Pilgrimage Reflection: The Lay of the Land

A view of the Old City from Mount Scopus (c) John Pearson

One of the main reasons I wanted to be a pilgrim in the Holy Land was to visit the various sites that are mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Gospels. And I wasn’t disappointed. Often beginning with a wake-up call at 5:00am and returning to our room around 8:30pm, we walked many miles each day (or rode a bus to various locations, where we did more walking) taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the Holy Land.

The Damascus Gate today (the “original” Roman gate can be seen below and behind the railing).

Arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, it was dark as we made it by bus to St. George’s Guest House in the West Bank of Jerusalem. It was an uphill drive, following a similar route the Romans would have taken, coming from the east coast. (When entering Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples would have climbed to the City from the west. See Marcus Borg’s book, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem). Jerusalem really is a city high on a hill – 2,000 feet above sea level with many surrounding hills and narrow valleys. Limestone rocks and cliffs abound. It is a forbidding land, nothing like “the land of milk and honey” I expected.

Day 1 started with Morning Prayer in the Chapel at St. George’s where we began to get acclimated to our new environs scripturally: Psalm 122 and Luke 13:34, and musically in four-part harmony: “Jerusalem, My Happy Home” to Land of Rest. We donned sunscreen, hats, scarves, and cameras to walk to the Damascus Gate and Salah Eldin Street to get the feel of the distance and view the wall of the Old City and how it had been built up from Roman (1st C) to Byzantine (4th C) to Crusader (11th C) times.

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Our Holy Land

The Old City viewed from Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives

From Monday, June 9th through Sunday, June 23rd my husband and I joined a group of pilgrims from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut to visit our Holy Land for the first time. I use the word “our” because it is a land that belongs to all of God’s people. While I have been home (a bit jet-lagged) for four days now, I am still coming to grips in my mind what I experienced and what I am going to do about it.

Walking the Via Dolorosa

My expectations were simple: I wanted to walk in the places where Jesus and other people from scripture had been. I wanted this to be something other than a vacation to another part of the world, especially since we’ve travelled so much abroad in recent years. My expectations were rewarded, but they were also challenged, enlightened, troubled, comforted, and so much more. I went as an American Christian from the Episcopal tradition who happens to be from Connecticut and is a Christian educator. I returned the same, but different; more cognizant of the rights I have as an American citizen and a person who can freely worship (as well as travel) anywhere I choose. Not so for most of the people who call Israel/Palestine home. Jerusalem could be called the “center of the universe” for many faith traditions. Whose land is it? It’s complicated.

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The Proper Age for a Declaration of Faith

As noted in a previous post, I have been discovering “treasures” buried in my personal “archives” (aka boxes in a storage unit) of Christian education materials. This posting comes from the September-October 1963 issue of Religious Education, an official publication of the Religious Education Association (REA) which continues in existence today. The particular issue was edited by Randolph C. Miller, once the Professor of Christian Education at the Divinity School of Yale University. He was a prolific author on his own in his day. The particular issue that I have is Volume LVIII, Number 5 that has a focus on the title of this post.

Much of the tension (beyond age) of when confirmation should occur was often related to when one could participate in Holy Eucharist. For many Christians during this time period, confirmation was seen as a “completion” of baptism and confirmation followed catechetical instruction the preceded one’s “first communion.” Today, in the Episcopal and Lutheran traditions, baptism is full initiation into Christ’s Body. This “symposium” of articles struggles with when the best “age” is for one to be confirmed.

The introduction states:

Increasingly the question is being asked about the proper age for a declaration of faith. Whether it is confirmation, believer’s baptism, profession of faith, or Bar Mitzvah, the problem of intelligent loyalty lies behind these inquiries. Is a person capable of making such as decision at the age of seven, or ten, or twelve, or fifteen, or eighteen? The answer one makes to this question depends on his view of the rite, ordinance, or sacrament and its implications. It is also determined by his interpretation of the psychology of growing up. Cultural expectations may play a part as well.

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The Privilege of Teaching

https://www.flickr.com/photos/x-ray_delta_one/5623111085

I admit, while I like to plan for the future, I also look to the past. Recently I have been cleaning out boxes that have been in storage; boxes full of papers and notes from conferences and classes of years gone by. The cartons have included books, mostly old titles regarding “Religious Education,” including a number written by Dora Chaplin, a woman who paved the way for many of us Christian educators.

Dr. Chaplin, who was educated in England, taught at General Seminary from 1953 until retiring in 1971. In 1964 she was named a full professor, the first woman to become a full professor at the Episcopal seminary. Before that she was affiliated with the National Council of the Episcopal Church. She died in 1990 at the age of 84 and was a well-known writer of articles on religion and spirituality as well as the author of several books, including ”The Privilege of Teaching” (Morehouse-Barlow, 1962) and ”Children and Religion” (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948). It is of this first book noted that I would like to share some “back to the future” insights.

Written more than fifty years ago, the content of her books exhibit the language of her time: masculine language for God, women as teachers, men as ordained, and Sunday School as a growing phenomena of the Church. While today is different: inclusive language for God, women in ordained leadership, and church attendance along with Sunday School participation declining, much of her theses can still apply to today. So here are some nuggets to ponder . . . remember this was published in 1962 . . .

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Benchmarks for Christians

From time to time the Forma Facebook Group has a post from someone (clergy, youth minister, Christian educator) who is asking if anyone has a “rubric” for what children should learn in each year of “Sunday School” (or whatever you call it). I don’t want to disparage anyone who asks such a question; we live in a culture of moving from one milestone to another and having to “prove ourselves” in our accomplishments – especially if you want to “move on” to the next step, phase, class, or even graduate with that degree. And often employment, promotion, or a raise is determined by our success. But honestly, this question drives me nuts.

For those of you who have known me for years, I get this sort of question all the time. What curriculum should we be using? What should we be teaching? What does the Church (in my case, the Episcopal Church) say we need to teach? To that I always answer, “There is no one answer. Tell me about your context.” What would Jesus say? “Love one another.”

I don’t want to rehash my mantra here. (I’m saving that for other subsequent posts in the coming weeks as I dig through old boxes of books, articles, and research papers written.) But I will share what I have learned in my 40 years of ministry – benchmarks don’t form disciples of Christ.

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