Pilgrimage has always been a powerful image in the life of our Church. Our foundation document the Basis of Union describes us as a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal.
We live between times... between the time of Christ's death and resurrection and the final consummation of all things which Christ will bring. Here we do not have a continuing city, but we seek one to come. On the way, Christ feeds us with Word and Sacraments, and we have the gift of the Spirit in order that we do not lose the way. For pilgrims like us it's all about the journey. And that journey isn't always easy.
As I move around the church and the country I see many thriving vibrant congregations and agencies, large and small, joyfully anticipating and serving that reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation – the promised goal of the pilgrim people of God. But the challenges, at times, are daunting. When we struggle in our ministry, as individuals or communities of faith, it's easy to feel alone, and even a bit lost. It's as if we're waiting for a train that we've begun to doubt will ever come...
Some of us feel weighed down by the baggage we've picked up along the way – our expectations of what we think the Church should be like. Perhaps we could take a lesson in travelling lightly from some modern-day pilgrims, the backpackers. They pick up the odds and ends they need at different stages of their journey. Maps, guide books, clothing to suit the changing climate - all but the most precious keepsakes are handed down to the next traveller or just discarded... after serving their purpose on the way to their "promised goal."
In Church terms, our institutions, buildings, systems, leaders – they're all transient. They're resources provided by God when we need them to get us where we need to go. And when they're no longer helpful on the journey, like the traveller, we need to set them aside - with a prayer of thanksgiving for what these things have meant to us and how they have served us in the past, and a heart full of joy at the privilege of being invited and resourced afresh to share in God's mission today.
What remains constant in our lives, as a pilgrim people, is our deep reliance on a personal relationship with God within the body of Christ. Now and in the future - we need to keep drawing from the deep well of spiritual resources that God has given us. The reading and preaching of the Word, prayer and fasting, the sacraments, Christian fellowship, and what John Wesley called "works of mercy". These Means of Grace nourish and sustain us. Without them we can't live and work effectively as the body of Christ.
So as we discern together where the Spirit would lead us next in our pilgrimage towards the promised end I encourage you to lighten your load. Go through your baggage, work out what you'll need for the journey, and lay down the rest at the roadside. These are challenging times and it is amazing the depth of spiritual resources that we need to meet them.
I pray that you and your congregations, will be just as amazed as I am at the depth of that well of spiritual resources God has given us – for just that reason, for just this season.