I’ve had the true privilege of accompanying two FutureChurch pilgrimages as spiritual director. To Rome and Naples in 2019 and to Greece in 2020. The most lasting gift of each of these powerful experiences has been my strengthened sense of connection with the Communion of Saints – that great cloud of witnesses, living and deceased, with whom we journey toward holiness.
Walking the catacombs of Rome, we saw the most famous and important frescoes depicting women in leadership and ministry in the Church’s earliest days. Scattered around us were the oil lamps, tools, decorations, and mementos left behind by early Roman Christians. These frescoes, artifacts, and remnants were all reminders of the real people who were really there, walking these same catacombs, remembering and honoring these same people who were painted on the walls, celebrating the Resurrected Christ we celebrate today.
In Greece, I remember the invigorating experience of dipping my feet in the river at Philippi where Lydia was baptized. And standing on the shores of Cenchreae taking in the sunshine and breeze - the ruins of the port from which Phoebe the Deacon likely set out to deliver the letter to the Roman calling on us to remember her from just beneath the surface of the crystal-clear water. I remember dancing and singing among the vibrant yellow mustard plants in Corinth despite the fear that gripped us as COVID began to spread throughout the globe.
Through all these glimpses into the past, I couldn’t help but reflect on the companions I was with in the present – the fears and difficulties they had overcome, their reasons for making these pilgrimages, their hopes…their faith. And it was powerful as I re-membered the Body of Christ to contemplate the possibilities and potential for the future of the Church. It was as if time stopped and I was standing in sacred connection with past, present, and future.
And so, I’m looking forward to May 2024, when FutureChurch will once again go on pilgrimage. This time, we will stay in the United States and follow in the footsteps of our Black foremothers in faith. We’ll visit important Civil Rights landmarks like the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of Bloody Sunday; the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four young girls were killed in a racially motivated bombing during the Civil Rights movement; and the Rosa Parks Museum on the former site of the old Empire Theatre where Mrs. Parks made her courageous and historic stand in 1955. Not ancient, of course, these sites are no less sacred than the catacombs of Rome or the ruins in Greece. They stand as tangible reminders of the past, calling to us in the present to work for a better future.
We’ll remember and celebrate the faith and witness of women like Sr. Antona Ebo, Venerable Henriette DeLille, and Servant of God Thea Bowman. Like Lydia and Phoebe, their stories are all too often forgotten, neglected, edited, erased. Perhaps because they call the Church to more – to become whole, to become one, to become catholic, to become holy.
Joining us will be Dr. Kim Harris, Assistant Professor of African American Religious Thought and Practice at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Dr. Harris – an eminently gifted preacher, singer, and storyteller will bless us as our Education and Spiritual Director. She will bring these sites and these women to vivid life for us, making them present to us as they accompany us on our journey. Kayla August, a Ph.D. student at Boston College, who has nurtured her God-given gift for preaching and will break open scripture for us during the pilgrimage as well. A rising advocate for women and lay people in the Church, Kayla is sure to inspire our minds, hearts, and bodies.
I hope you’ll consider joining us for this powerful experience. Your presence would be a blessing to us too!
Visit https://futurechurch.org/pilgrimage for all of the details and to register.