May 2010 - Joint Pilgrimage to The Holy Land with St Benet's Kentish Town and All Hallows Gospel Oak

In May 2010 the three parishes joined forces to undertake a ten-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Here Jenny Kauntze and Jonathan Williams share their experiences and thoughts.




Jenny writes:



 The idea for our bold venture to the Holy Land was sprung upon the unsuspecting congregations of All Hallows, St. Benet's and St. Mary Brookfield about two years ago.  All that we potential pilgrims were required to do was express an interest in the plan: get some April/May 2010 dates in the diary: start saving: and begin to worry about who was to look after our families and dependant animals.  Simple!  But what about our Clergy?  In addition to the above concerns (which in Fr. Guy's case included the nomination of a keyholder to Bertie's food cupboard) our trio of Vicars had to find cover for all the Sunday and other services, meetings, and myriad responsibilities that their calling requires.  There was also the Service Sheet to prepare: a single document containing the words for each of the Masses to be celebrated in the Holy Land.

 We know not how many hours went into the decision-making process of 'which Priest would be responsible for what' in terms of spiritual and practical back-up, but I suspect that the Cameron-Clegg coalition took longer to sort.  Our result saw Fr. Guy as leader/co-ordinator/ and general 'fixer': Fr. David as orator and gentle remembrancer of the spiritual pupose of our journey: and Fr. Richard - possibly for putting his hand up at the wrong moment - singled out to carry a large amount of assorted Pounds, Dollars and Shekels in order to save the rest of us from that difficult bit in foreign travel - the mysteries of Tipping.  Fr. Guy set up a seperate bank account so that we could 'save while we waited', and kept us up to date on the the deadlines required by McCabe's, the specialist Pilgrimage travel agents.  I am sure that he fielded many a query during the run-up to departure, but finally the big day came and we were whisked to Luton Airport in comfort.  

Escorted to a special area staffed by a formidable array of black-suited personnel, our leader was first-up for interrogation at the El-Al check-in desk. The rest of us followed in due course and were allowed a short break in duty-free.  'Short' has a number of interpretations of course, so it was 'out with the worry beads' while some of us watched anxiously for stray pilgrims. While we waited to board our flight a thoughtful airport manager (or was this Fr. Guy again?) had laid on a free 'sniffer-dog at work'  demonstration to keep our minds off the delay.  The flight, too had its entertaining moments, but perhaps this is not the place to elaborate.   

Someone has commented that a Pilgrimage is the only form of travel where no-one complains!  In our case, the arrangements were faultless so there was nothing to complain about.  Once ensconced in our Jerusalem Hotel (and later at Tiberius on the Sea of Gallilee) we had no doubt that a word to Fr. Guy would resolve any problem. In Jerusalem we were joined by Sam, our Palestinian Anglican guide, top-rated by McCabe's representative in Israel - and no wonder!  Our 'voyage of discovery' was under way.   

Nine days later, and back at Tel Aviv airport it was sad to say goodbye to Sam who had shared his knowledge of the Holy Land with us and had guided us so well.  Once again we faced the formidable Israeli security system. Sam had taught us the word 'Yalla' which I think means 'off we go', or 'lets get moving'.  There was little sign of 'Yalla' as we waited for clearance!  Back at Heathrow our coach was waiting to bring us home, and family and friends (plus Greyhound Sunshine) to meet us at St. Mary's.  

We have had time  to reflect on our visit to the Holy Land:  a wonderful experience, made all the more memorable because it was under-pinned by careful, caring, but unobtrusive, administration.  For this, and for much else, our thanks go to our leader, Fr. Guy and to his 'coalitionists', Fr. David and Fr. Richard. 




Jonathan writes:

I'm starting to write this four days after returning from the joint St Mary's, St Benet's and All Hallows pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and I am still basking in the warm afterglow of all that we saw, heard and experienced. Sitting on a train into work is both more mundane and less frustrating than it used to be, because I have walked in the footsteps of Jesus in Jerusalem, followed him into the desert, and sat with him by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and I know many of us who were there feel the same (though, not being much of a fish-eater myself, I passed on the opportunity of eating St Peter's fish, a species unique to the Sea of Galilee which Our Lord and the fisher-disciples would have had an awful lot of. Every pilgrim has their limits...).

