I met the other evening with Pat Craighead and Stephen Herbert, my fellow-leaders of our recent Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The purpose was to talk through how we felt it went, what was good, what could have been better. And we’ve now sent in our report to the pilgrimage company.
And what do I feel? First, I think, that it exceeded all my expectations. Asking pilgrims to pay as much as such a pilgrimage costs, to give up their time, in one case to give up their job(!) - and with half the pilgrims coming as a party from St. Cuthbert’s - I worried about whether it would measure up. But we were so well served. There couldn’t have been a better way to see all we saw, to do what we did and to experience something of what it meant to live in a land with such a history, such a deep significance to people of three major religions and such an on-going story which includes tension, repressed conflict, joys, sorrows and hope.
Second, it’s actually too soon to know how I really feel. So much went into the 11 days we spent in the Galilee, the West Bank and Jerusalem - not to mention the 26 or so services we shared! It will take some reflection to work out the difference the pilgrimage has made to us. We’ll need to be ready for what was sown in our experiences to take root and emerge in weeks, months, even years to come. The purpose of pilgrimage is to be open to what you find - to allow it to change you. That’s an openness to God’s grace. And pilgrimage doesn’t necessarily require going somewhere physically. We can make it in daily life - Lent, as it gets underway in March, is a sort of 40 day pilgrimage, asking where do we want our journey with Jesus to his Passion, the Cross and Resurrection to take us?
Third, it was so good to travel together with other people - and especially with people I knew. Such were our numbers that there was a real sense of being the parish on the move - not only seeing where our faith comes from, but living it, and asking where it might take us. Along the way we encounter problems that need to be overcome (thankfully very few), causes for joy and anxiety, challenges to our perceptions - even to our understanding of who we are. That’s what pilgrimage should be!