“We are pilgrims on a journey;
we are travelers on the road.
We are here to help each other
share the mile and bear the load.”
I love that line from the hymn, “Won’t you let me be your servant.” It speaks to a dominant metaphor in our age: that our spiritual lives are a journey. 2020 is an important year in Congregational and U.S. history as it is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. (Great book recommendation: Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.)
Pilgrimage is an important metaphor and action in our faith tradition. For most of us, it does not involve doing penance for past wrongs, but rather a way of deepening our faith. When Muslims make a pilgrimage — the Hajj — to Mecca, or when Jews travel to Jerusalem, or when Buddhists walk from temple to temple in Japan, they are engaging a deepening of their spiritual journey. Like the journey of Abram, the forebear of three of the world’s great religions, left Haran and set out, he set a pattern for one-way pilgrimage that doesn’t include a return trip. Likewise, the early Irish saints called themselves peregrini, and they went out on a one-way pilgrimage as well.
In this coming year, I invite you to imagine a new pilgrimage for this congregation, whose name itself bears the indelible mark of pilgrim journey. As we engage a new strategic plan this year, we will imagine new vistas for our congregation. We will dream new dreams for our congregation: who we are, how we serve our neighbors, and where God is calling us to go.
T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” May God help us this year help us to journey together, explore and expand our view, and to see Plymouth again for the first time.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.
The pilgrim sets forth,
tethered to the past by unseen bonds of memory,
yet cloaked in hope,
afoot in sandals of determination,
trudging toward something new.*
This past Sunday a pilgrim came to us at Plymouth as our candidate for the full-time Associate Minister position. Her name is the Rev. Carla Cain. I am very grateful to say that she was welcomed warmly and the vote on her candidacy at the congregational meeting was overwhelmingly “Yes!” Thanks to all of you who were with us at the Meet and Greet time for Carla on Saturday, and all who were with us on Sunday to welcome her in worship and to welcome her onto our Plymouth staff! I look forward to working with her as a colleague. And I look forward to helping you get to know her as one of your pastors. Her first day on the job will be Sunday, December 15th, the third Sunday in Advent. I hope you will be at church that day! (If you are still catching up on this staff development, you can find info on Carla and her call as our full time Designated-Term Associate Minister here.)
The above description of being a pilgrim truly fits the feeling of coming to a new ministerial position. You come with your past experiences of ministry, with so many dear memories of past relationships with parishioners you have loved, of friends you have ministered with as a colleague. It is poignant, and a little scary, to leave these cherished and comfortable ways of being behind and to strike out into unknown territory. It is also exciting and “cloaked in hope” for the new relationships that will be established, the new forms of ministry that you will encounter, the new worship services you will lead, classes you will teach, sermons you will write. I can tell you from my experience of Carla that she does come with hope and determination to share the good news of God-with-us in Jesus the Christ here at Plymouth. She brings a hugely compassionate heart, a keen mind, a great sense of humor and a spirit deeply in touch with the Spirit. She is equipped to encourage us and to challenge us as we continue to go deeper in faith and in expanding the realm of God’s love and justice here in northern Colorado.
Being a pilgrim is not limited to those of us in professional ministry. We are ALL pilgrims on the way in life. How is your life like the pilgrim described in Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen’s quote above? What “new” journey are you setting out on this week? It could be large or small. Either is significant. How do the “unseen bonds of memory” tether you? Do they ground you with confidence? Or are they holding you back? What gives you hope this day? What is woven together in the cloak of hope that protects you on the journey? Where are you determined to go? Baby steps count on the journey! Who are your companions as you “trudge toward something new?”
You know what I will say next, right? You are not alone! God is always with you on your journey. God comes, bidden and unbidden, to trudge along side each of us. Sometimes in the presence of prayer, sometimes in the presence of a single soul friend, sometimes in the presence of community. At Plymouth we all come to worship each week as pilgrims, with cherished and not so cherished memories of the past, with cloaks of hope that may need repair or may be large enough to share. We come trudging with determination to be together in God’s presence and to welcome all who may to stop by on their journey to worship with us. Thanks be to God for the journey!
With you in Spirit,
PS If you are interested in the Visual Theology Pilgrimage to Italy that Hal and I are leading in April 2020 visit this page! The sign up deadline is November 30th.
* Poetic description written by Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen for the artwork of Kristi Ylvisaker which is inspired by the poetry of Denise Levertov; From the cover of Faith@Work magazine, Spring 2008.
