Tuesday 26 February: Day nine – back home

It’s 7.30am British time, that’s 9.30am Holy Land time, and I am reflecting that this is the latest I have been in bed for a very long time.  There was no need to be on board a coach at 8am this morning.  No wonderful breakfast looking out over the Sea of Galilee.  No new places to visit.

We are home.

The experience will be different for each of us and it will be easier for some of us than for others.   We each deal with things in different ways and have different things to go back to, but what will be common for us is that getting back into everyday life will be a challenge.

It will be so if we simply choose, or find that for whatever reason, we leave all that we have seen, heard and done in the Holy Land at the airport; it will be a challenge if we try to integrate it into how we see things now.

Last night sitting at home the family asked me how it had been.  What had we done – what had we seen – I suggested they read the blog!  But, what they really wanted to know was how it had really been for me.   What was the result of taking a week out of our corporate life.  What I was bringing back to them?   I showed them one of my favorite pictures: that of the sunrise yesterday morning over the Sea of Galilee.  It says so much to me about the wonder of the Sea of Galilee of the peace and calm and beauty of some parts of this complicated land and of the desolation and despair in other parts of it. But, beautiful photograph though it is, it could have been a sunrise over a sea anywhere.   It didn’t really tell them very much!

What we have seen will generate personal memories; give us pictures in our heads when we hear certain Gospel passages.  They will not be easy pictures to paint for others.  But, if our Pilgrimage is to be of lasting importance in our lives it needs somehow to be brought into how we live our lives now and in the future.

For us of us it may inform our preaching – I am sure that I will bore congregations with anecdotes for ages to come – for others of us it may deepen our spiritual lives, which may in turn, change the way in which we see and do things.  For yet others it may encourage us to want to be more active in supporting some of the projects that we visited or to work for peace and justice.

Who can tell?  What I do know and can tell, though, is that as we wash our clothes, unpack our presents and with them our memories, something will have changed in us all.

The experience of the last eight days has been extraordinary.   A group of 128 people came together.  Some knew each other but no one person knew everyone.  Some shared rooms with people they had hardly ever met before.  Most will have spoken to people whose experiences, even within a place the size of the Diocese, will have been completely different.   We were from urban, suburban and rural parishes, we reflected all the many diversities which make up Southwark Diocese and yet for the most part it all worked.  There were no big fallings out, no serious accidents.  No one got lost or left behind somewhere.  Three coach groups gelled and as they did so did the larger group.   God was at work in our hearts and minds. We were richly blessed in our time together, in the people we met and in the places we visited.  We knew that we were treading where Jesus trod and it will have changed us all.

Today, now, in front of my computer, I know that in spending the days we did in Jesus’ home we have found out more about the Faith, Hope Love which is ours in Christ Jesus – and which we now come home to share with those around us.

This will be the last entry on this blog, save for one.

Sometime soon, many of the Pilgrims will meet together again to reflect for one last time as a whole group on their time away.  When this happens their thoughts and reflections will be shared here with you so that you can complete the journey with us.

Thank you for being part of our Pilgrimage.

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Monday 25 February: Day Eight – Travelling Back

Charles Richardson proposes a vote of thanks to Bishop Christopher, Andrew Nunn and Rosemary Nutt on behalf of the Pilgrims

Charles Richardson proposes a vote of thanks to Bishop Christopher, Andrew Nunn and Rosemary Nutt on behalf of the Pilgrims

Leaving Caesarea we headed for lunch and ate our last meze salad.   This needed to be a quick meal, as we knew that checking in at the airport could take a long time.   So we ate breaded chicken with sesame seeds and chips following our meze.  Just before we left the restaurant Canon Charles Richardson, who had been the leader of the ‘Love’ coach, along with his Curate Revd Patrick Egglestone, gathered our attention so that he could thank Bishop Christopher and Andrew Nunn on behalf of all the Pilgrims. He also thanked Rosemary Nutt of McCabe’s who had travelled with us.

Bishop Christopher with our guides

Bishop Christopher with our guides

There was no time for dessert or coffee but there was time, as we boarded the coaches, for one last photo shoot of our guides with the Bishop.

Then it was off to the airport and gradually we were all able to get through security and check in.  As ever it proved to be complicated for some but we all made it in time for a last shop or drink before boarding the plane.

The flight back gave the Pilgrims a final opportunity to talk together with the person sitting next to them or as they wandered around the plane about the journey that they had shared and about what they were going to do when they got home.  Some, though, switched on the entertainment or read their books or slept as if there was no more to be said at this time.  It was as if after eight days a little bit of ‘alone’ time was necessary, even on a crowded plane.  Many had to head back to work on Tuesday and that was clearly going to be a bit of a shock.

The plane, too, provided one last chance to consider the diversity of the Holy Land as along with the Pilgrims it was filled with Jewish people, some of whom wore the garb of the Orthodox Jewish tradition and others of whom were clearly more secular.   There were too those who one presumed represented the Muslim faith and Hebrew and Arabic and many other languages as well as English were evident.

