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March 2018

Holyford Mission Community Pilgrimage to the Holy Land 2018

On Tuesday 30th January in the icy cold of the early morning twenty hardy pilgrims left Colyton square heading for Heathrow airport.   On Friday 9th February those same twenty pilgrims returned to Colyton, to be met by the torrential rain of a winter’s night.  In between, we experienced a warm, sunny journey that took us to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Masada, Bethany, Jericho, Tiberias, Nazareth, Capernaum, the River Jordan, Cana, Mount Tabor, the Mount of Beatitudes and Caesarea.  Accompanied by our ever-patient driver Hassan, and our wonderful guide Samer, whose knowledge of history, archaeology, religion, art, botany, politics and culture was profound, yet shared with such humility, we were generously fed. We visited plenty of ancient stones but drew our greatest inspiration and learning from the living ones – the people who faithfully live out what they believe in the most difficult circumstances. We heard stories of pain and loss, light and hope, and of remarkable co-operation between those of all faiths and none. Such a journey will take time for us to process, and in time we will share our stories and photographs. For now, here are a few first impressions from our intrepid travellers:

A land of contrast and contradiction and blessing.

Old stone, repurposed so many times; history sits in thick layers, yet the light over the water is unchanged, the green of spring just as fresh. Perhaps the old stones matter less than the living stones – those who we met, we who are changed.

No wonder the Lord of all creation was raised in the beautiful land of Galilee, though amid so many human tensions, and chose the shores of the lake for so much of his ministry.

I enjoyed the singing: the Peruvian Gloria in St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem, and then again at the Sea of Galilee; singing heartily in St George’s, remembering the harmony to ‘Just as I am’; the exquisite acoustic of St Anne’s in Jerusalem;

hearing other groups around us with their chants and hymns, some very different from our sacred music.

Jerusalem: beautiful in an unbeautiful way.

Gethsemane: the feeling of Christ among the ancient olive trees.

Tabgha: a moving, relevant, Eucharist over-looking the Sea of Galilee.

Tiberias: saying prayers in the early morning on my balcony.  As I read the phrase, ‘Christ as a light’, so the sun appeared over the hills opposite.  What an amazing feeling and a great way to finish a wonderful pilgrimage.

Inspiring, thoughtful, provoking, insightful….and just the start of our journey.

Finally, some words from our guide Samer, which we found helpful on our pilgrimage, and will carry with us into the future:

‘In this world, there is no black or white, only grey.’ 

And, his oft-repeated injunction to us in Arabic to walk ‘shway, shway’ (slowly, slowly), encouraging us to move more slowly through this world, lest we miss signs of God’s glory in beauty, creation and the faces of our neighbours.


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