today’s walk, my more pressing concern was the inconsistency of Warwickshire signposts.

My destination for the day was New Arley, so I was delighted when I reached a sign declaring that I was one and a quarter miles from New Arley. After walking for about ten minutes, I passed another sign, also telling me it was one and a quarter miles to New Arley. I walked about that distance, before the next signpost declared that New Arley was half a mile away. The claim was repeated by another sign about half a mile further on. I was surprised to find that after half a mile, I really did reach New Arley, which by that point felt like discovering the lost city of Atlantis.

I hope the signposts are at least slightly better on the way to Coventry tomorrow.

With the radio and internet coverage, there’s been a rush of comments on this site and I’ve also had lots of emails and Twitter messages. I’m sorry I’ve not had chance to reply to them all yet. While I can get email and Twitter on my phone, it’s difficult to use it at length, which means I’m dependent on internet access provided by people I’m staying with. However, I’m not walking on Sunday, and hope to catch up with the comments and messages then. Thanks very much for your patience.

Some of the messages raise really interesting and valuable questions, which indicate that this pilgrimage is an opportunity for me to learn, and to be challenged as well as to challenge. This is really important. I was delighted with the range of discussion at the launch yesterday, from a question on Christian attitudes to homophobia, to consideration of New Testament passages that appear to condemn same-sex relations, to a question about how long-distance walking affects our attitudes to the built environment.

It’s difficult to get my head around all that has happened since yesterday afternoon, when I walked up to the ticket desk at London Marylebone station and asked for a ticket to Birmingham.

“One-way or return?” asked the ticket-seller.

“One-way please,” I replied, “I’m walking back.”

I’m not sure he believed me.

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Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia. To read more about his pilgrimage of repentance for homophobia, or to comment on this blog entry, please visit http://www.repenting.wordpress.com.

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