As people said goodbye when their baggage had appeared at the carousel, it was clear that many were sad to leave each other and that this experience – which for some would be once in a lifetime – had come to an end.

Then it was through customs and back into the hurly-burly of travel to London….

Monday 25 February: Day eight – Homeward Bound

Sunrise over Galilee

Sunrise over Galilee

Breakfast was a quieter affair than usual this morning as the Pilgrims had already left their bags outside of their rooms.  After they had eaten many went and found a quiet spot to gaze at the Sea of Galilee for the last time.  Some read the Scriptures, others simply sat and drank in the atmosphere.  It was a beautiful morning and we are sad to leave although many seem pleased to be heading back to loved ones.

The Bishop anoints a Pilgrim

The Bishop anoints a Pilgrim

With our suitcases all loaded into the buses we set off for our first stop at Caesarea.  Here on the beach just below the aqueduct the Pilgrims gathered around Bishop Christopher and the Dean for our final service.  During it, those who wished, could be anointed with the Oil of Gladness.  Before this we heard the reading from Acts of the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Bishop Christopher spoke to the Pilgrims about the spiritual significance of being anointed with oil as a sign of commissioning, of healing and of salvation.

Looking home across the Mediterranean

Looking home across the Mediterranean

Praying on the beach

Praying on the beach

The Pilgrims stood around Bishop Christopher and the Dean looking out on the Mediterranean.  Here we faced the direction in which the Gospel travelled.  The direction, in which, later today, we would also travel. Standing in this beautiful spot, full of such historical significance, we were aware that, as we travel, we take what we have experienced with us.  As we return to our more normal lives, to our family, friends and colleagues we know that we take with us new insights into the Gosepl message.  In being anointed we were commissioned to take the Good News of the Faith, Hope and Love that we find in Christ Jesus to those around us.  It is a challenge for us all.After the brief service some paddled and some simply looked out to sea – homeward.

Then it was back into the coach to the amphitheatre which is one of the most striking remains of Caseara which was founded, by Herod the Great, two thousand years ago.  This was a big Roman trading port and there is much left to excavate.  What can be seen today is a mere fraction of the great city that he built and it is likely that St Paul began some of his journies from here.

The Amphitheatre at Caesarea

The Amphitheatre at Caesarea

The Pilgrims had time to wander and then we invited to watch an audio visual presentation about Caserea and then to explore the great amphitheatre which would have been used for entertainment.  It has been renovated and is once again used as a venue for open air entertainment of all kinds.

The remains of Herod’s Palace are here too and we were guided around it.

This is our last stop.  Next will come lunch and then the airport.  Somehow it seems fitting that the last thing that we see has historical rather than Christian significance.  The two things are, of course, intertwined, as Christainity began to spread from this place as it did from Jerusalem.  But, sitting drinking a last cup of Arabic coffee writing this, it is clear that the transition back to South London and East Surrey will be harsh.  So,  a staging post such as this along the way -which helps us to think historically and not just spiritually – is perhaps a good thing.

For, as we journey inexorably back to our world from the world of Jesus we will each need to find our own frames of reference in order to process what we have experienced.  As people of faith we travel with Jesus each day and now, when we do this, we have some idea of the his trial context in which Jesus lived.  For the Pilgrims from Southwark Diocese the question must now, surely be, how this context will inform and transform the way we walk with Christ at home.

Sunday 24 February: Day Seven – Afternoon and Evening

Lunch was rather more like a traditional Sunday lunch than we might have imagined.  There was soup and roast meat.  But in between there was spaghetti Bolognese which was delicious and to follow there were light coconut macaroons.  It had the Sunday lunch kind of effect though where what you really want to do is go for a sleep.   But this was not to be!

The facade of the Basilica of the Annunciation

The facade of the Basilica of the Annunciation

Mary's stairs

Mary’s stairs

After lunch we moved back up the hill to the Basilica of the Annunciation.  This church is built over the site of what is reputed to be Mary’s home.  Here we got a real sense of what Mary’s life might have been like before it was turned upside down by her amazing news. For in the lower part of the church with its peaceful atmosphere is a small grotto.  Behind the altar to the right as you face it is a set of stairs and somehow it is possible to believe that Mary came up and down these stairs as she went about her daily life.

Images of Mary

Images of Mary

In the upper part of the church and in the courtyard as we went in we were able to see the many depictions of Mary from around the world.  These are extraordinary and it was really interesting to see which ones people preferred.  There were so many different ones!The facade of the church is quite plain really and very beautiful with many symbols up on it.

The Pilgrims and their guides

The Pilgrims and their guides

After we had been around the Basilica we all gathered together so that we might have photographs taken on the steps.   Faith, Hope and Love each had their photographs taken and we also managed to find enough space to squeeze everyone in for a large group photograph.  We are not sure that everybody will actually be visible, but we have tried!  The photographer (me!) repeatedly said that they should realise that if they couldn’t see my camera lens it wouldn’t be able to see them but who knows if it worked.  I do hope so!

