My name is Mike Stuchbery. I am a teacher, writer and speaker, originally from Australia, but now settled in England.
I’ve spent most of my life in and around churches.
As a child, I attended my local Anglican church, St David’s in East Doncaster, one of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. My Sunday School teacher was my next door neighbour. I was confirmed and, when the time came, I attended a private secondary school with a Christian ethos.
I stopped going to church around the age of fourteen or fifteen. Mostly, I wanted to sleep in on a Sunday. However, I had also started to feel a disconnect with the place. The congregation was ageing and the dialogue had didn’t seem to have relevance to me. I had big questions, the church had the same dreary hymns and worn copies of the Good News Bible. God seemed to be interested in cups of tea and vestry minutes, not the moral and ethical fistfights I was having in my mind.
Once I became a teacher, I worked in Lutheran and Catholic schools. I attended services daily. The words and actions became second nature, even though I had stopped feeling their significance years ago – it was simply part of the gig.
I was in my mid-twenties when my parents took off for six weeks to do the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrim trail across southern France and Spain.
When they came back, my father told us he was fighting cancer.
I’ll spare you the suspense: my father is, I am very happy to say, alive and kicking. In fact, he beat cancer like nobody I’ve ever seen before. He exudes rude health.
However, it was at this point I began to understand the power and attraction of a long journey on foot, the act of pilgrimage.
I am 36 now, and find myself at a crossroads in my own life.
I have always struggled with mental illness in the form of anxiety and depression, but this year I experienced a bout that floored me, kept me off work for months. The plans that I had made for myself professionally have had to be shelved.
I am forced, for the first time in a long time, to rewrite the narrative I set for my life.
At my lowest point, when I couldn’t see any way out, I remember thinking back to my father’s walk across Spain as he prepared to fight his own, more immediate battle.
I could see the way that the simple act of putting on a pair of walking boots and just walking, following a long, winding trail had given him, and my mother strength.
It was at that point that I decided that I would become a pilgrim, walking my own trail. I have always had a deep interest in churches and history and figure that by visiting churches and sites of pilgrimage during my journeys, I might get a little perspective on my experiences and the struggles that I have faced, by coming face to face with the hopes and fears of generations before me.
I’m not sure what I believe. I’m not sure how it will end up. I’m not exactly sure what it is I’m looking for.
You know what, though? I think that’s the point.
I hope you will enjoy following my steps and taking the pilgrim road with me.