Storm Lake, Iowa (Special to Presbyterian News Service) Like Christians in other mainline denominations, Presbyterians are discovering the joy and community of making a pilgrimage.
The Rev. Sally Carlson and Carol Rudesill, a pair of Nebraskans, told people attending a mini-course at Synod of Lakes and Prairies Synod School last week that Presbyterian pilgrimages – also known by the Roman Catholic term Cursillo – are now being held in more than a dozen states.
Great Plains Presbyterian Pilgrimages are held twice each year, spring and fall. The region’s 12th pilgrimage is set for Oct. 18-21.
Pilgrimage is described as “a journey in Christian community, designed to nurture Christians in their spiritual growth and to provide them with a renewed foundation for individual and community living.”
Attendees can also learn new skills. Rudesill said she never realized one could dance the Electric Slide to “Shine Jesus Shine” until she learned how at a pilgrimage.
A Great Plains Presbyterian Pilgrimage features 14 talks spread over three days. Nine talks are offered by lay people. Topics range from “Grace Given and Received” to “The Importance of Study.”
“When I went on my first pilgrimage, I had religion,” Rudesill said. “When I left, I had a relationship with Jesus.”
The program has helped members of the church Rudesill attends, Hope Presbyterian Church in Omaha, develop skills they didn’t know they had. While their pastor is on sabbatical this summer, pilgrims have volunteered to fill the pulpit each Sunday.
“It’s an opportunity to strengthen our faith and then go out and share it,” Carlson said. “It’s not a retreat. It’s more like a course where we deepen our faith and build relationships with Christ and with one another.”
“Some people come whose life is just a mess,” Rudesill said. “They leave feeling like they have the support they need to deal with what life has to throw at them. People don’t want to leave on Sunday [when the pilgrimage concludes].”
Pilgrims stay at a retreat center near Fremont, Neb., and are not allowed to lift a finger all weekend. “The only hard-and-fast rule is that you can’t wait on yourself,” Carlson said. “You can’t even bring your plate to the sink.”
Organizers also help pilgrims clear their schedules to attend – including arranging dog-sitting or a ride from the bus station, if necessary.
An important component is what happens following the pilgrimage. Reunions are held – some as often as biweekly – for follow-up and continued support.
One woman described her pilgrimage as “like a honeymoon with God,” Rudesill said. “It is amazing how we find each time that people are there because God calls them to be there.”
Mike Ferguson is a ruling elder at the United Presbyterian Church of Lone Tree (Iowa), a reporter for The Muscatine Journal and editor of “Out and About, the enewsletter of the Presbytery of East Iowa.