Sadly, St Joseph’s church which is very near to the Basilica of the Annunciation was closed for renovation and so some we walked up the hill to see the site of Mary’s well.  Others walked back to the coaches and stopped on the way to buy some of the wonderful ground coffee we have been drinking which has cardamom in it.  Those who visited the site of the well commented that Mary had a long walk to get water! For, after her marriage, she and Jesus and the rest of the family would have lived near the site where St Joseph’s church was, which is practically next to the Basilica of Annunciation and the well is a good five minutes or so walk away up quite steep hills.

Icon at Mary's Well

Icon at Mary’s Well

The church over the well is also closed because it is a Sunday(!), but we were able to take some pictures through the gates and to think about one of the many interesting things which happen in the Holy Land.   You see Orthodox Christians believe that the site of the well is also the site of the Annunciation as they think that the angel appeared   to Mary at the well.   There is a beautiful mosaic outside on the wall to prove it!

Life here is full of differences.  This morning in church we were not in Lent, which seems a bit mad, I know, because we were in Lent when we were at the Cathedral last Monday night.   But here in the Diocese of Jerusalem the church can make a local choice as to whether the follow the dates for Easter from the Eastern or Western Church calendar.  In Jerusalem they were on the Western calendar in Nazareth where there are many Orthodox Christians they choose to be on the Eastern one.   Apparently Bishop Suheil simply has to remember where he is going when visiting his churches!

Nazareth is an interesting place, not simply because there are many Orthodox Christians there and the issues this causes about Easter but also because it is one of the cities in the Holy Land which has the greatest percentage of Christians.   Here they make up about 30% of the population in most other places they account for less than 2% of the population.   It seems that this city takes note of that because shops and schools and offices all close on Sunday even though Christians are not in the majority.  It is fascinating to see how the different communities here accommodate themselves to each other.  It is incredible too to think of the sprawling city which is Nazareth and to think that in Mary and Joseph’s time it would have been a village of about 250 people all of whom would have known each other and so somehow have been intimately involved in all that was happening in Mary and Joseph’s life.

After our visits we were pleased that the coaches came up the hill to the site of the well to meet us and we were able to tumble onto them for our last journey back to the hotel.  As we headed back we were very aware that this was to be the last time that we would gather together and reflect upon all that we had seen and heard.   We were tired – it has been a busy few days – and we knew that we needed to pack but somehow we wanted to share this last time together as Andrew Nunn led us in reflection and our final Compline.

Andrew said that it was funny how time runs on so quickly.  Do you remember, he asked, how when you were a child the holidays seemed to last forever?   Now, though, it seems an age since we were gathering at Heathrow. It is hardly possible that it was only the Sunday before last when we were packing.  It is wonderful, he said, how traveling has built relationships and friendships which will have an impact on the Diocese and our parishes.  Thank you for making the pilgrimage what it has been.

Andrew spoke of the wonderful privilege it had been to minister at Christ Church and there was a little hint of Pentecost about it with all of its wonder, chaos and hospitality. It was a real blessing to be there.  The congregation was saying that they have never known a group like ours go and join them and many said that they had never seen their church so full. It was a wonderful celebration of the Communion.

The Dean paid tribute to our less mobile pilgrims who had really worked hard to see the sights, dealt with lots of stairs, uneven surfaces and who put those who are more able to shame. A round of applause followed.

He went on to say that the lectionary provided us, this morning, with a real treat in giving us the Good Samaritan as this morning’s reading.  We had been on that road, even though it is now very different.  Hopefully none of us will ever read the Scriptures in the same way again. This has been a real glimpse of the world of the Scriptures for lots of us.

He then asked  the Pilgrims if they wanted to share any reflections.

One reflected that it is hard to put into words how wonderful it has been.  But it has been a  particular privilege to be able to put the scripture into a visual context.

Another thanked the leaders for their efforts, ‘I never thought that I would one day be here’, they said. ‘I’ve been waiting for this moment for my whole life’.

The Bishop said that he and Andrew had tried to avoid being like the two Ronnies. He said that they had been supported by a great team and a great common purpose, loving mutual concern and this had sustained the pilgrimage in a very special way. He thanked Rosemary from McCabe, who has been a class act and coped,in an effortless way,  with Southwark Diocese. He also thanked the others on the planning team: Mark Steadman, Mark Charlton and Wendy Robins.   He mentioned the blog which he described as ‘the mother of all blogs’ which he said will provide a lasting diary for all of us.

Andrew went on to thank the coach leaders who have done a marvellous job. It has been good to experience, as he and the Bishop have coach hopped, the different ways in which this has happened.

Another Pilgrim spoke about how we were the face of Christ and how she felt full of the love of God as a result of our time together.

Yet another said, ‘Thank you for inviting me here, when I was a little girl I read my bible and used to think these places are in heaven and it is wonderful to be here and experience it all’. Andrew reminded us that heaven can be found on earth and we’ve certainly experienced this.

