It is almost two years since the idea was conceived of an MWiB pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine. The then president, Linda, had chosen “Pilgrims and companions” as her theme and I, newly out of executive office, was given the blessing of the other officers to begin an exploration of pilgrimage and how we, as a movement, could engage with it. That exploration has led me down some amazing paths, one of which is now filling my horizon, as tomorrow I leave home for Heathrow. There I will meet (all being well!) the 34 other pilgrims from all around the UK and we will fly to Tel-Aviv to spend 6 nights in Jerusalem, then 4 nights in Galilee. In all this we are in the capable hands of Rev. Elizabeth Rundle, who will, I know, be a wise and gracious chaplain. Elizabeth has been on many such visits and our itinerary is largely the product of her careful planning and previous experience. My role, as “organiser” will consist of a great deal of counting of heads, I suspect!
This will be my second visit. I will never forget my first glimpse of Jerusalem and am joyfully anticipating being there again and, somehow, absorbing the prayerful, consecrated air of this “thin place”. The name Jerusalem means “City of Peace”, yet, as we all know, it has been anything but that over its thousand year history and still today is the focus of bitter battles over land, property and the right to live there. Even in these past few weeks it has been the scene of more unrest.
Despite this, we are encouraged by Israelis and Palestinians alike to visit, to see for ourselves, to meet the people, to receive the legendary Middle Eastern hospitality and to encounter the history and the tragedy which is to be found at every turn in this “Land of the Holy One”. So we go, as pilgrims have gone for centuries, and join the psalmist in singing, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ … Pray for the peace of Jerusalem… peace be within your walls.” Jill