Collegiate Ministers Make Iconic Pilgrimage Across Spain

Beth Neil
June 23, 2017

Sojourn 2017 in front of the “House of Saint James,” the Cathedral in Santiago: the endpoint of our pilgrimage
Sojourn 2017 in front of the “House of Saint James,” the Cathedral in Santiago: the endpoint of our pilgrimage

 
This year, seven collegiate ministers from across The United Methodist Church joined together for Sojourn 2017. This group made the iconic pilgrimage across France and northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago, ending at the legendary burial place of St. James. Sojourn 2017 was a joint effort of the Collegiate Ministry office at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) and Journey to the Table, a ministry of The Upper Room.
 
GBHEM offers collegiate ministers and chaplains at United Methodist schools, colleges, and universities a twice-yearly retreat program designed to specifically address their needs and provide professional development. The retreat gives the ministers and chaplains a time of renewal away from campus life. Sojourn is the summer retreat, and Novum is the winter retreat. Novum happens in the U.S. and has been held previously at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky and La Casa de Maria in Santa Barbara, California.
 
Sojourn is designed to provide not only a retreat but also an educational experience in an international setting. Last summer the retreat took place on Holy Island, Lindisfarne, England. This year, the group of United Methodist collegiate ministers set out in late May to walk as pilgrims for 10-13 miles each day, for 17 days—a total of 155 miles—from Astorga to Santiago, Spain. Staying in hostels each night, crossing over the Sierra de Ancares mountain range on foot, carrying all their supplies in backpacks, and tending to many blisters and sore muscles provided a powerful spiritual formation experience for everyone. 

A view from the top of the Sierra de Ancares
A view from the top of the Sierra de Ancares
"Some moments were more challenging than others. Hiking down the mountain was the toughest on my knees and at the same time, I could pause to see the breathtaking scenery in the valley below,” said Nancy Parker, pastor at Vanderbilt Wesley Fellowship. “I knew with each step that I was one step closer, and that I was walking into that beauty.”

 

A midday hiatus from hiking was a regular focal point throughout the journey. The group would stop for lunch before Spanish siesta. Most days, the group finished their walking by 2 or 3 p.m. and gathered for dinner and a time for spiritual reflection, rest and personal renewal.

Sojourn 2017 utilized material from The Upper Room’s new young adult spiritual formation ministry, Journey to the Table. Trained spiritual leaders crafted the material specifically for this adventure to invite participants to experience God, community and self in new ways.

Pilgrims wear the Shell of Saint James, a scallop shell linked to several miracles of St. James
Pilgrims wear the Shell of Saint James, a scallop shell linked to several miracles of St. James
During Sojourn 2017, as during other Journey to the Table events, participants contributed by preparing “talks” for the group. Each evening, the group gathered to hear one of the prepared talks or information about St. James and the Camino. They also enjoyed times of reflection at various locations along the way, including the Iron Cross and the monastery in Samos. The Journey to the Table material and the distinct experience of the Camino worked together to aid the spiritual growth of each individual and the group as a whole. 

The halfway marker shows 100 km to Santiago
The halfway marker shows 100 km to Santiago

"It is hard to imagine adding something to the Camino de Santiago,” explained Geoffrey Parker, Sojourn 2017 leader and director of youth and young adult spiritual formation at The Upper Room. “Our hope was that the Journey to the Table framework could give the group an opportunity to share our experience and grow alongside one another as we are each formed by the Camino. Our hope with this material is to bring a bit of pilgrimage to young adults, even when it doesn’t involve a long walk.” 

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Inspired by Sojourn 2017, The Upper Room is planning a 2018 release of the new “Pilgrimage version” of Journey to the Table in order to facilitate ministry with young adults in a variety of outdoor settings. The flexible, easy-to-use material uses tenets of pilgrimage as a model to view the world around us both during a specific, adventurous experience and in daily life afterward. The vision is to provide the space for participants to share spiritual formation experiences and grow closer to one another and God in many settings.

To learn more about Collegiate Ministry at GBHEM, visit GBHEM.org. For more information about Journey to the Table, visit journey.upperroom.org.

About GBHEM: As the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to lead and connect the educational and ministerial life of the church. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call on their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.

The Upper Room® is a global ministry dedicated to supporting the spiritual formation of Christians seeking to know and experience God more fully. From its beginnings as a daily devotional guide, The Upper Room has grown to include publications, programs, prayer support, and other resources to help believers of all ages and denominations move to a deeper level of faith and service. The Upper Room is a part of Discipleship Ministries. 

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