Thursday, 28 February 2013

Life giving water

Today has been a day of reflection on wells and water. We made our way first thing into the Palestinian land to the town of Nablus. It was a time to not only admire Greek Orthodox Church, and see Jacobs Well beneath but to drink of the hospitality of local Christians at the Anglican Church. The life giving water that Jesus promised is now still offered in the town by the local Anglican Church as they offer healthcare at St Luke's hospital, their nursery for children from the poorer part of town and have given land to the Muslims to build a mosque. The vicar oozed energy and passion. The encounter with Jesus and the woman, her offer of a drink and his willingness to meet her where she was came home to me this afternoon as three male bishops stood in the river Jordan. Suddenly 2000 years later life did not seem to have changed much, and I was aware of Jesus' welcome and call as opposed to the repression of women there still is in society and the church. Many found it helpful to renew their baptism vows as I held on to the inner conviction that I was in the right place and doing God's work (I am mad that women in the church still feel this). The comfort was that one of the bishop's felt the pain too. We checked into our accommodation in Bethlehem around 5pm having battled the Jerusalem traffic. I look forward to tomorrow and pondering the Nativity with the green coach.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Around Galilee

Today we have celebrated Christ's lakeside ministry. The pilgrims all assembled to celebrate the Eucharist by the lake in the almost open air. It is a fantastic spot and a privilege to preach on the calling of the early disciples. I was struck preparing by the move of Simon Peter from the shallow water to the deep, and all that he was prepared to give up to follow Jesus even when he had just made the most lucrative catch he had ever had in his life. We moved on to the church of the multiplication. With its fantastic mosaics of loaves and fishes, as well as cartoon type ducks (or geese). The pilgrims followed in the footsteps of our Lord from there to the Mount of the Beatitudes, which although full of pilgrim and tourist groups, was enhanced by the most beautiful flowers and birdsong. This really is a good time to visit. With two bishop's on board, the archdeacon herded up from the rear - and spent the rest of the day doing the domestics. Tips, service sheets and readers. She got some interesting looks to throughout the day as women priests are still something of a rarity (or novelty ). We set out on the Lake just before midday, and enjoyed some stillness away from the shore. It was calm and still and wonderful to just enjoy the views and the peace. Lunch was fish (surprise surprise) and then onto the Church commemorating Peter's restoration on the shore. The highlight for me of the day as we had the place to ourselves and it was quite restful as the Sea lapped the shore. Pilgrims paddled. Finally we visited Capernaum, which was interrupted a bit by diggers and builders but memorable nonetheless. Now for some rest before dinner, although it is hard to get the pilgrims away from the water - a number have now decided to go for a swim. And we don't celebrate baptism until tomorrow!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

By the Lakeside

After a day of airports, flight, labelling the group and getting them to the guest house yesterday, it has been a joy today to begin again in Galilee. With images of last time and minibus queues for Mount Tabor and a rush for the midday Eucharist in my mind I has anticipated the first day on the green coach with some dread! However with a good nights's sleep, an early start and well behaved pilgrims the day was, in a very unbiblical fashion, quite civilised. We reached Mount Tabor with just three small groups in front of us, and had some lovely worship in one of the side chapels. After a wander we picked up the mini buses again and were in Nazareth in no time. We made the Church of the Annunciation before midday and then joined the blue bus for the Eucharist. A chance to stop and group and reflect on the pilgrimage call to slow down the heart and mind to allow God to do God's work. Bishop John full of calm as ever (in mid sabbatical mood). We had another reading and hymn in the Synagogue Church as we passed before lunch. A beer to relax, some pitta bread and plentiful lunch it was hard to group the group again. But after toilet queues (as everyone decides they now want to go at once!) we separated the greens from the blues (no analogy whatsoever!) and us greens visited the church at Cana then travelled back to the guest house. A sit beside the lake gave me some sense of the relief Christ himself must have felt when he left the crowds, although the is a pang of guilt as he would have turned his reflections on the day into prayer rather than a blog. But still, something of the still small voice of calm remains. The blue coach have yet to return - hopefully by happy hour at 6.30pm before dinner.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

A Lenten Pilgrimage

Off to Israel first thing tomorrow with 84 pilgrims from the Diocese of Oxford. It is only a couple of years since my last (and first) visit and quite a memorable one it was too. Not only of the places we visited, the living stones we met whilst there, but also for the little incidents and stress of looking after 130 people. This time there will be fewer of us and a less demanding programme. With it being Lent too I hope the worship, prayer and reflection gets us all reconnected with God in a deeper way. I have given up busyness for Lent, so hopefully the responsibility of the green coach, will not detract from that and we will go with the flow for the next ten days or so. It will be good to work with another +A. Bishop Andrew Proud from Reading and have some cross archdeaconry conversations. Great too to be with some pilgrims from Buckinghamshire.