Since 1989 my husband and I have led ten groups on religious tours, mostly to the Holy Land but also to Oberammergau, Italy, Greece and China. Almost 300 people from our congregation and neighboring churches have traveled with us. Pilgrimages are unlike any other travel experience, because you are there to deepen your faith and are carrying your mini-congregation with you to share that spiritual journey.
Listening to Isaiah’s prophecy in the pit of Caiaphas’ House; taking communion at the Garden Tomb; hiking to the summit of Mt. Sinai for sunrise; climbing the base of the 4,500 year old Great Pyramid of Giza; circling Jacob’s well in the Samaritan village of Sychar; standing beside the grotto to the Greek god Pan at Caesarea Philippi; and looking over the Holy City of Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives bonds us with those in our group at that particular time in an indescribable way! In addition to the months of preparation before departure and the lectures by guides at the sites, the very personal devotions offered by our pilgrims leave an indelible impression. We will always remember who gave the meditation on the Sea of Galilee or in the Moses Chapel at Mt. Tabor or on the precipice overlooking the Valley of the Shadow of Death on the Road to Jericho. The couple of weeks we are together are truly unforgettable, deeply spiritual and intimate.
But one of the most impactful aspects of these experiences is what happens for weeks, years, and even decades after we are back home. The connection we felt there is felt every time a scripture is read or a hymn is sung in worship that takes us back to that spot on the globe and that time in history that we experienced. We were there! It is real! I frequently look around during a worship service to see who in the sanctuary or Sunday School Class or Bible Study was with me when I was actually in the location referenced. The scriptures come to life with authenticity! They are no longer sentimental Bible stories we heard in Vacation Bible School or read to our children at bedtime. They are no longer imaginary or fictional. Being physically present on Mt. Zion where Jesus was imprisoned the night before his crucifixion or in Egypt where the Hebrew Children were enslaved before Moses led them to freedom or where Jesus told Peter that upon this rock he would build his church or where Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water and promised her “living water” makes our faith much more than theoretical.
Mustard plants bearing mustard seeds are on the roadsides where Jesus walked; thorns large enough to make a crown actually grow in the Mediterranean region; St. Peter’s fish are caught and eaten around the Sea of Galilee; and ancient olive trees that gave Christ a canopy as he sweated drops of blood before he was betrayed are painfully authentic. Pilgrimages have a lasting impact on our spiritual and social lives. We are connected not only to our Lord and Savior and to those who journeyed with us but to Christians across the centuries.
Eleanor and her husband, Bill, have planned and led multiple pilgrimage trips in their years at Sequoyah Hills Presbyterian Church, in Knoxville, TN. Now retired from full-time ministry, they recently led a group of 28 pilgrims to Egypt, Israel and Jordan in February of 2020. Faith Journeys wants to thank the Barrons for their commitment to teaching and learning through religious travel.