By Jim Stanley
I have collected authentic Civil War artifacts since I was 12. I haven’t just read about muskets, bayonets, haversacks and wool kepis. I have handled them. I have felt their heft, admired their workmanship, and wondered at their scratchy, woolen texture. I have been to the places where they were used. There is something almost unspeakably moving about standing in the searing July heat in Gettysburg and marveling at how men did such a thing. Do that; drink it all in; and you will find it impossible not to feel a sense of awe, wonder and gratitude for those who lived and died at that time.
So what has this to do with the spiritual development of individual Christians and congregations? As Canon SuzeAnne Silla puts it, “It’s vital to each Christian in the Diocese of Northern Indiana to nurture their individual faith through reading the Bible, prayer, receiving communion and going deeper with Jesus. But when we do these things as a community, our own personal faith and experience become a part of and inform the whole.” Diocesan trips to the Holy Land in 2011 and 2013 have proven to be among the most effective tools in accomplishing this mission. 34 members of the diocese went on the first trip and 32 participated in the second.
Canon Silla suggests, “When you walk where Jesus walked or pray in a garden very much akin to what Gethsemane would have been like you find a deeper texture and connectedness to the Gospel.” One of the most powerful and transformative experiences for pilgrims was walking the way of the cross. Canon Silla says participants have the opportunity to carry a heavy cross – it takes three people to bear it – on part of the walk. There, and at most other places during the 10 day pilgrimage, Scripture is read. “The words of the Bible come to life in surprising, powerful new ways”, Canon Silla says. “We’re no longer reading about events of long ago. In a quite palpable way, we are experiencing those events and wondering together about what it must have been like.”
The word “together” is an incredibly important adjective where these trips are concerned. As with any tour group, there is camaraderie, laughter, fellowship and fun. But this is something more. Here, disciples of Jesus are able to almost immediately share their impressions, discoveries, hopes and experiences with other pilgrims. Two people may have very different emotions and feelings while walking in the Kidron Valley or praying at the Church of the Annunciation. When they can relate those thoughts and impressions to someone else – often someone from the same parish – there is not only a deepening of individual faith, there is a strengthening of congregational bonds.
Canon Silla has participated in nine trips to the Holy Land, including the two with the Diocese of Northern Indiana. Each of those trips, she says, has been with diocesan groups and in every single case, the experience has helped to build and strengthen congregations. Canon Silla hopes additional Holy Land pilgrimages happen for our diocese. She would particularly recommend that congregations try to plan such events, either as their own group or by partnering with another congregation from the diocese. Mother Susan Haynes of St. Paul’s Mishawaka and Deb Miller of Trinity Logansport have both expressed an interest in coordinating future trips. Individuals or congregations interested in organizing another Holy Land journey should contact Deb Miller by calling the church: 574-753-2733.