This is a copy of my article for the APRIL 2016 edition of the Billericay ‘Around Town Magazine’
Many of you will be familiar with the story of the Mayflower setting sail from Plymouth with the Pilgrim Fathers to explore the New World on 16 September 1620 – it’s intrinsic to the history of Billericay! However, you may not be so familiar with Sir John Franklin’s expedition which sailed from Kent on 19 May 1845 with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, manned by 138 of England’s finest sailors. Their task was to chart the Northwest Passage around the Canadian Arctic to the Pacific Ocean.
Franklin hoped that this effort would be the turning point in Arctic exploration. And so it was, not because of its success, but because of its failure. The ships never returned and every member of the crew perished. The lesson that each ensuing Arctic expedition would learn was simply this: ‘Be prepared for the journey.’
Apparently, Franklin wasn’t. Though the voyage was expected to last for two or three years, he carried only a twelve-day supply of coal for the auxiliary steam engines. But what he lacked in fuel he made up for in entertainment. Each ship carried a 1,200 volume library, a hand organ, china place settings for officers and men, cut glass goblets and sterling silverware. The sailors carried no special clothing to protect them from the cold, only the thin blue uniforms of Her Majesty’s fleet.
The two ships had sailed ill prepared into freezing waters and, of course, the inevitable occurred. The seas froze and the ships became trapped. The sailors set out for help, wearing their inadequate uniform, carrying their belongings and dragging a wooden boat across the ice. Remains of the expedition have been found all over the frozen sea for many years. The silver cutlery, so ornately designed, was found near a clump of frozen cannibalized bodies. Franklin died on the boat. Search parties would later find a piece of the backgammon board Lady Franklin had given her husband as a farewell present.
It is strange, isn’t it? How men could embark upon such a journey ill-prepared, more equipped for afternoon tea than for the open sea. Stranger still, is the way many people act in the same way as they travel on their hazardous journey from this world to the next. If truth be told, we can sometimes act as if life is a retirement cruise. We have little fuel but lots of entertainment. We give more thought to the silver cutlery than surviving the journey. And so when the big freeze comes, we step out onto the ice with the spiritual equivalent of forks, games and skimpy clothing, passing our final days walking against the wind and often blaming God, to quote Laurel and Hardy, for: “Another fine mess you’ve got me into!” When, in fact, we only have ourselves to blame.
One way you can be better prepared for your journey through life is to learn more about the Christian faith. There are some great churches in Billericay who would be willing to help you. Another way might be to download, and read, some of the handouts for the Lent Course the Anglican Churches in Billericay have just finished, entitled ‘A Deeper Walk’ which looked at ways to strengthen our Christian faith through what we call the ‘Spiritual Disciplines’ of Worship, Confession, Solitude, Simplicity, Bible Study and Prayer. You can find these on the news pages of the Emmanuel website here
One of my favourite films is ‘Gladiator’. Do you remember those immortal words spoken by Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe)? “What we do in life echoes in eternity!” And that is so true.
Can I encourage you to make the effort to be better prepared for the journey through life you are facing?
With my best wishes to you all