(Average read time: 5 minutes)
You might remember Anthony from previous stories we’ve shared or CAP campaigns. An avid campaigner for an end to UK poverty, he’s keen to share his experience of debt and even gave evidence at the Department for Work and Pensions Select Committee. Recently, he continued that journey after being invited by CAP to join one of ten pilgrimages being organised by Church Action on Poverty. Here, Anthony reflects on his journey with God to the Isle of Iona.
Church Action on Poverty organised Pilgrimage on the Margins, inviting people to share and reflect on stories of poverty across ten pilgrimages throughout 2022. Gareth McNab, CAP’s Director of External Affairs, reached out to me about the Iona Pilgrimage, inviting me to join him on the journey.
Although I’ve never been on a pilgrimage, travelling and keeping focus on why you’re there, I do have lived experience of poverty. I know what it’s like to feel stuck, lost and unable to cope. I’ve been in the position of searching for every possible means to avoid the fact that the debt collector is knocking at the door.
I went into the pilgrimage experience not knowing what to expect or where I’d end up. I just knew it was something I had to do. Preparing was difficult – especially when, like me, you don’t really pack the right things or know what to take anyway! I was really grateful for Gareth. He helped me go over a list and get anything I didn’t have.
With a playlist of questionable but classic 90s music, we started out from Northamptonshire on our 440 mile drive. We reflected on what we wanted to achieve and where we personally stood in our goal to end UK poverty. We had about two days of travelling up to Iona Abbey, sitting on the small Isle of Iona, just off the western coast of Scotland.
Arriving in Iona
Iona is beautiful. Iona Abbey seems plonked in the middle, surrounded by open land and hills. It was a strange sensation. You were alone, but never actually felt alone. I knew this was my time. This was the time I needed to focus, reflect and wrestle a couple of things out with God.
On the first day, we stepped into the abbey, entwined with the natural landscape. In the dining room, our food was waiting for us – predominantly locally sourced vegetables. We took on a few chores as a way of giving back to our gracious hosts.
Connecting with others on the pilgrimage was really profound, to explore like-minded views and different ones. I felt comfortable enough to share my debt journey, which started with difficulties budgeting due to ADHD and a lack of financial knowledge. The money I had wasn’t enough to pay what I owed. I knew I needed to reach out to somebody, so I spoke to my mother – one of the hardest conversations I’ve had. She revealed she was a CAP supporter, and suggested I reach out to them. I made the phone call and never looked back
We spent the first week of July at Iona, and those seven days flew! But in other respects, the time I was still was an opportunity to search and contemplate. There were moments of real peace. Suddenly, this strange island became a place to remove distractions. Whether it was climbing the highest peak at Dùn Ì or hearing tales from the convent, we took a lot of time to reflect, pray and climb mountains – both symbolic and physical.
We spoke a lot about overcoming fear through the strength of Christ. Climbing the highest peak of the island was an important moment for me. Was I terrified? Yes. Did I want to turn back halfway? Without a doubt. With the help of my new friends, and encouraged by how far I’d come since starting my journey out of debt, I managed to keep the strength Christ gives me in my heart. This was a really special moment to take away from the pilgrimage. I struggle with agoraphobia, but since doing this, I’ve been able to take my kids to the beach and watch them run around and play. I’ve overcome that fear and I live this as an example to my children.
Reflecting on it all
Standing under St Martin’s Cross, I felt a sense of peace and comfort. Hearing how St Martin had given his cloak to a beggar – to then have the beggar reveal himself as Christ in a dream – gave me a deep sense of understanding of this journey. It was really after my work with CAP that my faith became stronger and I knew I could no longer put God in a box. A lot had happened to make me feel there was more to life than just existing. The love and support that radiated from the CAP representatives and my parents confirmed that I need God. I’ve always been close to God; I just never realised how close I was.
I came back refreshed and prepared to continue facing any challenges ahead, with the strength of knowing God is by my side. I’m a living case study for CAP, and I want to use that. I’ve worked with CAP on a few fundraising campaigns, sharing my story to help others; I even gave evidence at the Department for Work and Pensions Select Committee. This experience gave me an opportunity to reflect on my heart’s goal – making a difference to the most vulnerable in society and addressing those who can make positive change happen.
I want to use my unfortunate circumstances to provide an example of what UK poverty looks like, and I’m prepared to use my position to ask the questions to the people who make the decisions. My door will always be open to have these conversations. I feel encouraged, refreshed and empowered to tell my story and what it means for others across the UK. The journey is only just beginning.
I took a step of faith in this pilgrimage, and I don’t regret a single thing.