A group of 22 pilgrims from the Diocese of Massachusetts embarked on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land Nov. 3-15, led by Bishop Gayle E. Harris and the Rev. Debbie Phillips, the rector of Grace Church in Salem. This was the eighth trip to the Holy Land that Harris has taken since 2009, and the third for Phillips. In addition to visiting holy sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and renewing baptismal bows at the Jordan River, the group had the chance to meet and learn from those in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem that Phillips calls "living stones" of the Christian faith.
"[Christians in the Holy Land] are the living stones, rather than the building stones of Christian faith--it’s not a museum piece, it’s a living vibrant faith," Phillips said in an interview. "To see how much hope and faith and commitment that Palestinian Christians have is pretty awe inspiring, and helps us confirm our faith in what is good in the world. We so much take for granted our ability to worship when we want to, where we want to, and that’s just not the case for Christians in the Holy Land."
The pilgrims learned about different programs organized and supported by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, Phillips said, including a summer camp program called Kids4Peace that allows Christian, Jewish and Muslim children from Jerusalem to attend a summer camp together, building relationships with one another.
Before the trip, the group of pilgrims met over the course of a few months to get to know each other and prepare through prayer and learning.
Pilgrims on the 2019 trip represented a number of different parishes: the Church of the Advent in Boston; the Church of Our Redeemer in Lexington; St. Paul's Church in Malden; St. Peter's Church in Osterville; Grace Church in Salem; the Church of the Good Shepherd in Watertown; and All Saints' Church in Whitman.
Phillips said that one of the things that makes this pilgrimage so meaningful is the community aspect of preparing and then sharing in the experience together, and that she encourages others to join a future pilgrimage.
"Nobody is going over there for a tour by themselves, but rather as a group that is supporting each other and praying for each other while we’re there," Phillips said. "I would encourage people to do this so that they can deepen their own understanding and relationship with God through Jesus, and so that you have a greater understanding of what it’s like to be Christian in the Holy Land. Going on this pilgrimage has allowed people to come back and say, 'Now I have seen with my own eyes.' "
--Bridget K. Wood
The dates for the next pilgrimage are Oct. 5-16, 2020. For more information or to register, contact David Ames, Office of the Bishop Suffragan (email@example.com or 617-482-4826, ext. 445).