Wow. There is so much to tell from the last 24 hours that I think it’s going to take more than one blog post.
First, let me tell you about our group here at the College. There are about 31 of us taking the Palestine of Jesus course. Twelve are a group from St. James Church in Richmond, VA, led by their associate rector. Another eleven are from New Zealand. They are a group of Maori clergy , mostly non-stipendiary, and have been a ton of fun to talk with. There is also a professor from a evangelical seminary in Christ Church, New Zealand. The rest are an assorted group of folks that include me and Connie as well as a couple of married couples and singles from Kansas, Colorado, and Texas. I think we are about half clergy and half lay folks, overall.
There are also five college staff members in charge of our trip. The Very Rev. Graham Smith is the Dean of the College. In another small world moment, it turns out that Graham was a member of Redeemer when he was a boy! His parents lived for a year in Lexington back in the 50’s. Like me he is orginally from the Diocese of New York. I already mentioned Mike Billingsley who is our chaplain, as well as his wife Judy who helps keep us all organized. The course director, who is really our “professor” for these two weeks, is The Rev. Dr. Rodney Aist. Rodney is a specialist in the history of pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and really knows his stuff. Lastly, Dr. Susan Ackley is our Minister of Hospitality. Susan is hospitality incarnate and has made it her personal mission to keep Connie and I supplied with tea in this coffee-centric city.
Speaking of Connie, she is also blogging for her parish, so if you want another point of view on this trip do check out her blog at www.stgeoweb.wordpress.com Last night the course officially began with an opening Eucharist, reception, and dinner. Graham preached a wonderful sermon that really touched me about the nature of pilgrimage to this special place, and how we are here because God has called each of us here at this time in our lives. He also talked about the difference between pilgrimage and vacation/tourism. I can tell our time will be steeped in prayer and spirituality thanks to the thoughtfulness and preparation of the faculty and staff.
One interesting thing we were issued was an audio device, much like the audio tour things you get at a museum like the MFA. It’s got a cord to go around your neck and a headphone for your ear. Rodney has a microphone, and when he talks into it we can all hear him in his earpiece. This makes life SO much easier as he can whisper to us in holy sites, be heard over crowds, and also tell us to get out of the ladies room and back on the bus from afar. I was glad we had it for our tour today, but more on that in the next blog post…