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Seas of change

Andy Carnegie tells Claire Brine why he got on board with tracking the journey of the Celtic saints

What the Celtic Christians did back then is relevant today

A CONVERSATION about broken society inspired Andy Carnegie to set out, along with Howard Worsley, on a sea voyage around Britain. After launching their Bermudan sloop – a Rival 41 yacht – from Bristol in May, the duo are spending the summer months tracing the landing places, routes and influences of the early Celtic Christian saints.

‘Howard and I came up with the idea for the Navigators of Faith expedition because we felt as though people in modern society had lost their way a little bit,’ Andy explains. ‘We started thinking that secular society didn’t seem to have many answers for the problems it was facing. Then we asked ourselves: Has this happened before? Was there a time in history when society felt as though it was collapsing? We felt the answer was yes.

‘Howard and I thought back to the years AD390 to AD410, when Rome pulled out of Britain and Celtic Christianity spread across the nation. The stories of Jesus took deep root in people’s lives.’

Andy explains that between AD400 and AD700, huge numbers of monks journeyed across the country with the aim of spreading the gospel.

‘Their message of Christianity was hugely attractive to people,’ he says. ‘The Celtic saints believed in gender equality. They believed in looking after the environment. They were proactive in looking after poor people. If people ever gave money to these monks, they didn’t keep it and make a fortune for themselves, but instead they gave it away. So much of what the Celtic Christians did back then is relevant to the problems we are facing in our world today.’

Andy believes that the people of Britain were keen to grasp the message of Celtic Christianity because it provided an outlook on life that they had never considered before.

‘The Celtic saints were looking to discover the good in people and were not focused on condemning the bad. So that was appealing. They looked for God in everyone. They understood that people were broken and helped them anyway.’

One of Andy’s favourite Celtic saints is Brendan.

‘According to myth, in AD520 he travelled from Ireland to Scotland, to Iceland, to the Faeroes, to Newfoundland and Greenland – all in a leather boat! He went out looking for the second Jerusalem – or the Promised Land on earth, if you like.

‘I also like that the Celtic saints set up monasteries for men and women. The fact that there was a St Bridget and a St Hilda shows that they truly believed in gender equality. They had a very modern view of the gospel, understanding that Jesus had a great empathy for women, because he talked with them so much. He didn’t view them as second-class citizens.’

Andy explains that, as part of the Navigators of Faith voyage, he and Howard will stop at 60 ports, where they will host conversations and participate in community events. By listening to people who live in the areas, they hope to explore contemporary, secular life in Britain, while reflecting on the stories of the Celtic saints and what – if anything – they can teach the world today.

‘We want to hear different points of view,’ he says. ‘So far, we have had discussions with asylum seekers, grand masters of freemasonry, some people who take art into prisons with the hope of helping prisoners reform, Falklands war veterans and representatives from a humanist society. Wherever we go, we listen to people and hold conversations.

‘At every port, we also give out a Bible and issue a challenge to the Church community that receives us. The challenge is that during Lent next year, the churches will carry a full-size cross from their building to York. We want Christians from across the country to carry their crosses to this central meeting point in time for Good Friday. Some Christian motorcyclists have already said that they are interested in transporting their cross by motorbike! But another idea is for churches to transport their cross as a relay team. So one church might carry it to another church a couple of miles away, and then that church will take it one stage further, and so on.

‘The challenge is meant to reflect the fact that the Celtic saints visited, then they declared, then they established. So, this year, the Navigators of Faith are visiting, next year we are carrying the crosses in declaration, and the year after that we have some ideas with regards to establishing and what that might look like.’

Before Andy heads off into the great blue yonder, he concludes by explaining why a trip which focuses on the Celtic saints of the past is so important to present-day Britain.

‘It’s an opportunity to look at the state of modern society and issue a challenge: where does faith fit in? What the final outcome of the voyage will be, I don’t know. But I’m happy to follow wherever the Spirit of God takes us.’

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