We began with five whole days based in Jerusalem itself, staying in a splendidly located hotel near the walls of the Old City itself in East Jerusalem, which is predominantly Arabic-speaking. As an Israeli friend explained to me, it is one of the ironies of the political situation there that, since the 1967 War, when Israel occupied and supposedly united the city, Israelis have been increasingly unwelcome in East Jerusalem and unable to go there. The two high points of our time in Jerusalem for me were doing the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa itself, early in the morning, just as Jerusalem was waking up, as we walked from our hotel to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus; and visiting the Temple Mount, or the Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) as the Muslims call it. Once the site of the Jewish Temple, now occupied by two of the most holy and beautiful buildings in Islam, the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, this place was the main focus of Jewish religion in Jesus' time. It was the only place where Jews could offer animal sacrifice in Jesus's day, and its destruction by the Romans in AD 70 changed Judaism forever. It is still a hotly contested place between Jews and Muslims. The last Palestinian uprising, the Second Intifada, was started when Ariel Sharon, the then Israeli Prime Minister, decided to walk up to the Temple Mount itself. This caused a violent reaction among the Palestinians which lasted for years and caused many deaths. The most memorable evening of our stay in Jerusalem was definitely the Friday night Sultan's feast laid on at the hotel when I ended up as the sultan with Carol as my sultana. We danced the night away to Arab pop. Unforgettable!

Jerusalem is simply the most extraordinary place I have ever been, and I would go back tomorrow. Our guide to its sites and wonders was a Palestinian Christian (an Anglican , in fact) from Ramallah, Sam (short for Samer), an unflappable and inexhaustible source of information about the rich history of the region, all of which was liberally peppered with typically Middle Eastern strong opinions ('the bloody Persians' - BAD, 'His Majesty King Herod' - GOOD, though we weren't quite quite sure why, to be honest). The great figures in the history of the Holy Land aren't dead and gone, they are alive and all around you. In that sense, Jesus is only one of many. There's almost too much history in the Holy City, or too many different histories all competing for top spot - Muslims, Christians, Jews, and then all the different kinds of Christians: the Roman Catholics (Latins, as they are called out there), Greek Orthodox, Armenians and Syrians who've been there for ever, and then the Protestant latecomers like the Germans and the Anglicans. A group of us went to St George's Cathedral on the Sunday morning where Fr Guy was welcomed as the Reverend Professor Guy Pope of St Paul's Cathedral. Almost right…

The most inspiring moment for me in Jerusalem was our trip to Bethany, where Jesus stayed with his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus when he was in Jerusalem.  Bethany is now a Palestinian town of Christians and Muslims. It lies just over the Mount of Olives - only about 50 minutes walk from Jerusalem, until the Israeli Security Wall blocked the way in 2003. Now it is a long drive involving checkpoints and armed inspections. Not much of an issue for a non-threatening group of foreign pilgrims, but a daily humiliation for the people of Bethany and Bethlehem not far away. It looked like a town under pressure: shabby, and poor. Cut off from its natural centre in Jerusalem, what else could it be? There we visited the shrine of the tomb of Lazarus, which may or may not be the real thing. Far more importantly, we also visited an orphanage and boys' school, called Jeel al-Amal (Generation of Hope), where, in true biblical style, the weak and the fatherless are cared for and educated by Christians and Muslims working together in what looked to us like very difficult circumstances. The School Principal gave us pious pilgrims a good lesson in priorities: "This school is a holy place, like a church or a mosque", he told us. Quite so. The big problem in the Holy Land is that far too much importance is attached by all the religions to the possession of holy places, sacred buildings and hallowed land, and not nearly enough to caring for people. I and, I know, many others, went away determined to find ways of supporting the orphanage in the future. As its name proclaims, it is a real sign of hope in a desperate situation.

Most revealing moment? Definitely swimming in the Dead Sea. But the less said about that the better.

From Jerusalem we moved north for the second stage of our pilgrimage to Galilee to the modern Israeli city of Tiberias which was founded during Jesus' lifetime by Herod Antipas (the Herod who turns up in Luke's account of the Passion story). There we visited the towns he knew as a young man, Nazareth and Capernaum, and sailed across the Sea of Galilee, where, rather oddly, we ended up singing 'How Great thou Art" and 'Amazing Grace", neither of which we sing very often at Sunday mass... I was amazed we all knew the words! Great fun, and a wonderful moment. It was in Galilee that I felt closest to Our Lord, away from the intensity of Jerusalem where there was just too much to take in. Going down to the lakeside by the Church of the Loaves and Fishes was simply magical, as was the renewal of baptismal vows by the River Jordan. This is where Jesus grew up, where he first went about healing and preaching the coming of the kingdom of God to his fellow Jews, a message that has now reached all the nations of the earth. But this is where it all started. And it was good to be there.

There is so much more that I could write about, but the main thing that will stay with me, I think, was the wonderful spirit in which we conducted the pilgrimage, and which the pilgrimage brought out in us. It was a journey like no other I have ever taken. Being with such a splendid group of fellow pilgrims made it a very special experience indeed. New friendships were made, and new seeds of faith and action planted within us all. The challenge now will be to keep them growing in our daily lives, both for ourselves and for others. The pilgrimage does not end. It can go on forever if we let it, as we walk with Christ towards the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God, where there will be no need for a temple or a church or a mosque, and He himself will be our light.

The Stations of the Cross

Pilgrims Sailing