The Bishop shows the way

The Bishop shows the way

He went on to outline the programme for our last day. Going to see Caesarea (not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi) on the Mediterranean coast. This is a New Testament place occurring in Acts and the stories of Paul’s arrest and trial. Then onto Jaffa for lunch and there we will remember Peter’s cloth and preaching.He went on to explain that when we had come here McCabe’s had provided chalices and patens for the group to ensure that we had enough.  These were hand-made by a potter in Jerusalem and dated.  McCabe’s have donated them to the Pilgrims in order that they might have them.

The Bishop draws a name

The Bishop draws a name

One lucky recipient

One lucky recipient

Those who were interested in having one of the chalices were asked to put their name into the upturned Bishop’s mitre.  Names would then be drawn for them.  Lots of people wanted them and so the Bishop and the Dean drew names from the mitre and five lucky people are to take them home! We hope that they will make a donation to the Bishop’s Lent Call.We said Night Prayer together and then the Pilgrims to the bar or to pack and go to bed.

Sunday 24 February: Day Seven – Our last full day

This morning we set off from the hotel to head for Nazareth where we were to worship with the local Anglican congregation of Christ Church.

Pilgrims entering the church at Cana

Pilgrims entering the church at Cana

Containers of water at Cana

Containers of water at Cana

On the way we stopped at the Church in Cana where we remembered Jesus’ first miracle.  The village of Cana was completely destroyed during the Jewish revolt in the first century so the church is unlikely to be on the site of the actual miracle but nonetheless hearing the story of the Wedding at Cana read in the courtyard made the account really come to life.  It was incredible to see the actual size of the containers of water that Jesus turned into wine.  They are enormous and the amount of wine would probably have kept the entire population of Cana in wine for years!  Our guide pointed out to us that it would have taken about half the number of guests at the wedding to move them!  He reckoned it would have taken about twenty men to shift it.  It was all rather different from the small jugs that I had always imagined.

We filled the church

We filled the church

In Nazareth it was quite a steep walk to the church and then up the stairs that finally led to it.  So, it was good that two of the three coaches arrived with time to spare as we made our way slowly there.  We were made very welcome by the Revd Emad Daibes and his parishioners.  It is quite a small church and so we rather filled it, the members of the congregation found some extra chairs so that we could sit.  Everyone seemed very happy to be together.  The service was bilingual with some things being read first in Arabic and then in English.  The hymns were sung bilingually as well with the Sanctus and the  Lord’s Prayer in Arabic.  It has to be said that the members of Christ Church English was much better than the Pilgrim’s Arabic.  Bishop Christopher preached and was then translated into Arabic by the local priest, he spoke of the importance of loving our neighbour.  He said that it was easy to see the diversity of our Pilgrims and that it is important that we learn together to live out in our lives what is in our hearts.   The sights and sounds of the Holy Land, with all its diversity will help us to do this.

After the service we were able to share coffee with those who had been there today and to learn a little more about life as a Christian in the Holy Land.   It was fascinating to hear people’s stories and to share the different ways in which we live out our faith in different contexts.

Bishop Christopher listens to Eleanor play Chopin

Bishop Christopher listens to Eleanor play Chopin

After the service Bishop Christopher spoke to the organist who had played so beautifully.  Eleanor is partially sighted and Jewish but plays for the services at Christ Church.   She said that she had a Jewish soul but not for this world; this time and this place.  It was she said, only when she played that she felt free.

She played a Chopin Nocturne after they had spoken and the music moved those who listened near to tears.

Lunch

Lunch

When we left the church we made our way a little down the hill to the Holy Land restaurant for Sunday Lunch, but hardly of the traditional British kind!

Saturday 23 February: Day Six (afternoon) – The Lake

A Jesus Boat on the Lake

A Jesus Boat on the Lake

The boats upon which we were to travel across the Lake to our hotel left from Nof Ginnosar, a kibbutz in the edge of the water.  Here they found the remains of a boat thought to be similar to the fishing boats which would have been used in Jesus time.  Somewhat larger replicas have been built for tourist and pilgrim groups to use on the Lake.  They have an engine too – which of course makes them rather different again!There is a museum at Nof Ginnosar too and some wonderful views of the Lake.  There’s also yet another shop in which those Pilgrims who had not yet bought enough gifts or reminders to take home could shop once again.  I am beginning to hope that people have extra expanding suitcases!

Just one or two people felt that they could not make it onto the boats or didn’t like sailing and they went of back to the hotel on the coach.

Pilgrims on the Hope boat

Pilgrims on the Hope boat

The Faith, Hope, Love coaches each had their own boats so that our Pilgrims were able to spend this special time with those whom they had come to know during our time together.  Our Guides gave us a brief explanation of where we were and what we would see.  Then  we were able to simply enjoy the wonderfully calm sea and the sun and breeze.  We were very fortunate because it had thundered and there had been rain earlier in the morning.  But the rain and come whilst we were driving to lunch and now the sun shone beautifully for our journey.The boats went off at slightly different times and so each groups of Pilgrims was alone in the Lake.  Each boat stopped as it reached the middle of the Lake.   The engines were cut and for a few moments we simply drifted in the middle of the Lake.  It was extraordinary.  The Sea of Galilee is a vast expanse of water and rifting there it was so easy to imagine the disciples fears when the storm raged.

