Spiritual travel

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Photo: EhayDy/Shutterstock

During the past decade, members and friends of our congregation have contributed to evening prayers at St. David’s Cathedral in Wales. What a special experience to visit the famous site after which our church was named!

We have also visited places like the city of Ephesus, located in Turkey where the Apostle Paul proclaimed, amid conflict, the Good News of Jesus in the Jewish synagogue and the theatre located there (see Acts 19).

In Jerusalem, near Temple Mount—honoured by Jews and Muslims alike—we celebrated the Eucharist in the peaceful Garden Tomb near the Pool of Bethesda (John 5). It was a sacred moment that we will never forget.

Such highlights, and many others, were part of four journeys undertaken by St. David’s Spiritual Travelers—a group from my home congregation that will soon depart for eastern Europe and Russia.

We welcome all to join us, faith or non-faith. We are not mere sightseers but open spiritual travelers, generous in our inclusiveness. Our desire is for meaning—to come to a better understanding of the people and places we visit and their impact on us, on Canada, and the rest of the world.

To help us approach with more focus on the places we visit, I have chosen to view our upcoming sojourn through three lenses—history, culture, and religion.

Most of the countries through which we will journey, excluding Austria, were part of the Soviet Union until its demise in 1991. Since liberation from Russian dominance, the Czech Republic, Poland and the Baltic states have tried to build strong ties with the West. We want to know their histories better, to learn of their current conditions and to appreciate their hopes for the future.

In these countries, people of various ethnic cultures have mixed with each other—in times of peace and conflict—for millennia. We won’t be quick to judge the biases we encounter. Rather, we wish to be discriminating in our observations and assessments.

All of these countries have a rich folk cultural heritage as well as refined disciplines: music, art, dance and others.

Christianity has been influential for a thousand years or more in these countries. There are numerous churches, monasteries, saints and places hallowed by the blood of martyrs. Two major traditions we will encounter are the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. Modernity has invited a proliferation of many other groups including contemporary Protestant.

Two questions we will ask are these: How has Christianity survived the secularisation of the former Soviet Union, once atheistic communism was overthrown? And what kinds of Christianity exist today?

Another major religious query concerns Judaism. Most of the countries we will visit had large Jewish populations living for centuries under various forms of tolerance. All of this ended with the Holocaust, and even today, anti-Semitic movements continue to raise their ugly heads.

Spiritual travel confronts us with intriguing issues of past, present and future. It encompasses history, culture and religion­—as well as many other significant concerns.

Consider how your congregation might create similar opportunities.

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Wayne Holst
Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for 25 years. He taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and co-ordinates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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