I'm taking a break from blogging for the next two weeks. Tomorrow morning I begin the long journey to Israel. A slightly adapted version of the letter I sent out to my parishioners (with an itinerary) is reprinted below. Prayers are much appreciated!
Dear People of God,
On Tuesday, October 14, I will meet a group of 20 clergy in Atlanta. Together we will fly to Tel Aviv to begin a two-week pilgrimage in the Holy Land.
Most of us are Episcopal priests, but there are also several Methodist pastors, a Disciples of Christ pastor, a Lutheran pastor, a Baptist pastor, and an Assemblies of God pastor. About half are women, two are African American, one is Korean, and two are Hispanic. And while most of us are from the south, one is from Washington State and another is from Minnesota. I feel humbled and blessed to be one of the 20 that were selected out of a pool of 97 applicants for this opportunity.The pilgrimage – officially called the 2008 Holy Land Pastoral Renewal Program – is sponsored by The School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee.
The Cousins Foundation (located in Atlanta) that is funding this pilgrimage has done the same for other pastors through other seminaries. If I remember correctly, the Foundation hopes to send as many as 10 groups of 20 pastors to the Holy Land per year. There are no strings attached. Tom Cousins (a Presbyterian) wants to provide this gift to pastors from all denominations for rest, community building, and spiritual renewal. In fact, we were told that if we did not take several naps while we were in the Holy Land, the Foundation would be disappointed!
We spend the first week in Galilee and the second week in Jerusalem. Our days are intentionally planned to maximize opportunities for rest, prayer and reflection. Along the way, we will see and learn about some of the most significant Christian (as well as other important) sites.
I have come to believe that the confluence of events putting me in this group for this pilgrimage at this particular time is providential. There really couldn't be a better time for me than now. I'm not sure what it all means, but I feel like this is a pivotal time in my life and that this trip - which at so many levels is a sheer gift – could be one of the most important chapters in my spiritual journey. For me, the bottom line is this: to simply see and be in the places where Jesus lived, taught, died, and was raised to new life. Wow!
We have been strongly encouraged to "leave home," meaning (among other things) resisting the temptation to call friends and family, or even use the internet to stay in touch via e-mail. It's amazing how much anxiety that creates. The very idea of even thinking about giving up phones and computers - how radical and unsettling! And yet, to really be on pilgrimage means letting go of direct contact with the outside world. It means trusting that important things will be handled by others and that loved ones will be okay. It means letting go and letting God.
Prayer will be the primary means by which we all stay connected. An itinerary of our pilgrimage is listed below. I will be so appreciative if you will print it out and keep me and the other pilgrims in your prayers on a daily basis. Please also keep Julie, Mary Emerson, and Hobson in your prayers. And know that I plan to keep you all in my prayers while traveling in the Holy Land.
It will be a joyful time when I return home from this journey and am reunited with friends and family. I'm sure I'll have many stories and photographs. I can't wait to share them.
The Rev. Bryan Owen, Ph.D.
Canon for Parish Ministry
St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral
SEWANEE PILGRIMAGE ITINERARY
HOLY LAND PASTORAL RENEWAL PROGRAM
OCTOBER 14-28, 2008
Oct. 14: Depart Atlanta 5:55 p.m. on Lufthansa flight LH 445.
Oct. 15: Change planes in Frankfurt and continue on to Israel. Arrive at Lod Airport 2:10 p.m. Drive directly to Galilee (Tiberias) and check into the Scots Hotel. The drive will take approximately two hours and a half.
Oct. 16: Morning excursion: Walk a trail to the top of the Cliff of Arbel for a panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee. Visible in the distance are the Plane of Gennesaret, Capernaum, Mount of Beatitudes and Tabgha. Descend the trail and drive to Capernaum.
Oct. 17: Morning excursion: Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha (traditional site of Jesus' appearance to the disciples while they were fishing: "cast your nets on the other side").
Oct. 18: Morning excursion: Drive through Galilee to Zipori (Sepphoris) and Nazareth. Return by a different route that offers a better view of Mount Tabor (traditional Mount of Transfiguration).
Oct. 19: Morning excursion: Boat ride across the Sea of Galilee and visit to other sites around the sea.
Oct. 20: Morning excursion: Drive north to Banias (Caesarea Philippi) and the foothills of Mount Hermon. Along the way, pass el-Qedah, site of ancient Hazor.
Oct. 21: No scheduled excursion. A day to rest, journal and reflect.
Oct. 22: Drive from Galilee to Jerusalem and check into the Notre Dame Hostel. The drive itself is approximately three hours, but there are two important places to visit along the way: Megiddo (Armageddon) and Caesarea Maritima.
Oct. 23: Morning excursion: Begin exploring Jerusalem, starting with a panoramic view of the Old City from the Mount of Olives. Continue on foot to the Garden of Gethsemane, Church of Saint Anne, Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Oct. 24: Morning excursion: Full day excursion to the Dead Sea (including Masada, Qumran and Jericho).
Oct. 25: Morning excursion: Bethlehem.
Oct. 26: Morning visit to the "Garden Tomb" followed by worship at St. George's Cathedral.
Oct. 27: No scheduled excursion. Last minute shopping and rest for the long flight home.
Oct. 28: Depart the hotel at approximately 1:30 a.m. for a 5:30 a.m. flight. Lufthansa flight LH 691 to Frankfurt; LH 444 on to Atlanta. Arrive in Atlanta 3:40 p.m.