As I reflect on the now-completed pilgrimage across the diocese, I keep thinking of Mother Pollard, who was one of the many voices of inspiration during the Civil Rights movement. A resident of Montgomery, Alabama, she joined the 11-month bus boycott in 1955, which crippled the local economy and launched the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When asked about how she was coping with having to walk to work every day, she said “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”
I get that. Thirty-one of us walked part of the pilgrimage across the diocese. All could easily identify with Mother Pollard’s wisdom, especially the 13 of us who made the entire 88.4 mile journey between the Delaware and Hudson Rivers. Our feet were blistered and bandaged. We soaked them in cold water, and anointed them in foot powder. But our souls were rested in the companionship of one another, in the worship that framed each day, in the unexpected but welcome expressions of support offered by complete strangers, in the daily reflections and dwelling in the word we shared – and by the conviction that we were joining God in the neighborhood, a realization that deepened the further we traveled. And what a neighborhood! From the rural cornfields of Belvidere to the cacophony of traffic that flanked us as we bravely crossed the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers into Jersey City. From few signs of humanity in the west, to the sea of the human family in the east. And the more we walked, the more distractions we let go of and the more we could feel that God was joining us.
God’s presence was perhaps most evident in the hospitality we received. We were hosted overnight by three churches and two Episcopal-related institutions – House of the Good Shepherd and Crossroads Camp. We were welcomed, fed and watered at 14 other churches. By my count, we had 79 different hosts in the 19 places where we stopped. Five different drivers were behind the wheel of one of the two vehicles that transported our gear and offered moral and physical support. Our pictures and posts on the diocesan Facebook page reached 8600 people, and half of them liked or shared our posts – a nearly 900% increase from the previous week. God knows how many people were praying for us – a level of invisible support and hospitality that lightened the journey.
It was fitting that we ended the pilgrimage with the Eucharist under a park roof, just a few feet from the Hudson River. The Eucharist, which literally means thanksgiving, gathered up all of our gratitude and offered it back. And during this weeklong sojourn I realized, at an even deeper level than ever before, that the Eucharist is the consummate expression of hospitality – offered by Jesus, to us. Jesus’ extraordinary hospitality – which is mysteriously present in the bread and wine, is the reason we made the pilgrimage in the first place. It’s what defines us as Christians.
We saw versions of that hospitality played out over and over again – which not only reinforced the commitment to join him on the journey of life in faith, but served as a challenge to keep passing that hospitality forward in a world that is too often framed by polarization and fear.