The United Church's EDGE Network for New Ministry Development had taken a small group to the annual Greenbelt event the year before, and Moderator Gary Paterson was quick to propose taking a larger contingent - composed equally of ministers under and over the age of 40 - in August 2013. Those under 40 were selected and subsidized by EDGE itself; I was, of course, in the over 40 group, selected and funded by our Conferences. We were organized into smaller cohorts, which met online to prepare ourselves for the pilgrimage.
I arrived in Heathrow Airport from Ottawa on August 21st and, after noting that the arrivals area didn't look much like the one depicted at the end of Love Actually, took the Tube into London. I was born in Wimbledon, although the hospital site is now a housing estate, and lived in Putney, part of South London's borough of Wandsworth; my parents were in England as my father was posted to the Canadian Naval Mission in London. So I looked around Putney, seeing our old streets, the block where we lived, the church where I was baptized (now a Polish Catholic congregation), and The Green Man pub my Dad frequented (built on the birthplace of Thomas Cromwell, vicar general to Henry VIII). Then I was off on the Tube to the City of London and St. Paul's Cathedral, and Westminster to walk up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, The Mall and Buckingham Palace. I was in Cheltenham that night after the bus ride across Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, to meet up with arriving United Church folk. Some of us later took the opportunity to visit the nearby cities of Bath, with its Roman bath complex and beautiful Abbey church, and Gloucester, with its medieval cathedral.
So it was indeed a pilgrimage: into new ideas, challenges to existing ways of thinking and doing, and mulling over how to bring this learning to my congregations, Presbytery, Conference, and national church. This post, written five days after returning home, can only sketch out some preliminary thoughts. Watch this space.
My photos from Greenbelt are on Flickr.