Devon’s Come and See Weekend was Inspiring, Challenging and Moving

Posted: 15th November, 2023

The Archbishop of Canterbury may have returned to London after the Come and See weekend, but it’s hoped that this is just the beginning of the ‘Come and See’ journey for all the people who attended Come and See events over the weekend in mission communities across Devon.

Rev’d Jeremy Putnam, Diocese Mission Enabler, said “The weekend was such an inspiring and encouraging time. The Archbishop showed himself to be, in every way, the leader that Devon hoped he would be; and at such an important time too, as we marked Remembrance.

“Through each of the events across the county Archbishop Justin took time to meet with people, speak with people, and walk with people. In every case what he said encouraged, moved or challenged each person he spoke to.

“The aim of the Come and See Mission was to invite people to see how God is at work in and through our Mission Communities. Over 30 Mission Communities hosted ‘Come and See’ events over the weekend, and more than 15,000 invitation cards were distributed across the Diocese to extend the invitation to their communities.

The Devon Young Farmers Choir at the Harvest Service at Holsworthy Livestock Market. Photo: Neil Turner for Lambeth Palace.

“Every invitation card had a passage of scripture and a prayer to offer, as well as a warm invitation to attend an event in one of our churches.

“I am really praying that this will just be the start and all our churches will continue to invite people and walk alongside them as they respond to the call to ‘come and see’ what God has in store for them.”

During the weekend Archbishop Justin Welby visited Ilfracombe Academy and Primary school. He shared his story with pupils and staff and answered questions from them, which included questions about the Coronation, Israel and Gaza, his experience of being held hostage and even his cream tea preferences.

Joe Matthews, the RE lead at Ilfracombe Academy, commented “Our school experienced a momentous day as the Archbishop visited Ilfracombe Academy during the Come and See weekend.

Archbishop Justin and Bishop James meet a woman whose sister was killed in the 1943 bombing of St Marychurch in the Chapel of the Holy Innocents, which commemorates the children and adults who died. Photo: Neil Turner for Lambeth Palace.

“We express our gratitude for this special visit. Both staff and students felt honoured to share stories and pray alongside the Archbishop. This visit will leave a lasting impact on the school and contribute to a deeper connection between the students, staff, and local community. Thank you.”

On Friday evening, the Archbishop preached in the auction ring at Holsworthy Livestock Market’s annual Harvest service. The venue was so packed that many people had to watch a live link from another building and some even had to stand in the animal stalls.

Sarah Charker, the new Diocese Creation Care Engagement Officer, who lives on an agricultural smallholding, attended the service and said afterwards ” I really enjoyed the service at the livestock market on Friday, it was so well attended, and the Archbishop’s message was so brilliantly relevant to the congregation with a strong evangelistic element.

“Farming friends of mine that came were so appreciative of the Archbishop prioritising the farming community and making the effort to be ‘out in the sticks’ and to choose such a deliberately rural venue.”

Archbishop Justin chats to the Mayor of Torbay, Cllr Mark Spacagna, during the Armistice Day commemoration

On Saturday, the Archbishop took part in an Armistice Day service at St Mary-the-Virgin church in Torquay, which was badly bombed in World War Two.

It included a zoom prayer gathering which he hosted from the Chapel of the Holy Innocents in the church, which commemorates the 24 Sunday school children and three adults who were killed when the church was hit in 1943.

St Marychurch’s Vicar, Fr Nick Debney said “It was great to be able to welcome Archbishop Justin to St Marychurch last weekend. To have so many people gathered together to pray and to hear his insights on peace and reconciliation was profound.”

Archbishop Justin also attended the Armistice commemoration at Torquay War Memorial and led a Walk of Reflection around Torquay Harbour, where he paused at various points to pray for peace.

The walk was organised by Fr Peter March, Vicar of St Luke’s, Torquay, and All Saints, Torre: “Sharing the walk of reflection with Archbishop Justin was inspiring. He spoke powerfully of the need for reconciliation and healing in the world today,” he said.

Fr Peter March and the Archbishop of Canterbury with local school children on the Walk of Reflection in Torquay (photo: Al MacPhee, Miracle PR)

Rev’d Ian Bussell, Director of Mission and Ministry, summed-up the scene: “The calm sea and clear sky set the scene for the quiet reflection of the minutes’ silence at the Torquay war memorial on Saturday.

