Guiding a silent pilgrimage requires a different set of skills to the Guided Pilgrimage. Although many of the planning elements and the start of the day are the same, you will need to be able to manage your group, and communicate with others you may encounter, without speaking.
Planning your pilgrimage
Much of the planning is the same as a Guided Pilgrimage. Please refer to the main page for the information needed to set up an event and timescales. You will also find the standard training for choosing a route, safety, data protection and our Open to All values.
Choosing a route
In addition to the standard training, there are a couple of elements that differ here.
- We recommend that Silent Pilgrimages finish with Evensong or a similar service or event which allows pilgrims to break their silence with something impactful.
- You will need to be particularly mindful of safety matters, as you will not be able to give pilgrims verbal warnings of hazards or instructions throughout the day, and it is easier for people to lose the group.
- Places which offer sensory experiences along the route are a good idea, and it is ok to take short diversions to spend time in these places.
Briefing your pilgrims
You will not be able to describe the significance of the places you visit on your route, so it is important that the order confirmation and reminder email sent as part of the booking process include a detailed briefing on the day. This does not need to be a full encyclopedic entry, but just a line or two about each stopping place and why you have included them, what practices to expect, and a rough schedule of the day including when and where you will take lunch. Significant hazards along the route, such as road walking and any safety protocols should also be described here. We can provide you with examples so you know what this should look like.
Communicating on the day
You will be able to greet your pilgrims verbally and impart any relevant information at the start of the day (see Welcoming below) and of course say your goodbyes. It will be useful to have a few techniques for communicating with both your pilgrims and other people you may meet during the day when in silence.
It is said that 55% of communication is body language, and you will find pilgrims will very quickly become more atuned to your body language and behaviour. You will be able to invite your pilgrims to do practices just by modelling, e.g. doing the thing yourself, then making eye contact and repeating, giving them time to realise and do the same, should they choose to.
For more practical matters you may need some specific techniques.
To get someone’s attention, try:
- wave your hand in their line of sight.
- A brief touch on their shoulder.
- If it is something more urgent and you cannot catch up with them to touch their shoulder, clapping your hands works as an alternative.
- If someone is at immediate risk of harm you should of course break your silence to keep them safe.
On a silent pilgrimage, you should select a route which minimises hazards so that you do not need to point things out to pilgrims. But simple things, like crossing the road require a bit of forward thinking, time and eye contact to ensure you have their attention and they have understood to take care.
We recommend you carry a sign to show people who may greet you or approach you that the group is walking in silence. If you are meeting a custodian on the route, make sure they know it is a silent pilgrimage and that it is ok for them to speak if they wish, for example to welcome you or to read a blessing.
Welcoming your pilgrims
Your welcome is your opportunity to speak. Greet your pilgrims, make them comfortable and instil bit of trust in you as their guide, and ensure they have all the information they need to have a fulfilling day. Beyond the practical things they need to know, you will also need to get them to set their intention, and create the moment where you transition to silence.
Simply being in silence on a pilgrimage and stopping at significant places will be enough to create a remarkable experience. You can augment this further with some additional practices which engage the senses and encourage moments of connection with the journey, the place, and themselves. These include, but are not limited to:
- Holding space – spending time where there may be sounds like birdsong, wind in the trees or water
- Sitting – giving pilgrims time to sit in contemplation in holy or special places
- Forehead pressing – on ancient buildings, ancient trees, hilltops or other places.
- Contact with wild water or drinking from a holy well.
Make sure you plan some good places to stop for refreshment. You will need to decide whether to maintain the silence over the lunch break, there are pros and cons to this.
If there aren’t many toilet facilities on your route, we recommend agreeing some simple sign language to communicate the need for a “wild wee” on the way. It is easy for someone to get left behind if you don’t know they have popped behind a bush. Signs such as making a “T” for toilet with your hands is easy to remember.
Make sure your pilgrims know at the start of the day when the moment is that they may break their silence. This could be a moment of releasing their intention on arrival, or allow the music of the service or event at the destination to do this naturally.