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Cleric hikes to 15 churches on his first day

Dungannon minister covers 27 miles to meet with his new parishioners

By Claire McNeilly

Published 02/09/2015

A joint Anglican and Methodist congregation at St Michael's Church, Heighington, welcomes the weary walkers at the final stop
A joint Anglican and Methodist congregation at St Michael's Church, Heighington, welcomes the weary walkers at the final stop
Left: Rev Purdy walks into Witton le Wear
Rev John Purdy (left) and Rev Bryer at Cockfield Methodist Chapel for the beginning of the walk

A minister from Northern Ireland has walked more than 27 miles around 15 churches to introduce himself to his congregation.

Rev John Purdy - who started his new job yesterday - completed the arduous mission having just taken up a ministry at the Methodist churches at Bishop Auckland and Rosemount Road South Church in Co Durham.

The 44-year-old man of the cloth began the 12-hour prayer walk at Cockfield at 7.30am and finished at Heighington before sundown. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from his new home in Bishop Auckland, the Dungannon native said he was in remarkably good shape following his exploits.

"I'm totally unfit but I only have a small blister on each foot which isn't too bad," Rev Purdy said.

"We walked somewhere between 25 and 30 miles in total depending on where we got lost or cut corners.

"It was a spiritual experience and it was an honour to pray with people at all of the chapels."

Rev Purdy grew up in Northern Ireland but left, aged 18, to study Pharmacy at Bradford University in England. However, he said he spent too much time with student Christian groups at the expense of his studies.

After being "thrown out of" the course, he ended up in Bangor, Co Down, and spent a year on the Methodist Youth Team, going round all the Methodist churches in Ireland, and then two years as a youth and community worker for Queen's Parade Methodist Church.

"I candidated for the ministry in 1996 and spent three years at Edgehill College at Queen's University," he said. "I trained there while I helped out part-time at Jennymount Methodist Church in north Belfast."

A three-year stint in west Limerick was followed by six years in west Cork and a further seven in Co Donegal, which is where he had been up until now.

His recent move to England was prompted by the ill health of his wife Vanessa's mum and dad.

"This is officially my first day on the job," he said.

"I asked the Irish Conference to give me permission to come to the north east so we could be near Vanessa's parents.

"Her mother Betty, who is about to turn 80, had a stroke last year and her 81-year-old father Gareth has been in and out of hospital recently so it's good for us to live nearby."

His own 80-year-old mother May still lives in Dungannon and his brother Noel (42) is in Stranmillis.

"I hope to get across as often as I can once I've settled in here," he said. "When I was based in Donegal I used to visit my mum quite often. My father died in 1999 just as I was beginning my ministry."

Rev Purdy first met Vanessa (43) when they were 19-year-old students, and she was at Hull University. But they lost touch when she left to be a missionary in Germany until their paths crossed again over a decade later in Belfast.

"We met again at a European Methodist conference," he said, adding that the couple, who have no children, married eight years ago. So where did he get the idea for his walk of faith which, thankfully, he was able to do in fairly pleasant weather?

"I finished in Donegal at the end of June and I had two months free time so my wife and I went on long walks to get to know this area," he said.

"When I mentioned this to my colleage, Rev Andy Bryer (57), we decided 15 church visits were do-able and agreed that it would be a great experience."

Belfast Telegraph

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