Today’s blog post was written by the Rev. Amanda Stephenson, who lead a group from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, in High Point, NC on pilgrimage to Ireland and Scotland. The itinerary that was developed for them was new and custom designed to highlight the history, beauty and holiness of Celtic Christianity. Since their return, many other groups have selected and traveled on that very same itinerary! We thank Amanda for her powerful words and hope you enjoy learning more about her group’s pilgrimage experience.
Pilgrimage is unlike any other form of travel. It involves not only incredible sightseeing, but also deep introspection as connections are drawn between the past and present, between ourselves and our spiritual foremothers and fathers. To travel with the intention of spiritual growth is to find one’s place within a much greater story of faith.
In May of 2018 I had the incredible privilege of leading a group from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in High Point, NC to Ireland and Scotland. In the short span of ten days, we traversed the landscape of these two beautiful countries, all the while learning about the origins of Celtic Christianity. We spent time in the cities of Dublin, Belfast, and Edinburgh, but I think I speak for the group when I say that it was our time in the countryside and small towns that was so meaningful. We walked the ancient ruins of Glendalough, a 6th century monastic site founded by St. Kevin. We entered the ancient burial tomb at Newgrange. We learned about St. Patrick and celebrated Eucharist near his burial site at Down Cathedral. We traversed the Irish Sea to Scotland, where we spent time on the stunningly beautiful Isles of Mull and Iona. We prayed and celebrated Eucharist together on Iona, and then again on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Both of these are considered “thin places,” a sentiment that rang true in my own experience. We learned about St. Columba and St. Cuthbert, all while connecting our own Anglican Christianity to these first saints to spread the gospel in Ireland, Scotland, and England. We learned about Irish and Scottish history as we visited significant sites of conflict in Belfast, Stirling, and Edinburgh.
I can tell you all about what we did and how much fun we had doing it, but none of those stories would be able to fully capture what it was like to be there, journeying and learning with this wonderful group of people. We were blessed to have a fabulous tour guide and bus driver, both natives of Ireland and both willing to share their own experiences and stories with us. Our group bonded as we walked, hiked, chased after sheep and hairy coos, prayed, ate, marveled at the stunning landscape, and learned together. It was an absolutely wonderful experience that I will never forget, and for which I remain eternally grateful.