"Pilgrimage" means different things to different people.
Attempts to define pilgrimage are inevitably imprecise, but
the following thinking might be helpful, along with some more
precise structures offered later:
- Pilgrimage is a transformational journey, during which
significant change takes place.
- Pilgrimage often has a physical element, but is also cognitive
- Wesleyan pilgrimage is inclusive - there are ways in which it
can work for all.
- Pilgrimage may be seen as a search for God (or is God really
searching for us?)
- What makes a walk/holiday/event into a pilgrimage?
Preparation? Intentionality? At least some sense of intentionality
in the mind of the organiser, but not all participants have to buy
into every aspect in order for it to be pilgrimage.
- "Pilgrimage is far more than making a physical journey.
It is being prepared to allow that restlessness, which is in every
human soul, to entice us away from our security in search of
something deeper, a clearer vision of the God who calls us to his
service." (Canon Stephen Shipley).
'Mindfulness' and 'Mission' are "buzz" words in the current
climate - pilgrimage has something to offer to both, with the
potential to enhance our experience of God and our engagement with
- An intentional pilgrimage can be seen as a metaphor for life
and can help participants to reflect upon:
- Setting out:
departure/preparation/restlessness/striving for something more,
something deeper/conversion/birth and death/leaving places,
possessions and people behind…
- Travelling the pilgrim path: an outer and an
inner journey/companionship along the way (with present companions
but also with those who have trodden the path in the past and who
will do so in the future)/attentiveness - to nature, to companions,
to God/struggle/pleasure/sights and sounds/colour…
- The sacred centre: encounter with the
places/theophany/transfiguration/significance of place…
- Re-entry: transformation/self-awareness, how
have I changed?/what have I learned - about
myself/others/God/moving on/parting from new friends/descending the
mountain/ending one journey is starting another…
- A Dominican model offers another four-fold pattern which can be
applied to pilgrimage:
- Via positive
- Via negative
- Via creative
- Via transformative
In any pilgrimage the following may be true:
- Transformation takes place through walking, talking, mutual
support and care, shared food & drink, communal worship, prayer
- Pilgrimage offers a liminal space in which emotions may come to
the surface, inner soul-searching may be undertaken, pilgrims grow
in self-awareness, in awareness of others and of God.
- Carrying packs can lead to deeper reflection on "what are we
carrying?" in life.
- Visiting pilgrimage sites/touching the sacred may lead people
to confront their own faith/doubt. Sometimes it brings
disillusionment and the need to rebuild vision and discover new
- Encounter with other Christian traditions - whether ancient or
current - can lead to a re-examination of contextual theology and
- Journeying together - especially in the open air, provides a
neutral, non-threatening environment where questioners and seekers
may feel more comfortable than in a church setting.
- There is huge potential for Christian pilgrims to "bring a
friend" on such a venture and intentionally to create pilgrimage
with a relaxed missional element.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that pilgrimage is on the increase
across the British Methodist Connexion. If you have helpful
experiences or tips to add to these pages, please email email@example.com
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