We listened to the reading of the stilling of the storm from Mark 4 .  It was eerily evocative.  The silence that followed the reading was absolute.  All we could hear was the lapping of the waves.  Many were moved to tears.  The, after some minutes, those on the ‘Love’ boat, which I had joined, sang ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’.

Fishing

Fishing

As we arrived back at the hotel one of the fisherman cast his net to show us how the fishermen might have fished in Jesus’ time.  Sadly he didn’t catch anything but it was really good to see the nets and to imagine the disciples fishing.

The bishop swimming in the Sea of Galilee

The bishop swimming in the Sea of Galilee

We got back to the hotel in time for some brave souls, including Bishop Christopher, to swim in the Sea of Galilee and for others to swim in the swimming pool or have a rest.

It is good to be here in Galilee and to have a little more space and time to reflect upon what we have experienced and here everything feels so close to how it might have been in Jesus time.  The shore surrounding the Lake will have changed but the water has been a constant here which is very special.

At our meetings before the Pilgrimage the Bishop and the Dean suggested to the Pilgrims that they might like to keep a diary of all they have seen.  As we travel around many seem to be doing just that.  It will help them when they are back home to think back on all that they have seen and done and heard and to reflect upon it.

This blog has been, in effect, my diary and so I hope that you might indulge me here as I reflect a little.

This morning as I woke up I had two things going on in my head at once.  The first was an ear worm – you know those tunes that get into your head and keep going around.  This morning mine was from the service of Night Prayer ‘that you in steadfast love might keep….and Father what we ask be done, through Jesus Christ your only Son…’ and so on.  I love this piece of plainsong and so the words are well-known to me. But today, in this place they seemed especially alive and real.  There is a sense, for me, in which here, in the place of the outworkings of the Gospel stories, God’s love and protection seems very close and present.

The other thing that I couldn’t help but reflect upon was that being here is like being in a bubble.  Aside from hearing about what has happened with Oscar Pistorius I have no real idea about what has been happening in the world or even very much with my family and friends.  We are here and experiencing so much and it is hard to know how this will change me and the rest of those with whom I have travelled.  I have no idea how I shall explain this to those at home and this is the real challenge for all Pilgrims everywhere. How do we take all that we have seen with us back into our everyday lives, whatever that means? Perhaps as we move into our last complete day here we will be able to reflect a little more on these things.

The Dean speaking to the evening meeting

The Dean speaking to the evening meeting

That’s what the Dean has helped us to begin to do in the session each evening. He has a really brilliant relaxed way of drawing together all that we have seen and learned.  Tonight he began by recalling that he had seen some sights today – including the Bishop swimming in the Sea of Galilee. He was, said Andrew, the coolest bishop in the church as the sea was, reportedly very cold.He talked about how we had spent quite a bit of time today getting on and off the coach.  This, he said, reminded us that the area in which Jesus ministered was small. He said how encouraging this was to those who worked in parishes and who often felt that they should be  working  on a big scale.

He reminded us that  Jesus called twelve disciples and his ministry was like a rippling stone.  This was a really uplifting thought.  Jesus’ ministry was in a particular place with a particular people and yet it changed lives and the ripples continue to be felt now, as it had changed all of our lives too.

He said that our guides had been fantastic and recalled Rami talking to the Faith group  of Peter’s house as being domus ecclesia, a house church.  This ancient pattern of worship and christian community still endures as a fresh expression of church. But each of our places of worship are house churches in a way.  We come together in church as a family in the family house at the heart of the community and it doesn’t matter if our church is big or small this is what we are doing.  Capernaum is a wonderfully authentic place to go and be.  It is a place to be very close to Jesus.

The same is true, he said,  of the sea of Galilee for the water is the water, the hills are the hills. When we open our curtains in the morning the view we see was the view Jesus would have known, nothing much has changed. So, when we sometimes feel disconnection with faith and with the Lord we can recall walking in the places in which Jesus has walked. We can take away the powerful thing of looking at those things he looked at. Jesus was one with us in a particular place and this is that place. So we are in touch with him in that way in our present.

He went talked about tomorrow, Sunday, and preparing to visit Nazareth and Cana and to worship with the local Anglican community at Christ Church, Nazareth.

We then said Night Prayer together before going to bed.

Saturday 23 February: Day Six – The Sea of Galilee

Pilgrims sitting In the ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum

Pilgrims sitting In the ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum

It was cloudy this morning as we woke up and so we were a bit anxious about going on the boat.  But, full of hope, after our first night in our new ‘home’ and following breakfast we set off for the ruins of Capernaum and Jesus’ Galilean base.   The ruins of this Synagogue next to what is thought to have been Simon Peter’s house brings to life the meetings that might have been held here as Jesus taught his disciples and how people met there as the community grew after his death and resurrection.  As we sat in the ruins of the Synangogue and listened to the reading of the healing of the centurions servant we were powerfully reminded of the Jesus’ healing ministry in and around Capernaum.

