Why Pilgrimage?

"Pilgrimage" means different things to different people.  Attempts to define pilgrimage are inevitably imprecise, but the following thinking might be helpful, along with some more precise structures offered later:

  • Pilgrimage is a transformational journey, during which significant change takes place.
  • Pilgrimage often has a physical element, but is also cognitive and emotional.
  • Wesleyan pilgrimage is inclusive - there are ways in which it can work for all. 
  • Pilgrimage may be seen as a search for God (or is God really searching for us?)
  • What makes a walk/holiday/event into a pilgrimage?  Preparation? Intentionality? At least some sense of intentionality in the mind of the organiser, but not all participants have to buy into every aspect in order for it to be pilgrimage. 
  • "Pilgrimage is far more than making a physical journey.  It is being prepared to allow that restlessness, which is in every human soul, to entice us away from our security in search of something deeper, a clearer vision of the God who calls us to his service." (Canon Stephen Shipley).

'Mindfulness' and 'Mission' are "buzz" words in the current climate - pilgrimage has something to offer to both, with the potential to enhance our experience of God and our engagement with the world.

  • An intentional pilgrimage can be seen as a metaphor for life and can help participants to reflect upon:

    • Setting out: departure/preparation/restlessness/striving for something more, something deeper/conversion/birth and death/leaving places, possessions and people behind…
    • Travelling the pilgrim path: an outer and an inner journey/companionship along the way (with present companions but also with those who have trodden the path in the past and who will do so in the future)/attentiveness - to nature, to companions, to God/struggle/pleasure/sights and sounds/colour…
    • The sacred centre: encounter with the Holy/transcendence/worship/the Divine/thin places/theophany/transfiguration/significance of place…
    • Re-entry: transformation/self-awareness, how have I changed?/what have I learned - about myself/others/God/moving on/parting from new friends/descending the mountain/ending one journey is starting another…
  • A Dominican model offers another four-fold pattern which can be applied to pilgrimage:

    • Via positive
    • Via negative
    • Via creative
    • Via transformative

In any pilgrimage the following may be true:

  • Transformation takes place through walking, talking, mutual support and care, shared food & drink, communal worship, prayer and silence.
  • Pilgrimage offers a liminal space in which emotions may come to the surface, inner soul-searching may be undertaken, pilgrims grow in self-awareness, in awareness of others and of God.
  • Carrying packs can lead to deeper reflection on "what are we carrying?" in life. 
  • Visiting pilgrimage sites/touching the sacred may lead people to confront their own faith/doubt.  Sometimes it brings disillusionment and the need to rebuild vision and discover new priorities.
  • Encounter with other Christian traditions - whether ancient or current - can lead to a re-examination of contextual theology and practice. 
  • Journeying together - especially in the open air, provides a neutral, non-threatening environment where questioners and seekers may feel more comfortable than in a church setting.
  • There is huge potential for Christian pilgrims to "bring a friend" on such a venture and intentionally to create pilgrimage with a relaxed missional element.  


Anecdotal evidence suggests that pilgrimage is on the increase across the British Methodist Connexion.  If you have helpful experiences or tips to add to these pages, please email pilgrimage@methodistchurch.org.uk

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