Pilgrimage - How to Have an 'Encounter with God'

Pilgrimage - How to Have an 'Encounter with God'

Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. Psalm 84:5

Bishops Barry Beisner and Greg Rickel celebrate mass at Christ Church, Nazareth.

By Paula Schaap, Communications Director

Reflections from some of the travelers recently returned from the 2017 Holy Land pilgrimage:

Donna Arellano, parishioner, St. Michael’s, Carmichael, on her first experience being on pilgrimage in the Holy Land: “In Capernaum, I sat on a wall of the ancient synagogue, where Jesus preached. By being present and quiet, I allowed the Holy Spirit in and I felt a melting into the moment, and that Jesus had been there."

The Rev. Maryly Adair, rector, St. Peter’s, Red Bluff, after returning from her first pilgrimage: “Every place we went, we started by praying, by having a reading from Scripture related to the place we were, and singing hymns. You have a sense of awe when you’re praying and singing—you enter that moment in a very profound way.”

Bishop Barry Beisner, on what it means to be a pilgrim: “These places can be powerful places of encounter with God. It’s a powerful moment when you walk the Via Dolorosa, getting to know Jesus better, and all of us together and each of us separately considering our commitment to Christ and our own discipleship.”


From left to right: Fred Reynolds, Donna Arellano, Bishop Barry Beisner, Hector Arellano and the Rev. Maryly Adair on pilgrimage in the Holy Land.

Such was the experience of these pilgrims who journeyed to the Holy Land from the diocese in January. Like any tourist in a foreign land there were moments to admire the beauty of their surroundings, to marvel at magnificent churches and ancient ruins and to learn more about the complexity of the political situation in the region.

And, for all those who went on this pilgrimage, there were also times of being closer to Jesus, as well as all the pilgrims who preceded them and those who are yet to come.

This year’s pilgrimage had 38 travelers, including two others from the diocese, Arellano’s husband Hector, and Fred Reynolds, also from St. Peter’s. Joining them were four bishops and two cathedral deans, from five Episcopal Church dioceses, plus a few from England and Wales.

Arellano said a visit to the Holy Land had been on her bucket list for more than 20 years. When Bishop Barry began leading them, she knew that was the way she wanted to go.

“But you can’t expect the emotional connection to the holy sites that happens once you get there,” she said.

Pilgrimage, Arellano discovered, “is worship. It’s connecting spiritually to where we are and what has happened in this place before—as opposed to only connecting intellectually, as might happen in a museum, for example.


Prayer service is held at the Church of Bethpage, Mount of Olives

One of Bishop Barry’s strongest memories from past pilgrimages is of descending a worn, stone stairway down to a chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, whose walls are filled with crosses etched into the stone—each cross left by a pilgrim.

“You feel like you’re surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” he said.

“You’re simply walking down a stairway, but each one of those crosses is a person making a journey, offering themselves to God,” he added.

Very real present-day events amidst so much history was another compelling part of the journey, Adair said.

“Whether we were in a holy site, whether we were talking about issues concerning Israel and the Palestinians,” she said. “Here we are in a holy place, but right there, we are driving through where houses are being demolished—so there’s a real sense of suffering.”

Adair recalled an evening when the pilgrims listened to a Jew and a Palestinian who had lost children in the ongoing conflict and are now part of a group of over 600 families seeking peace.

“There’s so much discouragement and cynicism, yet here are some of these groups that are developing and looking for different types of solutions than more violence,” she said.


The pilgrims visited the Creche ministry, Bethlehem.

It’s the wonders of the Holy Land, and the important work of the church in a terribly difficult situation, that draw Bishop Barry back each year. He also believes that the connection is so important to the church—and all the peoples of the region—that “it’s my fervent hope that every Christian who can make the pilgrimage will.”

“As American Christians we have an obligation to work for peace in that part of the world," he said. "And the Church there needs us and we need to foster that relationship."

In 2018, Bishop Barry and his wife, the Rev. Ann Hallisey are planning to lead a pilgrimage open to all in the diocese. Tentative dates are January 25-February 4, 2018. Space will be limited, so those who are interested should e-mail Sandra Littman at sandra@norcalepiscopal.org soon.

For information about the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem click here.

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