"I'd just like to share a little bit about my pilgrimage to Israel," said Reverend Rich Simpson, rector of Saint Francis Episcopal Church in Holden, MA, and adjunct professor of theology at Assumption College. And for the next hour or so last April 25th, he did just that and more for a group of about forty interested people who'd turned out to hear the latest GIFT lecture* of the season.
Rich had traveled to Israel with a group of other Episcopal clergy and seminarians as well as his step-father, a Methodist minister, and his good friend, a UCC minister. All stayed at St. George's College, the headquarters for the Anglican/Episcopal communion in Israel, a presence in the Holy Land since the early 19th century. As he pointed out, St. George's Church looks as if it would be right at home in England's Lake District! It is, however, a parish in Jerusalem with Palestinian members as well as visitors from overseas. As such, its members and staff face some of the same difficulties as the rest of the Palestinian population; one staffer who lives less than three miles from the church has to deal with a two hour commute because of the security checkpoints.
A slideshow that allowed us to travel with Rich throughout Jerusalem from the markets to the Western Wall and then out of the city and up north to Galilee and eventually back to Jerusalem by way of the Dead Sea and the Via Dolorosa led to many questions. For Rich, who had traveled to Israel long ago as a college student, this trip opened many new ways of thinking about Jesus' country. As a young man, he'd been somewhat unsure of what he was seeing, and maintained a healthy skepticism about it all. Now, with experience, his return showed him the value of being in the place where Jesus had walked. Of course it's different, he said, but still, there's something about the physical places. And when you sit by the water at the Sea of Galilee, and watch the clouds and the small waves hitting the shore, you realize it can't be that different. This time he found his skepticism replaced by gratitude and joy. His presentation for us created that same sort of experience.
*GIFT (Growing In Faith Together) is a series of short lectures for adults on spiritual topics sponsored by the Religious of the Assumption and St. Peters-St. Andrews Church, under the auspices of The Assumption Center. The Assumption Center is a project of the U.S. Province of the Religious of the Assumption, undertaken as a way to mark and celebrate the canonization of our foundress, Marie Eugenie Milleret, in June 2007. It offers an educational outreach to the neighborhood ESL classes, tutoring sessions, programs for teens and adults and also serves as the headquarters of AMA, the Associate Missionaries of the Assumption, our lay volunteer organization.