Last Sunday evening, my Dearly Beloved and I conducted our last “Pilgrimage Service” at North Ringwood Uniting Church.
Well, when I say last, I mean the last for 2007. These services have been held on the third Sunday of every month throughout the course of this year, with the generous support and encouragement of our minister, the Rev. Dr. Ian Hickingbotham. We’ve also had the great good fortune of working with a terrific team of collaborators, without whom nothing would have been possible – thanks Pete, Liz, Murray, Anne, Nicola, and Barry!
My Dearly Beloved and I conceived the concept of the Pilgrimage Services in late 2006, when conversations with our fellow parishioners convinced us that there was a real desire among folk to have access to a service that was solely and exclusively about worship and worship styles. Not that this didn’t occur during the regular Sunday service – the Pilgrimage Services were conceived as an adjunct to, not a replacement for, the Sunday service – rather, the Sunday service had to meet a whole range of needs for a whole range of people. What we wanted – based on our perception of need – the Pilgrimage Service to do was focus on one aspect of the Sunday service: worship and worship style.
And what an amazing exploration and investigation it’s turned out to be. We have utilised a plethora of worship styles – Taize, meditation, labyrinth, agape, music, prayer – supported by multimedia, physical props, re-arranging the worship space, and often just silence and the sense of companionship. All of which has been truly wonderful, given the purpose of the Pilgrimage Services was to draw on the rich Christian traditions of worship to create a real sense of the presence of God through worship, prayer, and contemplation. And we wanted people to leave feeling they were taking that presence with them, and not leaving it behind in the worship space.
And I think our modest efforts have been successful. With the support of our minister, our team, and the folk who kept returning for each service, my Dearly Beloved and I have been able to facilitate our vision and provide for the need we perceived existed.
As I stated above, last week was the final Pilgrimage Service for the year. It was a low-key affair consisting of conversation interspersed by prayer, with shared stories about what we have to be thankful for over the course of the year (and, by extension, of our lives). In introducing the service, my Dearly Beloved made the apposite point that it is often out of suffering and hardship that conditions for which we should be thankful emerge. And this struck a real chord with the congregation, as the stories they shared so often reflected this point: how, at a particular point in time, a given situation appeared difficult or challenging; but that, with hindsight, they were able to see how that period was a necessary prelude to their present condition, for which they were thankful to God.
It was a humbling and privileged experience to participate in this process of shared stories. The comedian Billy Connelly once described the dynamic between himself and the audience as an exchange of his goodies for those of the audience, and I think this truly reflects what happened last Sunday evening – and, indeed, what has been happening throughout this whole process. It has been an exchange of gifts, and it is powerful and moving to contemplate that people have allowed us the honour of sharing gifts with them.
Well, that’s where we leave off for this year. Hopefully, next year will result in the Pilgrimage continuing. But even if it doesn’t, we feel we have been given something inestimably precious, and for that we are thankful.