Thirty miles into the first run, the scale of what I’m attempting this year cast its first shadow over my mood.
Yet, the encouragement of supporters a few miles later, the solidarity of a local Embrace volunteer who happened to be on his own run and joined me, and the recollection of the blessings I’d received renewed my sense not only that this challenge might be doable, but also that it is an incredible privilege to be undertaking it.
The foundation for my first run was laid the evening before my start at Dunfermline Abbey with Evensong. It featured the wonderful Abbey choir and an inspirational blessing from Derek Browning, former Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
The Abbey itself is so intimately connected to Scotland’s story and having it filled with people from local churches and the community created a special atmosphere of warmth and support.
At a civic reception later, the Deputy Provost of Fife Julie Ford reflected powerfully on the meaning and importance of ‘home’. She drew attention to the trauma of those who have been displaced in Iraq, and to our own need for home. She reminded everyone present of the aim of this challenge. The reception was attended by an encouraging number of people to wish me well, including the Bishop of St Andrew’s Ian Paton, Willie Rennie MSP and our own Embrace patron, the Very Rev Dr Andrew McLellan.
My nerves arrived on Sunday morning
I forced myself to eat enough breakfast and warmed up with a jog up the hill to Dunfermline Abbey. I was sent on my way with a short service of blessing.
We sang, we prayed, and then, after months of preparation … I ran.
Or should I say we ran as the Vice Lieutenant of Fife Fiona Robertson accompanied me on the first mile – literally running me out of town, but in the nicest possible way!
Running to me has been freedom and play but now for the first time, pilgrimage
I paused at a ruined church before Torryburn, among scattered gravestones to imagine its past community and the mustard seeds of faith they sowed. I prayed briefly and returned to the road, nourished.
My prayerful mood ebbed as much as it flowed, but it felt natural to pray for the towns and villages I ran through and past, and to think about how fragile peace is.
‘May the people of Crossford, Crombie, Culross… know Christ’s deep peace in this generation and those to come.’
Running at landmarks like Culross Abbey – the birthplace of St Mungo, gave me a sense of participation in an ancient story of faith this land, an inheritance from the struggles and witness of people like St Mungo. [Read about St Mungo here.]
I was much more conscious of his story on this run than I had expected, reminding myself of his courage and wisdom. ‘The poor are the patrons of the rich’, he once told the gloating tyrant king Morken.
Getting tired and being encouraged
Around 36 miles I knew I was pushed for time if I was going to make it to Glasgow Cathedral in time for a procession to St Mungo’s tomb. The enthusiasm of the morning was a mere memory; I was wind-battered, sweaty, and a little bit grumpy.
I worried my current state might put supporters off as they turned out to wish me well.
But as I turned a bend on a canal four people came into view radiating joy and encouragement.
I felt my energy levels rise immediately and I remembered I was on pilgrimage not a single race.
This group were members of Cadder Parish Church, whose roots go at least a millennium deep into this landscape. Their minister, Rev John MacGregor, showed me their church and prayed a blessing both on this venture and on the Iraqis it will benefit.
Indeed Rev John’s prayer reminded me that Running Home is part of an unfinished story, changing the fortunes of Iraqis returning to their homes. We want to support them, but I reflected on the idea that they are actually ‘our patrons’, living out a commitment to their homeland that should inspire us.
Thinking of this along the route, and the prayers and encouragement of people like Rev John gave me fresh legs.
Oh, and the best thing supporters provided was, of course, tea.
Arriving in Glasgow
My aim was to be at my finish point, Glasgow Cathedral, in time for an ecumenical service to honour St Mungo on his feast day.
On my way I visited Smug’s mural of St Mungo in central Glasgow.
I felt gratitude for St Mungo’s legacy and the gentle, courageous humanity which stories of him preserve. My tired legs reminded me of the great journeys he’d taken, sometimes as a refugee.
I turned up the street and entered the great sanctuary, beaming with joy. My colleague Neil had been kindly invited to say a few words at the service on behalf of Embrace the Middle East and as I walked through the empty nave towards the rood screen, behind which the service was taking place, I could hear him speaking.
Up the stairs I went and through a curtain, to behold a packed church with dignitaries and senior representatives of churches in Glasgow seated in a row facing me.
Neil announced: ‘Oh, and here he is!’ to which the congregation burst into applause.
Emotional as it was, I was a bit self-conscious being called up to stand in front of the great and the good in (now quite unpleasant) running clothes! But the sense of joy flowed a few minutes later, kneeling as a pilgrim at the tomb of Mungo.
This was an unforgettable highlight of my running life. My overriding feeling was gratitude, for running and freedom, for our Iraqi brothers’ and sisters’ courage and steadfastness, and for this humble refugee and history-making saint in whose presence I knelt.