Monday 18 April 2022

An Irony

By train to Cambridge, but with an ironic backstory

I have for many years been a member of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis (hereinafter called the SSF!), and a part of my personal rule of life has always been that I shall walk, cycle or use public transport rather than drive whenever practical, and as regular readers will know I have tried diligently to keep this rule. Indeed I have probably kept it better than most other sections of my rule, although part of the point of the Third Order is that we live in the world, marry (at least some of us do) and have normal jobs (well, mine was as a parish priest so some bits of Franciscan life were a bit easier for me), and so the keeping of a rule is tempered by the demands of employment, family etc, unlike for a friar or sister of the First or Second Orders.

The irony is that with a dispersed Order like this one, the purpose for which I have most often needed to use my car is for attending meetings of the Order! Members live in all sorts of places and in my own locality every place I need to go is hard to reach by train or bus and too far to cycle. I did manage public transport once, but it took nearly all day for a two-hour meeting about forty miles away, and I cannot always afford that.

So it was with great joy that I was invited to a meeting in Cambridge recently, a one-hour through train ride from my home in Stamford! Not just possible by public transport, but actually easier than driving! The venue, a church on the south side of the city centre, was a short and pleasant walk from the station, and I have plenty of time to walk there and to walk back to the station. There was a certain amount of hanging about, especially after the meeting because of Cross Country Trains' "temporary" timetable with gaps in it, but it was a pleasant, sunny day and I had a great time. My colleague from the local area drove from Kettering, although he would have preferred the train but for him it would have involved the great time and expense of going via London. So I think I was the only one who came by train. One local person cycled, but I think all the others went by car.

My inclusion of sustainable travel in my rule of life is not arbitrary - an important aspect of Franciscan life is care for the created world, and it seems to me that personal transport is a significant part of our environmental impact. I also happened to think that car use is inherently anti-social and that God wills us to be social. If I walk or take the bus or the train I can speak to people, smile at people, try to make someone's day a bit better, whereas if I drive I am more likely simply to get in their way or clutter their street.

A follow-up meeting has been arranged, so I'll be doing that trip again before much longer. And there's a day in London coming up, too, for all of us: I hope many of us will be able to use the train for that: I have been asked to look at the fares for members from their local stations, which I shall be glad to do.

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