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Read more
With a name like “Plymouth,” it’s hard to get away from the idea not just of the Plymouth Pilgrims, but from the concept of pilgrimage in general. Our faith is perhaps best described as a journey…not a stable, set-in-stone condition, but one that evokes movement and transformation. Some pilgrimages, like those of Abraham and our New England spiritual forbears are one-way pilgrimages through which one arrives at a new destination. In a recent series of adult ed. forums, Plymouth folks recounted their (round-trip) pilgrimages to the Holy Land, on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella, and in Scotland. Even though their journeys brought our pilgrims back home, pilgrimage is meant to change the way one sees God, self, and other.
But what if one doesn’t have the time, money, physical ability, or inclination to travel on a pilgrimage? For 13th-century would-be pilgrims in France, the answer was to walk the circuits of the labyrinth in the cathedral at Chartres, emulating a pilgrimage to Rome or Jerusalem. Walking the labyrinth is a meditative tool rediscovered in the 1990s by the Rev. Lauren Artress, an Episcopal priest. According to the website of the organization she founded, “The labyrinth is a walking meditation, a path of prayer and an archetypal blueprint where psyche meets Spirit. It has only one path that leads from the outer edge in a circuitous way to the center. There are no tricks to it and no dead ends. Unlike a maze where you lose your way, the labyrinth is a spiritual tool that can help you find your way.”
I’ve used the labyrinth for prayer at volatile times in my life when I’ve needed to find the quiet center, at times when I am in discernment about a significant decision, and at times when I’ve just needed to seek God’s presence through a physical prayer form.
A ministry team at Plymouth, led by Jane Nicolet, has been working for just about a year with our Memorial Garden Ministry Team and our Trustees to design and create such a tool for Plymouth. The Trustees excavated the space, filled in recycled concrete base, and the layer of breeze visible on the surface. The ministry team had a group of 20 Plymouth volunteers, from teens to seniors, place bricks into place to form the circuits of the labyrinth. The Leadership Council authorized financial support from the Memorial Garden reserve fund, memorial gifts given in honor of our members, the sale of several cemetery plots Plymouth owned, and an unsolicited gift from one of our members. Landscaping and two benches will also be added this spring.
I invite you to join us as we dedicate the new labyrinth on Pentecost Sunday, May 20 at 12:15 (after the 11:00 service). Join us to thank our volunteers and to ask for God’s blessing.
So, why and how does one use the labyrinth? For years, members of our congregation have been asking for advice on how to pray. The labyrinth provides a beautiful tool for walking prayer. It doesn’t require years of discipline to encounter…just the will to engage with intention and attention. Even if you have a robust prayer life, I’d recommend trying a prayer walk using the labyrinth to mix it up a bit. It is available to you at any time during the week…unless a service is in progress in the sanctuary or memorial garden.
One of the members of the Labyrinth Ministry Team, Pat Slentz, will become a trained labyrinth facilitator this summer in a workshop with Lauren Artress at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.
Deep thanks to all who have participated in helping this dream become a reality here at Plymouth! I look forward to group walks, incorporating the labyrinth into our Sunday evening services, and to seeing you out walking in prayer!
Trustees Gary Olsen, Allen Norskog, Tom Dille, Barry Beatty, and Trustee Emeritus Tom Nesler do the initial grading and laying base materials.
Plymouth volunteers completed the layout in one Saturday…many hands made light work!
An aerial photo from a neighbor’s drone caught Plymouth volunteers laying brick into the labyrinth.
Here is a guide from Lauren Atress on veriditas.org (download a PDF version here):
The labyrinth is a sacred place set aside for you to reflect, look within, pray, negotiate new behavior. The rhythm of walking, placing one foot in front of the other, empties the mind, relaxes the body and refreshes the spirit. Follow the pace your body wants to go.
The labyrinth can be walked in four stages. As you encounter other people walking the same path, simply allow them to pass. You walk the labyrinth with your body and rest your mind.
REMEMBER Before walking the labyrinth
Take time in gratitude be thankful for your life.
Bless the people in your life.
If there’s a specific event or situation troubling you,
bring it to mind and form a healing question if possible.
RELEASE Walking into the labyrinth
This is the time to quiet the mind,
let go of the mind chatter and release your troubles.
Open your heart to feel whatever it might feel.
Become aware of your breathing.
Take slow breaths.
Relax and move at your own pace.
RECEIVE Standing or Sitting in the Center
This is a place of reflection.
Pause and stay as long as you like.
Open yourself to your higher power.
Listen to that small inner voice.
In the safety of the labyrinth have a heart-to heart talk with yourself.
RETURN Walking out of the labyrinth
When you are ready, begin walking out the same path you followed in.
Walking out, integration of your experience happens.
Experience the sense of well-being, healing, excitement, calm or peace.
Each labyrinth experience is different.
You may feel nothing or have a powerful reaction.
Whatever, listen to your heart and take all the time you need.
The above description is only a thumbnail sketch.
You provide the bigger picture.
The Rev. Hal Chorpennng has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.