david GreenWhat the Rev. David Green, rector of St. Gabriel’s, Douglassville, finds exciting about the upcoming diocesan pilgrimage is that it might be messy.

“I’m really excited that this is not a top-down kind of a thing,” says Green, of the pilgrimage that was announced by Bishop Sean Rowe at diocesan convention and is coming together under the leadership of the Rev. Charles Cesaretti, a retired priest of the diocese and the Very Rev. Tony Pompa, dean of the Cathedral Church of the Nativity.

“It’s a bottom up thing,” Green says. “That’s probably a lot messier and a lot more amorphous, but I think it will work better than the opposite approach.”

Green is just one of a growing number of people in the diocese who have volunteered to help make the pilgrimage, which will culminate in the creation of a mission strategy to be presented at the next diocesan convention, a success.

The Rev. Canon Maria Tjeltveit, rector at Church of the Mediator, Allentown, also belongs to a growingMaria Tjeltveit2 team of diocesan clergy and lay leaders who are developing plans to make the pilgrimage a moving spiritual experience as well as an effective means of developing a mission strategy.

“Almost everywhere you turn in scripture you are confronted with those images of people moving to a new place and God moving with them,” says Tjeltveit, who will be contributing to and helping to curate a blog devoted to themes of pilgrimage with the Rev. Canon Anne Kitch, canon for ministry formation and transitions.

“Bishop Sean used the image of the Exodus, which was a journey from bondage to freedom,” she said of Rowe’s convention address. “In Jeremiah, Israel is called into exile. These kinds of stories can speak to people who are at very different places. Some people in our diocese may feel they are coming out of a period where they felt things were in bondage and they are now coming out. Others may be feeling that the mainline churches are going into exile because the culture around us is different.”

Pilgrimages, by definition, are times of change, and at diocesan convention, attendees were asked to name a few facets of diocesan life that needed changing. “Trust and openness were big,” says Judith Ferree, a member of Diocesan Council from St. James and St. George Church, Jermyn.

“The churches in the diocese are pretty scattered and … a lot of them do their own thing, so instead of one big diocese, there are just a lot of little churches that do their own thing,” Ferree says. “My hope is that we all get on the same page, figure out what we want to be as a diocese, get united on that front, and then be in a position to call a bishop who can help us get there.”

She is glad that Rowe did not recommend beginning the search for a new bishop immediately. “We have to do this before we can call any bishops or we will end up in the same boat that we were,” says Ferree, who says many church members, especially those in the northern part of the diocese, have long felt alienated from diocesan leadership.

“It’s going to take a while for people to start trusting the diocese again,” she says. “I think by being open and telling everybody what is going on, what’s happening, that is going to build trust. Once you include people in your circle, then they feel like they are a part of it.”

One idea to strengthen the relationships between congregations is a series of regional pilgrimages in which members of various congregations would walk to a common meeting place equidistant from their churches. Green and the Rev. Twila Smith, missioner at Mediator and priest-in-charge at Grace Church, Allentown are exploring this possibility. Smith has participated in many urban pilgrimages.

“That could be really different for people,” Tjeltveit says. “People hardly walk at all in our society. Pilgrimage is about moving; it’s about bodies.”

Green says that helping people to personalize the pilgrimage experience may be the key to the endeavor’s success. “I am on pilgrimage,” he says. “I am inviting my vestry and congregation to be on pilgrimage. So not only will the diocese have this new experience, but this congregation will too. As we personalize it and make it real in the regional context, I think it will be very powerful.”