Ministry Formation Course – St George’s College, Jerusalem
Between the 19th July and the 1st August 2023, I had the privilege of participating on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, resourced by the British Regional Committee of the St George’s College Jerusalem Trust.
We were invited into an experience of spiritual growth through grounding our theology in the roots and traditions of the Christian faith as it was formed in the Holy Land. We did this by integrating contextual biblical studies, engaging and empathising with many personal stories, struggles and the narratives of a wide range of local speakers, and of course by visiting all the sites that a Christian heart may hope to encounter whilst studying the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.
Pilgrimage, Formation, Hospitality and Education
In the photo at left: (front row) Our course director The Revd Rodney Aist (second from left), amongst brilliant teaching, archaeological insight and many practical applications, enabled us to deepen our biblical studies and through participation in cell groups we embedded our learning which offered us a place to practice theological reflections and subsequent presentations to the wider group as we travelled from place to place. Studying some of the text from the Protoevangelium of James placed theological understanding to Catholicism on the ground that I had always wondered about.
The resident chaplain the Revd Ken Dimmick (front row, right) was available every day and both he and the Very Revd Canon Richard Sewell, Dean of the College, were available at the Jordan River to offer reflections and the opportunity to step into the water to reaffirm our baptismal vows. They also presided at our daily Eucharist Services. Amy Taylor, Ordinand, Porter Fellow and Course Assistant, looked after everyone especially the curious pilgrimage sheep who loitered and wandered, and needed gathering back onto the bus. She also led worship and enabled us to re-centre in the cool of the Cathedral daily evening prayer.
I found all the staff to be very generous in their time as they supported my many theological questions as they arose. I felt completely physically safe and reassured as well as surprised by the depth of formation I experienced. We were encouraged to see and experience the underlying tensions and crushing realities of the heavily armed Israeli soldiers in and around the old city and the ongoing situation for local Palestinians as we travelled through check points on our way to Bethlehem, Hebron and Nablus. The restorative work of the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, and the reconciliation efforts of Roots, a grassroots organisation offering a place of transformation between Israelis and Palestinians, offered balance as we heard each side speak the rawness of each other’s stories and listen empathically to each other seeking to build trust rather than misunderstanding.
Our pilgrimage group arrived as individuals excited to learn all that was on offer and we formed as a community who pastorally looked out for each other and experienced God together. The Holy Land changed, informed, encouraged and challenged us all. As future Deacons and Priests of the Church we encouraged and learnt from each other.
I personally will never be the same; both the Hebrew Text and New Testament came alive as I explored many Old and New Testament spaces on the ground, and as I cherished and understood Jewish perspectives. I valued being present within worship at a Jewish Synagogue at the Tomb of Abraham in Hebron, was deeply saddened at Yad Vashem, and it was here that my learning at Sarum College was grounded.
Furthermore, my pastoral care and leadership skills were honed. For many years I have researched pilgrimages to the Holy Land, hoping to fulfil the dream of a lifetime. My conclusion is that at St George’s, the engagement with the land, the history and the narrative of local people were taken seriously and I would commend St George’s College to any person, parish or college member who would endeavour to go deeper into practical theological understanding.
Just in case one might think it was all work: there were perfect spaces for some rest and relaxation too, such as a swimming at Caesarea Maritima, in Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The photo above is of our Sunday Morning worship with Fr Jamil and our Brothers and Sisters in Christ at the Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Rafidia.
The main image on this post was taken as we proceeded down the steps into the shade after touring the Haram esh-Sharif in Jerusalem.
I have experienced Jerusalem and like all pilgrims before me, the invitation is to now to take the learning from the Holy Land home, eternally grateful to every encounter experienced.
Marianne is a third-year Ordinand at Sarum College.