This summer one of our full-time ordinands, Jill Gillanders, embarked on the 'Footsteps of Jesus' pilgrimage with St George's College in Jerusalem. Jill writes about her experience:
"I was very excited by the idea of visiting the Holy Land, being in places where Jesus had been, following the journey of his first disciples. What would it be like - walking along the road to Emmaus? I'd said this to a friend who said: 'Don't get too excited, there's probably a McDonald's at the end of it!'
I did see a McDonald's, on the road to Nazareth, but the pilgrimage was full of experiences that I was not prepared for and the Bible has taken on a whole new dimension. It's now possible to visualise the plains, hills and mountains of the Old and New Testament; feel the heat and vastness of the desert wilderness; picture the scenes by the Sea of Galilee; and so much more.
The 24 pilgrims met at a drinks reception in the College after Evening Prayer in the Cathedral chapel. Both are in the beautiful stone-walled campus of St George's in East Jerusalem, a few minutes’ walk from the Old City. The campus includes the residence and offices of the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem. It's a tranquil place to stay, and I really enjoyed the fact that we pilgrims were all eating, sleeping, worshipping, learning, socialising…together in this peaceful place. We spent a couple of nights in Nazareth when we went north to Galilee, but the rest of the time our base was here.
The pilgrimage was brilliantly led by Rev Dr Hector Patmore, a really inspiring person who lives with his young family on site; and Bishara Khoury, the Liaison/Logistics Officer who lives locally and is an enthusiastic Palestinian Arab Christian, passionate about the Gospel and longing for peace in Jerusalem. He has a broad network of contacts in both Israeli and Palestinian communities, and took time to explain to us the complexities of the political situation.
The group gelled well and supported each other throughout. It felt just like a pilgrimage should: journeying together physically and spiritually. It was very inclusive. Hector would invite different people to read Scripture for the meditations he led at the places we visited; we took turns in carrying a large wooden Cross on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem; we shared many meals and experiences. Two of the pilgrims were priests so it felt very special when they led a Eucharist at Emmaus and Nazareth, and the short service by the River Jordan where we renewed our baptismal vows.
Evenings were free, and a good time to explore the Old City, the different Quarters, the many street stalls, or sit by the Wailing Wall in the cool and quiet.
There was a lot to take in on the pilgrimage. It was a powerful experience which I hope will stay with me for ever. I would love to return to soak up some more. Meanwhile, Bishara asks us all to pray for peace there in Jerusalem."
Jill is in her final year of full-time contextual ordination training at the Mirfield Teaching Centre, spending half her week on placement at a parish in Middlesborough. She is working towards her Graduate Diploma in Theology, Ministry and Mission.