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The Beauty of Invitation

Pilgrims with St Benedict's church members, Besao
Pilgrims with St Benedict’s church members, Besao.
© ABM 2013

A small group of pilgrims from the ABM Auxiliary recently found new meaning in God’s invitation to journey in the Philippines.

It is becoming commonplace to hear the word ‘pilgrimage’ being used these days. We hear of people going ‘on pilgrimage’ to various places such as Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain and the holy sites of Jerusalem. There is the option to visit these places as part of a tour group, but more and more people are opting for an authentic experience rather than the stop-go-take-photo whirlwind that most of us know is characteristic of your typical tour group – an experience that transforms and changes the way you see and experience life… and God.

So then, what makes a pilgrimage different to a tour? Well, “a lot actually”, was the first response made by my fellow pilgrims after reflecting on their journey to Sagada, high in the Mountain Province of the Philippines. It has been said that “A pilgrimage differs from a tour. It is a personal invitation from god, comprised of [God’s] offer and dependent upon the pilgrim’s acceptance… A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey to which the pilgrim joyfully responds ‘yes’ to God’s invitation.” The idea of invitation not only has a lot to say to us about the nature of pilgrimage, but also on the nature of God’s mission and how the church participates in partnership in that mission. More on that as we progress…

Day one saw us become well acquainted with traffic in Manila, not to mention the first and second gears of our vehicle before winding our way up to the bustling Baguio City. Upon arrival we were greeted with a lively Children’s festival at Christ Church Kias where pilgrims Lyn Hall, Mary Catford and Leonie Henderson witnessed some outstanding performances by children and youth of the local church community. The ABM auxiliary are supporting Christian education in the Philippines this year, so this was a special opportunity for the auxiliary members to observe some of the great things that the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP) is doing with younger generations.

We were fortunate enough to have been able to visit a number of Sunday schools in greater Baguio City before journeying further north to Sagada. One of these Sunday schools was St Polycarp’s in greater Baguio City. After joining together in worship with the local congregation we were invited to meet the church’s Sunday school teachers and the children who were busy colouring and drawing on worksheets that were purposefully linked to the themes of the lectionary cycle.

Dancers in traditional dress.
Dancers in traditional dress.

One teenager circled the room offering encouragement and assistance to the younger ones as they happily added life to their previously black and white stencils – he was the Sunday school teacher. But he wasn’t the only one – two other teens were teaching in the adjacent room and some others gathered to meet us and share with us how they run their classes each Sunday. They told us that it is quite common for teens to accept the invitation to serve God and others in this way in the Philippines.

For these teens, teaching Sunday school is a way of passing on what they had once received. The ECP has been promoting the concept of ‘receivers to givers’ in many areas of its work by inviting people to explore ways in which they may participate in God’s mission by using their abilities and strengths. If you ask these teens why they teach, they say that it makes sense to teach the younger children. They were once the ones sitting with pencil and crayon in hand. Now they gratefully contribute to the life of the church and mentor their brothers and sisters in Christ until the younger children are old enough to do the same! All of this comes by saying ‘yes’ to the invitation.

Our journey to Sagada was not only one of more windy roads and breathtaking mountain scenery, but also one full of invitations to stop and share meals and stories with local church members – authentic invitations of fellowship. Along the way we regularly met with the ECW (Episcopal Church Women) who are a network of women committed to supporting the work of the ECP who take a prominent role in a wide range on community based projects. And what an inspiring bunch they were! One group ran a local canteen that was open seven days a week in one of the economically poorest places in the Philippines, another group supported families in grief after the death of a community member and yet another maintained an organic farm used to demonstrate to local farmers the many benefits of sustainable organic farming practices.

All of these women (not to mention their male counterparts in the Brotherhood of St Andrew in the ECP) had answered ‘yes’ to the call and invitation to be God’s agents of love, hope and justice in their part of the world. Their invitation to us pilgrims was to share with them some of our story and to hear some of theirs over food, laughter and much conversation. We moved on in our journey after these times of fellowship with a new perspective on what it means to be partners in mission and an appreciation of the beauty and non-coercive nature of invitation.

Our pilgrim group found that saying yes to the invitation of going on pilgrimage to the Philippines is just a shadow of the invitation of God to partner in mission on the pilgrimage journey of life. It is a glimpse of the bigger picture: We saw and experienced this as we were welcomed, generously fed and sustained on our journey by brothers and sisters in Christ who we had never met, who taught us what mission looks like in their own context and of the many ways God’s spirit is already working in places that many of us would least expect.

Needless to say, the pilgrims were thankful they were not on a tour!

Greg Henderson
Education Officer
October 2013

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