The Octagon Church of the Beatitudes

The Octagon Church of the Beatitudes

From there it was off to the Mount of Beatitudes.  There is a really beautiful church commemorating the Sermon on the Mount and we pause to hear the powerful reading from Matthew’s Gospel.  Our Guide told us that this church is octagonal, symbolic of the eight beatitudes.  Purched, as it is, on the top of the Mount of the Beatitudes it helps us to imagine Jesus teaching his disciples in these high places.

The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha

The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha

We move on from there to Tabgha and the Church of the Multiplication (or the Church of the Loaves and Fishes).

Loaves and fishes mosaic under the altar

Loaves and fishes mosaic under the altar

The Nileometer

The Nileometer

This church has wonderful mosaics in the floor and under the altar is a depiction of the loaves and the fishes.    There are many wonderful things depicted in mosaic and the light streams in beautifully as we wander around this beautiful worship space.  One of the highlights is the Nileometer.

Fish swimming in ponds in the cloisters

Fish swimming in ponds in the cloisters

In the cloister or narthex of the church there are carp of all sizes and colours swimming in the ponds.  It is really beautiful to see them there constantly reminding us of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.Even though the church is quite busy there is a calm serenity and prayerfulness about the atmosphere inside.  It is easy to know that people have been praying on this spot for centuries.  It is so beautifully and graciously looked after by the German Benedictine Order who are its custodians that we feel welcomed and nourished by simply being there.

Bishop Christopher preaches at the Eucharist at Mensa Christi

Bishop Christopher preaches at the Eucharist at Mensa Christi

Pilgrims arrive for the Eucharist

Pilgrims arrive for the Eucharist

Dotted all around the grounds are altars at which pilgrim groups can celebrate the Eucharist, but today we did not stay there for a service but rather moved on the short distance to the church known as Mensa Christi.  Literally meaning The Table of Christ this church is built over the rock upon which Jesus is thought to have laid the food as he prepared to feed the disciples breakfast after they had been fishing on the Lake. Here at the amphitheatre we gather as Bishop Christopher presides and preaches. We listen to the story of Jesus telling Peter to feed his sheep and as we are near to the shore of the Sea of Galilee the poignancy of this reading is very real.  It feels as if we have gone back in time as the boats putter around the Lake and people fish.Bishop Christopher spoke of how the Gospels give us an incomplete picture of all that happened in Jesus’ ministry but that they give us all that is necessary.  For we, as his disciples, continue the story in our lives.  He reminded us that the Holy Land itself is often thought of as the fifth Gospel and that we are experiencing and learning about it here.

Bishop Christopher said that Peter’s encounter with the risen Lord at this place was a turning point for him and it can be for us too.  So many of the Pilgrims have been moved by what they have seen. Now is the time, like Peter, to leave the past behind and to face the future knowing that we are forgiven and renewed.

Jesus blessing Peter

Jesus blessing Peter

The sculpture of Jesus blessing Peter is remarkable.  Its delicate lines against the background of the trees and Lake portray a strength that is uplifting to see.

Lunch at St Peter’s Restaurant offers people the opportunity to eat a St Peter’s fish (it can be filleted for the fainter of heart). Then it is time for us to go sailing on the Sea of Galilee, sadly it is raining and we are hoping not to have our very own storm on the Sea!

Friday 22 February: Day Five (afternoon) – The Desert and the Sea

Well, to begin with it is really important that I correct an error in the blog for this morning.  You see, I was as sure as I could be that none of our Pilgrims had bought the clothing from the shop or fully immersed themselves in the River Jordan.  But, as is often the case, I was wrong.  So, apologies to the two, that I now know of, who used this special opportunity to immerse themselves in the river in which Jesus was baptised. It is of course possible that there were more of our Pilgrims who did this too.  I’ll let you know when they tell me!

Our lunch over we boarded our coaches again and headed out across the Jordan Valley and gradually make our way north up to the Sea of Galilee and to Tiberius.

The oldest sycamore tree in Jericho which is known as Zaccheaus' tree

The oldest sycamore tree in Jericho which is known as Zaccheaus’ tree

On the way we made a couple of stops and were pleased to see the oldest sycamore tree in Jericho, which is known as Zaccheus’ tree.  Our Guides tell us that it is clearly not the tree that Zaccheus climbed as no sycamore tree would have still been alive after two thousand years, but it was good to see nonetheless.

Jericho is reputed to be the oldest city of the world but it is in need of a great deal of love and attention because it has suffered a great deal during the troubles and wars that have afflicted this part of the world for so long.  There are some new build houses which belong to Israeli people as Jericho is a popular winter destination.  But, sadly, though some shops are re-opening and life is returning to the city, it needs a great deal of help and assistance.  Many NGOs are involved in helping to rebuild the infrastructure, this vibrant town needs a lot of building work.

The Monastery and cable cars

The Monastery and cable cars

Leaving Jericho we proceed on through the desert and stop to look at another monastery which seems to cling to the mountainside on the Mount of Temptation.  It is really extraordinary to see the monastery alongside the newly built cable car station.  The cable cars take people from Jericho to as far up the Mount of Temptation as they are allowed to go and they seem to move at a great pace.  The old and the new really seem to come together here again.But our attention is soon drawn to the young camel which is in the field just below us and then to a camel even nearer: the traders have a camel just by where the coaches stop and soon our Pilgrims are paying their three dollars and getting on.

