Your next spiritual journey?
Have you ever seen with your own eyes the sites of Bible stories? Have you travelled to connect with Church history? Or just got away from it all with other Christians? We asked Reform contributors to share their best experiences of Christian travel
When tourist becomes pilgrim
As I stood on the walls of Jerusalem and looked across the Kidron Valley towards the Mount of Olives, I saw the story of faith with new insight. I could see how close it was to the Judaean wilderness, and the cemetery that lies between them was a reminder that death had to be faced even by the Child of God. Jesus chose the way of death and demonstrated that faith is about trust in God, not doctrinal orthodoxy. That understanding turned the tourist into a pilgrim. The willingness to see with the openness of sight and mind and to be changed by what you see is at the core of pilgrimage. The tourist looks back with memories of places visited; the pilgrim looks forward and around and becomes excited at what new possibilities are waiting to be discovered. The willingness to think differently is required of those who would walk in the steps of Jesus.
David Grosch-Miller is Immediate-past Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly
The Christian tour I went on took me to several locations in northern Spain, all connected with the Camino del Santiago pilgrimage route. The locations are popular tourist destinations because of their spectacular natural surroundings, the beauty of their architecture and their history. I’d visited years before, but this time Christian heritage was uppermost in my mind and I saw everything afresh. Some of the history shamed me, some inspired me, as I looked at the ancient conflicts between Christianity and Islam portrayed through art. I recognised a danger of horrific religious conflict repeating itself in our age due to fear of ‘the other’. But the sense of peace and of the divine that I experienced during worship led by the Benedictine monks in the Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos will never leave me. It assured me of the ecumenical truth that we are ‘all one in Christ’, held together in God’s love.
Janet Tollington has recently retired as Tutor in Old Testament Studies at Westminster College, Cambridge
A plywood church
Last year, I toured the length and breadth of Britain, seeking out material for my book Tiny Churches. I took in hundreds of places of worship of all denominations and none, from a little wooden oratory in Cornwall to a tin chapel built by Italian prisoners of war in Orkney. However, the highlight for me was not a particularly fine piece of reticulated tracery or an exquisite reredos but a meeting I had with Father Stephen, an Antiochan Orthodox priest whose minuscule church is squeezed into his back garden in the village of Sutton, Norfolk. After showing me around St Fursey’s, his shed-sized basilica, he invited me into his home and began to cook. We then had a refreshingly honest and open conversation about things spiritual over a tasty vegan lunch. Ironically, for someone who had literally constructed his church from plywood, this thoughtful and caring clergyman turned out to be the living embodiment of the old truth that the church is not, in fact, the building but the people.
Dixe Wills is a travel writer. Tiny Churches was published by AA Publishing in 2016
This is an extract from the February 2017 edition of Reform.