As I write that title, “Still on the pilgrim trail…” I realise that it means much more than my original intent – it is not just that I am about to write about pilgrimage again, but I have a deep sense that part of my heart is still in Israel/Palestine, just as part of it is in Lindisfarne, and in some other places too! In the months after we returned from eight years as mission partners in the South Caribbean I hated being asked the question “Have you settled down yet?” I had a strong sense that settling down was not what it was all about… being on the road is so important to us as Christian disciples.
I have spent the past two days at Cliff College, conferring with eight other folk about pilgrimage from a Methodist perspective. The consultation arose from conversations I have been having with Rev. Dr. Stephen Skuce in the Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network, and he and I facilitated the event between us (with DMLN kindly hosting it). It was a fascinating conversation as we shared our experiences of pilgrimage and our varied understandings of how our Wesleyan/Methodist heritage connects with the idea of a pilgrim people on the move. Although pilgrimage has not been a “traditional” Methodist activity over the years, we all found that in fact it connects very well, for movement is at the heart of our understanding of our church. We were not looking at developing exclusive, “Methodist pilgrimage” but rather asking ourselves what we can bring to the whole area of Christian pilgrimage and, in a sense, putting together a “Methodist apologetic” for the spiritual discipline of pilgrimage. The results of our conversations will be made widely available in due course and I hope very much that the conversation will continue – at every level in our churches and even wider than that. In one session we considered how pilgrimage can be both “mindfulness and mission” – I am convinced that it can.
Perhaps one of the important lessons of pilgrimage is that it can remind us that travelling is not always comfortable. In order to save money I had booked a cheap – but rather late – train home, so had nearly 4 hours at Sheffield station. The seat I chose in the waiting room was somewhat hard and cold, but it was next to an electrical socket, so I was able to write up the notes of our conference before catching my train, a real benefit. While I was thus occupied, Andrew was meeting with some of the first Syrian refugee families who arrived in Glasgow this week – their journey puts any discomforts of ours into perspective.
With thoughts of uncomfortable journeys in mind, I had to include this photo! Jill