The stifled screams as the camel rose and after the short walk knelt down to allow people to get off, helped those of us who were not brave enough to try the ride to realise that it was quite an adventure, even if a brief one.  One of our Pilgrims had obviously had some experience on a camel as she seemed to manage the up and down rather more easily than others.

The Bishop blesses the Pilgrims

The Bishop blesses the Pilgrims

Bishop Christopher began to look eagerly for his chance to join the Pilgrim camel riders and was soon to be seen climbing aboard.  He even managed to bless us all as he returned and so all was well as he climbed off safely. The Dean, alas, was not as brave!Back on board our coaches we set off in the rest of the journey to our hotel in Tiberius.  Many of the Pilgrims fall asleep as we are driven up the country.  It is good to have the opportunity to rest on board the coaches as it has been a very busy few days in Jerusalem.

The Ron Beach Hotel is right on the Sea of Galillee and when it is calm enough it is possible to swim in the Sea from the Hotel. But it was very rough tonight and so a few brave Pilgrims plunged into the swimming pool instead.  I should tell you that it is not heated and is frankly beyond the euphemistic word ‘bracing’!  Once in, though, people seemed to enjoy the swin as it was refreshing and a wonderfully different form of exercise after all the walking.

All of our rooms have sea views and people who had not braved the pool could be seen on their balconies looking out over the water.   Tomorrow we will be going on the Sea as we journey back from Nof Ginosar.  Many of us are hoping that it will not be as rough as it seems tonight.

We have all been pleased for the chance to relax and reflect upon all that we have seen and to look forward to the sites that we shall see in the next few days.

Pilgrims meet to reflect on their experiences and share in night prayer.

Pilgrims meet to reflect on their experiences and share in night prayer.

The meeting room here at Ron Beach is rather crowded.  In fact it seems that the hotel have had to buy in some extra chairs so that we can all get into the room and sit down.  The hotel has been really helpful since we have arrived.  During the service of Thanksgiving for our Baptism the Bishop, the Dean and Mark Steadman, the Bishop’s Chaplain, got their albs splashed with mud.  Special River Jordan mud, but not what you really want on an alb.  We arrived after 4pm and the albs were back laundered and pressed by 7pm.  Thank you to the hotel.The Dean helped us to think about all we have done today and also what we did yesterday as we had not had the time to reflect upon it last night because of the party.    He remarked that it is sometimes hard to remember what we had done this morning, let alone, yesterday because our days are so full.  But he spoke of the Stations of the Cross and how sensitively our group leaders had led them.

He spoke of Egeria, about whose pilgrimage the Bishop has been rereading, since he has been here.  Andrew reminded us that people, such as Egeria, have been following in the footsteps of Jesus for centuries.

He also recalled Namaan and how he had had his leprosy cured by going to the River Jordan despite the fact that he thought that he had better rivers near where he lived.  As he said the Jordan isn’t the most prepossessing of rivers but it is such a holy place because of all that has happened there.

Andrew Nunn said that he, too, had been happy to have the opportunity to sleep on the coach as Pilgrimage is tiring. Nonetheless, he went on to talk about the day tomorrow which he described as being on and off the coach because places are near but nonetheless but just too far to walk between.  Tomorrow we go to the Mount of the Beatitudes, Tagbha and Mensa Christi and Capernaum, before getting on the boat to return to our hotel.

There is so much to do, see and think about here that it is clear that one could spend a year here and still not have seen and done and thought about everything.  There is such richness in this troubled region that it will take us a long time to process all that we have done (and I imagine that many of us will wish to come back again and stay for longer!).

So, tired but content it’s off to bed.

Friday 22 February: Day Five – Off to Galilee

The Reception area of the Golden Walls hotel was a hive of activity well before 8am this morning as Pilgrims and their bags headed for the coaches.  Each person was asked to identify their bag before it went onto the coach in an attempt to ensure that we did not leave any behind.  The Hope coach set  off first and we headed into the desert for the first time on our Pilgrimage.

After breakfast we said goodbye to the people at the Golden Walls Hotel who had looked after us so well and set off for Galilee travelling through the Jordan Valley.   As we did so, having said Morning Prayer on our coaches, we looked out of the windows across the desert and got a real sense of the place in which Jesus’ prepared for his ministry. We are heading for the towns and villages in which much of Jesus’ ministry took place.  The heat and the dryness of the desert and the vast emptiness is extraordinary.   It is such a contrast to the built up noisy bustle of Jerusalem.

The coaches are quiet this morning.   People are tired and perhaps a little reflective as we have experienced so much in the past few days.  There have been so many sights and sounds, smells and flavours that it is hard to believe that we have only been here for three complete days.  The pace of the Pilgrimage will change a bit now as the distances between the holy places we will visit are farther apart from each other.

