In each of us dwells a wanderer, a gypsy, a pilgrim.
The purpose here is to call forth that spirit.
What matters most on your journey is how deeply you see, how attentively you hear,
how richly the encounters are felt in your heart and soul.
~Phil Cousineau, “The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred.
Two weeks into my second pilgrimage to Wales I experienced an internal resistance to posting the daily details of my travel abroad. Something about the public rumination and celebration of my quest to develop partnership relationships with the Unitarians of Wales seemed incongruent to the nature of a pilgrimage. Yet, as a representative of Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council finding a way to talk about and share stories of transformation was fundamental to the nature of building partnership. About week four, as I tried to write poetry and prose, I kept rturning to the feeling that I was telling stories out of turn.
The Welsh had welcomed me into their chapels and homes. I had listened to their stories of love and joy, sorrow and regret. I called for tea. I sat in their meetings. We connected through our shared faith. I planted partnership seeds. We imagined connections to congregations across the sea.
In the village people knew my activity. They attended to my day. I was part of the local chatter. Some call it gossip, but I learned, it was an important way a community cares for its own. It was how they welcomed me into the fold.
Wales was no longer just a destination point in my sabbatical journey. I cared about their stories and their lives. I knew who was dying. I worried about who would be gone when I returned. I worried with them about the future of their small chapels.
I may have Welsh ancestry, but in Wales, I am a guest. Still, having taken up service and envisioned together a future, I was more than a passing stranger. As such talking about the Welsh –my friends, my colleagues and my fellow Unitarians—as a moment in time or as an interaction along the way seemed impertinent and irreverent.
I am a minister. Everyday that I engage my ministry, I hold space for the stories of peoples’ lives to be shared in confidential circles of love and respect. Equally, as a relational minister, I have spent years developing, promoting, and celebrating the work of connecting people across their differences in authentic meaningful relationships. No one was more surprised than me by the transformation I experienced in the simple, yet profound, act of deeply connecting to a country, its people and a shared faith story.
What then is different? The answer is revealed in the nature of pilgrimage. It is in the pilgrim’s journey of risk and renewal and the movement from mindless to mindful, soulless to soulful that everything changes. (P. Cousineau) My sabbatical pilgrimage and partnership ministry with the Welsh Unitarians was fertile ground for risk and renewal. The holy ground I traversed opened my heart and soul up to intentional ministry in a whole new way. In Wales, in the work of Partner church, I found myself standing heart wide open in my sacred center and blessed by the journey to mindful and soulful living via the transformative power of relationships.
I answered the call to partnership work. As a pilgrim, I walked a winding revealing road toward an inner revelation. The unexpected grace was to arrive re-invigorated in my passion to a people so precious and kind, a country so lush and green, a culture so textured and alive, and a faith so joyful and bold.
I arrived back in the States on July 23rd, transformed, inspired and ready to continue the work of building partnerships with the Unitarians in Wales. It will be an honor and a privilege to be a part of bringing their religious traditions, accumulated wisdom and stories of resilience and perseverance to the Unitarian Universalists of North America.
This article was published in the UU Partner Church News. Autumn 2015. Vol. 22 No. 2. Page 7,9.