Reflections on the Wey Valley Pilgrimage to the Holy Land May 2022
Twenty-six people, from various Circuit churches together with ecumenical friends, travelled to Israel on pilgrimage in May this year. Some of us had been to the Holy Land before, some were visiting for the first time. All of us went with differing expectations, all were open to the possibility and hope of meeting with Jesus in the places where he walked, lived, ministered and died. Every one of us returned with some memories of profound and significant experiences that have deepened our understanding of the gospel message.
All agreed that one of the most prayerful and spiritual places where we felt close to Jesus was on the shores of the Sea of Galilee as we shared Holy Communion. This was the site where the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples as they were fishing and cooked breakfast for them. Surrounded by the peace and tranquility of this holy place, we could imagine Jesus standing on this same beach, sharing a meal with his disciples as we were sharing bread and wine.
Although the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem were busy, crowded sites, there was still an overpowering sense of the continuing presence of God. 2000 years of worship and prayers of faithful Christians permeated the stones of these historic churches, and other beautiful churches we visited. The Garden of Gethsemane with its ancient olive trees, the Shepherds' Fields on the edge of Bethlehem, the High Priest's House where Jesus was brought before Caiphas – all these places and more brought Jesus' ministry to life as we read the relevant gospel passages and prayed together. Bassam, our Palestinian Christian guide, took us to look down on the ancient trackway in a deep gorge marking the way to Jerusalem from Jericho. The scenery seemed unchanged since Jesus' time. This might easily have been the road on which the Good Samaritan stopped to help the injured traveller.
There were many other aspects to this pilgrimage which impacted us and transformed our understanding of Jesus – too many to include here. One happy and lasting effect was the friendship we formed between us all, across ages, different churches and even denominations. If you do get the chance to hear any of the pilgrims speak about their pilgrimage, please do go and listen. It might prompt you to go on pilgrimage too!
Photos show – Manger Square Bethlehem and Baptism site, the River Jordan
Helen Belsham and Reverend Claire Hargreaves
Co-Leaders, Wey Valley Circuit Pilgrimage