And so, we leave the relatively green city of Jerusalem and head into the desert. We pass Bedouin encampments and our guide makes us laugh by pointing out the satellite dishes on the tents.  We are all sure that they wouldn’t have been there when Jesus travelled through the desert.

The road is very steep and it must be a real challenge to the driver to negotiate them in such a big coach.  I’m pleased it is him and not me doing it!

St George's Monastery embedded in the rock of the Judaean desert

St George’s Monastery embedded in the rock of the Judaean desert

Pilgrims in the desert

Pilgrims in the desert

We stop about halfway through our journey at Wadi Qelt and look down over the monastery of St George which is nestled right into the rocks in the desert itself.   It must be a very isolated life to be a monk there.  There is no time for us to visit the monastery but it is good to be out of the coach, to have the time to be in the desert and to look out over the place where men have prayed for so many years.  This is a Greek Orthodox Monastery and it is situated in the desert because here it is easier to pray without the distractions and temptations of the world.  Just as John the Baptist began his ministry after spending time in the wilderness echoing the passage from Isaiah  ‘One cries from the Wilderness make straight the way of the Lord’ and  Jesus prepared himself in the desert for what was to come, so monks throughout the ages have prayed in this remote place.  They give to the world their prayers and insights as they share what they have learned of God in this remote place.

We are joined by new friends

We are joined by new friends

As we get out of our coaches the traders and the donkeys arrive.   This is a place where many tourists stop to look at the monastery and so they know that they may be able to sell their wares.   Some buy gifts, others stroke the donkeys and then it is time for us to climb back onto our coaches – making sure that we do not leave anyone behind – and head for the River Jordan.

We are very fortunate because it is only in the last year or so that the Baptismal site at the Jordan has been permanently open.  There is a new visitors centre and shop where you can buy clothes in which to be baptised.  None of our Pilgrims were to be baptised but we were all to have the chance to renew our Baptismal vows.

Bishop Christopher preaching by the River Jordan

Bishop Christopher preaching by the River Jordan

The River is surprisingly narrow but the new complex gives a place for Pilgrim groups to sit or stand to worship and give thanks.  We were very fortunate to get a corner space which allowed us to feel close together.  Bishop Christopher led us as we sang and prayed.   He reminded us that many of us might not remember being baptised as we were baptised as children.  He said, baptism is so important that we are only baptised once, however, we can renew our baptismal vows regularly and many do at Eastertide.  The Bishop reminded us that, like John the Baptist we need to point the way to the one whom we follow.

It is really good to be able to remember Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan and God’s words, ‘This is my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased’, as we renew our baptismal vows in this holy spot.   Somehow just being here reminds us that God is ‘well pleased’ with us, God’s children, too.

As we renew our baptism vows. others across the River Jordan - actually in Jordan - are baptised

As we renew our baptism vows. others across the River Jordan – actually in Jordan – are baptised

In many ways it is possible to imagine that the river Jordan with its bulrushes and muddy looking water is just as it was in Jesus’ time.  Well, at least, it’s possible to imagine that until you look up and are aware of the buildings on the other side of the River.   Where we are the River is so narrow that it feels as if we could touch the other bank and yet we know that this is now another country.   Just over from where we stand is Jordan.

Pilgrims from St Mary's Lewisham paddle in the Jordan

Pilgrims from St Mary’s Lewisham paddle in the Jordan

None of our Pilgrims go into the River completely but once our service is over many take the time to paddle in the River and some even collect some of the water from the Jordan.  Both the Bishop and the Dean had warned people about how slippery the boards over the bed of the river are and fortunately the Pilgrims listen and no one falls in! After a few minutes of shopping and buying drinks and the inevitable use of the toilets we get back onto our coaches and head to Jericho where we will have lunch.   We have a few minutes before we need to arrive at the restaurant and so we stop at a shop where we can buy Hebron glass and pottery and the best dates that many of us have ever tasted.

For lunch in Jericho we are fortunate that it is warm enough for us to be able to sit outside and look out across the desert.

Thursday 21 February: Day Four – Evening

It is hard to believe, I must say, but the Pilgrims are dancing, not just a few and not just a bit but many of them are dancing to Arab music which seems to have turned the dining room slightly mad!  Our evening meal began with the servers bringing in trays of food with lighted fireworks.  Now there is dancing and we are being treated to a real taste of how  the Middle East likes to party.

Bishop Christopher dances with the Pilgrims

Bishop Christopher dances with the Pilgrims

...and so does the Dean!

…and so does the Dean!

You will tell from this that I am not a party animal at all but clearly many of our Pilgrims are and they are enjoying themselves very much.  Both the Dean and the Bishop have joined in!  It is good to see people relax and enjoy themselves after the rigours of the day.There was no meeting tonight to discuss what we had seen and done.  People have been talking to each other about how they are feeling and the experience of walking the Stations of the Cross.

Tomorrow we leave Jerusalem and travel to Galilee to explore more of the places where Jesus and his followers spent their time.  It will be another busy day but for some of this time we will be on a coach and can sleep.

It will be exciting to see another place and to travel through the desert to that great Lake where Jesus lived and shared what he knew with those who came to believe in him.