Walk of Ages

Elderly couple approach red tape stretched across lychgate

Canon John Harwood and his wife Brenda approach the finish line at St James’s Church Emsworth to the cheers of the local community (Photos: Paul Thaxter)

This week’s less-than-ideal weather hasn’t hampered 94-year-old Canon John Harwood, who today completed his impressive “94 Walks for 94 Years” fundraising feat.

Canon John set himself the goal of doing one walk for every year of his life between his home and his local parish church, St James in Emsworth, Hampshire – a distance of half a mile.

His initial fundraising target was £1,000 but that was soon overtaken by the generosity of well-wishers who have now boosted Canon John’s total to almost £14,000, including Gift Aid.

Bystanders clap as elderly couple walk along road in Hampshire town
Well-earned applause: Canon John’s fundraising effort captured the imagination of the local community, who turned out to cheer him on his final walk through the streets of Emsworth

After 47 days, Canon John was welcomed as he completed his final walk by Alastair Bateman, CEO of Church Mission Society, and Paul Thaxter, international mission director, along with the rector of St James, the Rev Andrew Sheard, and members of the local community.

Canon John, a former CMS missionary who served in Nigeria and Sierra Leone for 10 years, is an active supporter of the work of CMS and its mission partners and local partners around the world.

Inspired by the fundraising exploits of Captain Tom Moore, he decided to undertake his own fundraising challenge to raise funds for CMS people in mission who are serving communities, supporting local ministries and caring for the environment.

Smiling elderly man waves paper at rector!
Canon John gets ready to hand over his last numbered slip of paper to the rector. He has posted a numbered slip through the rectory door to mark each walk to the church.

Starting in May, Canon John committed to completing two walks per day, half a mile each for a total distance of 47 miles, the equivalent of walking from London to Brighton – or almost two marathons.

Walking each day did take a toll and John had to overcome tiredness, sore feet and backache.

However, with the finish line approaching and £13,780 donated so far to support the work of CMS, Canon John said, “It’s all been worth it.”

Alastair Bateman, CEO of Church Mission Society, and the Rev Andrew Sheard, rector of Warblington with Emsworth, prepare to greet Canon John along with other well-wishers

Alastair Bateman reflected the thoughts of many people, both from John’s local community and supporters from the CMS community around the world, saying: “John’s willingness to put himself on the line like this echoes the selfless sacrifice of countless men and women who have served in CMS throughout its history, putting the needs and wellbeing of others above their own comfort.”

The Rt Rev Dr Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester and a former leader of Church Mission Society, added his congratulations: “I wholeheartedly commend John for his splendid effort. His vision, commitment and perseverance are an example to us all, one which I hope will inspire people’s generosity to support the work of Church Mission Society around the world.”

Canon John sits next to carrot cake decorated with "94"
Canon John joins a handful of friends and family members for a socially distanced celebration – complete with cake, of course

With the finishing line of his first ever long distance athletic event in sight, Canon John dispelled rumours that the record of Fauja Singh for the oldest person to complete the London Marathon is in his sights: “I’m quite looking forward to a rest,” he said.

Alastair added: “I’ve no doubt Canon John’s walk will prove to be an inspiration to many people, especially at a time when many of our mission partners around the world are supporting communities in the face of the coronavirus crisis.”

John’s sponsored challenge efforts have captured the imagination of his local community who have donated generously to support his effort and offered their encouragement with comments such as “Inspirational”, “CMS is lucky to have you” and “the Racing Rev”.

For more information about John Harwood’s 94 Walks for 94 Years fundraising challenge go to: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/John-HarwoodCMS

Published 3 July 2020
Europe, Middle East and North Africa

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