“Veterans and school children, flag bearers and wreath layers, cadets and those on active service, and a few more police than you’d normally expect gathered around the war memorial as the Archbishop arrived. We prayed for peace. A small crowd gathered around a man singing Abide With Me as the Archbishop led us to the sea front.

“The walk took us to a different place, and a different mood, and Archbishop Justin, surrounded by school children, told the story of how his cross was made out of a gun that had been dropped in an amnesty box – how God can bring good out of horror.

“We had wondered whether Remembrance weekend was a good time for the Archbishop to visit and to help us witness to the good news of Christ. But we discovered that the darkness of death and grief throws the light of hope and love into sharp relief.

“This was just the right weekend to declare that ‘nothing can separate us from the love of Christ’.”

Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds from the Good Grief Project discuss bereavement with Archbishop Justin. Photo: Neil Turner for Lambeth Palace

On Saturday afternoon the Archbishop in Conversation event at Exeter University saw the Archbishop talking to four people who have all experienced sudden bereavement.

They were Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds, from the Good Grief Project, whose 22-year-old son Josh was killed in a car accident in Vietnam, Rev’d Stuart Hallam, a former Royal Marine chaplain who suffered PTSD after losing close comrades while serving on the front line in Afghanistan and Meg Loney, a former member of the folk rock group Wildwood Kin and current Youth Pastor at St Basil’s Church. Meg’s brother Natty died by suicide seven years ago.

“Archbishop Justin’s interviews with people who have been through bereavement were both moving and practically helpful. He showed a warm, dry wit, and he was clearly there to learn from those he spoke to, as well as speaking from his own experience,” said Mack Robinson, a Licensed Lay Minister who was in the audience.

“The event was rich in both recorded and live music from the Exeter University Chapel Choir, who had generously given their time on a weekend. Ending with the lighting of candles and more beautiful choral music in the chapel, this was an event to remember.”

Rev’d Hannah Alderson, Exeter University Chaplain, reflected “It felt like a real privilege to be in the room as Archbishop Justin discussed experiences of bereavement with Jane and Jimmy, Stuart and Meg.

“These were immensely moving conversations, and there was a real honesty from all the conversation partners, including the Archbishop, about the raw and human emotions experienced in the wake of a death. It felt like we were being invited onto holy ground.

Bishop Jackie leads a time of reflection in the University of Exeter chapel

“The conversations were followed by a candlelit walk to the University Chapel, which felt like a fitting end to the afternoon, allowing us all to lay a candle in memory of loved ones who have died.”

Video and audio recordings of the Archbishop in Conversation will be released next week.

On Saturday the Archbishop spoke about the impact of climate change at a dinner for leaders of public and private sector organisations at Dartington Hall. He challenged the people gathered to find ways of working together collaboratively and innovatively across the region to fight climate change and the social inequalities arising from it.

One person who came said “What an amazing event to be part of, thank you for including me! I had some really interesting conversations.”

Sunday’s Remembrance service and parade on Plymouth Hoe took place in torrential rain but was still attended by thousands of members of the military, veterans and civilians, who heard Archbishop Justin and the Bishop of Plymouth, the Rt. Rev’d James Grier, lead prayers for peace.

People gathered at Plymouth Hoe on Remembrance Sunday (photo Neil Turner for Lambeth Palace)

Bishop James said “The Archbishop of Canterbury wanted to come to Devon for a weekend, not for a visit but to support a weekend of mission. He wanted to be part of the weekend not the focus of the weekend and wanted the focus to be on those who aren’t part of the church and sharing the good news of Jesus for people today. I can’t believe how much this last weekend wonderfully expressed this vision.

“He wonderfully and brilliantly modelled sharing our faith throughout the weekend. He gave such time, attention and love to everyone he met and spoke so engagingly and relevantly about what faith in Jesus is all about.

“He didn’t stop from the moment he arrived until the moment he left and was an example to us all. And yet it wasn’t all about him. Thank you to the churches across Devon who stepped out and put on events for their communities to come and see something of Jesus and his love for them.

“I have loved seeing the photos and hearing the stories from such a diverse and creative array of events. I pray that people came and saw Jesus this last weekend in Devon.”

Watch Archbishop Justin’s message to Devon’s churches: