A Profound Pilgrimage

by Gerry Lynch last modified 05 Jun, 2014 04:08 PM

Holy Land pilgrims return from trip led by Bishop Nicholas after close encounter with Bible stories and modern day issues.

A group of 63 pilgrims from the Diocese have just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land buzzing with excitement. Bishop Nicholas jointly led the pilgrimage with Maureen Allchin, a priest in the Diocese who is an experienced leader of Holy Land pilgrimages.

The group spent 12 days in the Holy Land, with their tour organised by McCabe Travel and using Christian guides and services wherever possible. Even with such a large group, there were no mishaps and even the famously intense Ben Gurion Airport security only resulted in one delayed bag.

But on their return home, pilgrims were giving thanks for a profound encounter with the divine, rather than efficient baggage handling.

One pilgrim was Bridget Trump, who works in the Bishop’s office and is a parishioner of St Thomas’ in Salisbury. This was her first visit to the Holy Land. A few days after arriving back home and at her work desk, she was still processing so many perception-shifting experiences.

“The puzzle for me at the moment is trying to understand how religion, politics and history fit together in the Holy Land.

“Although we noticed the tense political and military situation, this didn’t distract from our pilgrimage, and our faith was the primary reason for our visit.

“Wherever we went, God opened opportunities for us to pray and worship. For example, we visited the Holy Sepulchre, which was absolutely heaving, but we crept all the way around the edge of the building and found a little cave off to the side, which was empty except for our group.

“Everywhere we went, space for our group just seemed to open up despite the crowds. They were like ‘God-opportunities’ for prayer.

“The impact of music and singing, both our own and those of other groups, was very powerful and really added to the sense of God’s presence.

“For me, perhaps the absolute high point was the whole group renewing our baptismal vows together in the River Jordan at Caesarea Philippi.”

Indeed, Caesarea Philippi is mentioned repeatedly by pilgrims as a particularly profound experience of God’s love.

Although it wasn’t the primary focus of the trip, how much of an impact did the political situation have? Bridget answers, “We expected to see tight security in Israel, but as our visit coincided with the Pope’s, we were taken aback by the sheer number of men with guns we saw.

“On the positive side, we saw lots of banners across streets, huge posters of Pope Francis and yellow and white papal flags everywhere.

“I was also surprised to see how young some of the people in uniform – men and women – doing their military service were. Some of them are only 18, and they carry their guns everywhere. They looked so young, if they were in the UK, I’d have assumed they were in the CCF!” (Combined Cadet Force)

The Revd Maureen Allchin, who lives in Bulkington and works in Interim Ministry across the Diocese, jointly led the pilgrimage along with Bishop Nicholas. An extraordinarily experienced pilgrimage leader, this was the sixtieth time she had visited the Holy Land, and the fortieth time she had led a pilgrimage. As her mobility is lessening, this was the last pilgrimage she will lead.

“This was a large pilgrimage in comparison with many, and also one where people got very visibly excited about the things they were seeing and learning about. They were excited both about the Biblical story and the unfolding of their understanding of the history and politics of the Holy Land. This was lovely to see.

“We visited lots of sites linked to the Biblical story – both Old and New Testaments. I always think it is a particular joy is to walk through the Old City of Jerusalem and visit the sites connected with Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection. The relatively unchanged area of the Galilee is also very rewarding.

“As others have mentioned, a very intense moment was when we went right up to the north of the country to one of the sources of the Jordan at Caesarea Philippi, where Peter first made his statement of faith in Christ, and renewed our own baptismal vows.

“Pilgrims engaged with the issues of the 21st Century Holy Land. They saw the security wall, alternatively called the apartheid wall, saw the settlements, and met with local people. We visited a school and orphanage for Palestinian children in Bethany.

“Bishop Nicholas celebrated and preached at the main English language Sunday morning service at St George’s Cathedral, which has a predominantly Palestinian congregation. This was poignant as the foundation stone for the Cathedral was laid by the Rt Revd John Wordsworth, then Bishop of Salisbury, in 1898.

“People go on pilgrimage because it brings alive the stories of their faith, and gives an opportunity to reflect on these stories in their own discipleship.

“I think it is also important to go on pilgrimage to engage with the Christian community of the contemporary Holy Land.

Nowadays, Christians make up only around 2% of the population of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, a huge depletion. Meeting them face to face is important so we can pray for them and therefore truly pray for the peace of Jerusalem with justice.”

Canon Thomas Woodhouse, Team Rector of Dorchester, was one of the pilgrimage leadership team. This was his third pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

“What struck me about this pilgrimage was the way the worship was a powerful expression of the pilgrimage. In different places, different pilgrims would read passages of Scripture associated with that place, then we would have a time of prayer and often sing a hymn.

“Like many others, I found the experience of Caeserea Philippi very powerful. All 64 pilgrims said their name and where they had been baptised, before renewing their baptismal vows in the Jordan. This had a very powerful effect.

“Another moment was when we were in the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, when we found a lovely quiet side chapel away from the madding crowds, and sang O Come All Ye Faithful together. This was a very holy moment.

“I would recommend all Christians to try and make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at least once in their lives. After one has been, one can never hear Scripture in quite the same way again. Sometimes months or even years later one notices changes in perspective on passages of Scripture that could only have happened during the Holy Land pilgrimage.”

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