Tag Archives: Pilgrimage

Julia Foote and the Geography of Witness

What do you know of Zanesville, Ohio? History buffs might enjoy its distinct Y-shaped bridge or explore its history as part of the Underground Railroad or recall it for its well-known river and locks. If a spiritual pilgrimage were traced across the tilts and rolls of Ohio’s farms, rivers, and valleys, Methodists might mark a gentle circle around Zanesville. It’s not unique for towns that sprang up across the Midwest to have Methodist fellowships woven through their roots; but those Methodist fellowships in the mid-1800s were not without profound flaws. In the autobiography of Julia Foote – happily available for download through First Fruits Press – readers are confronted with this reality. On joining the local Methodist Episcopal church (in the state of New York), her parents, both former slaves, were relegated to seating in one part of the balcony of the local church and could not partake of Holy Communion until the white church members, including the lower class ones, had gone first.

Julia A. J. Foote (Public domain)

Eventually, Julia Foote would become the first woman ordained a deacon in the AME Zion church, the second woman ordained an elder. Before that, she was an evangelist, traveling and preaching in a number of places, starting before the Civil War. At times, congregational conflict emerged when she visited a town, sometimes because Foote was Black, sometimes because she was a woman. But the testimony of her visit to Zanesville is different.

Before arriving in Zanesville in the early 1850’s, Foote had been in Cincinnati and Columbus, then visited a town called Chillicothe. Her time in Chillicothe was fruitful but not without controversy. (The following excerpts retain Foote’s own original language, a reflection of the time in which she lived.) She wrote,

In April, 1851, we visited Chillicothe, and had some glorious meetings there. Great crowds attended every night, and the altar was crowded with anxious inquirers. Some of the deacons of the white people’s Baptist church invited me to preach in their church, but I declined to do so, on account of the opposition of the pastor, who was very much set against women’s preaching. He said so much against it, and against the members who wished me to preach, that they called a church meeting, and I heard that they finally dismissed him. The white Methodists invited me to speak for them, but did not want the colored people to attend the meeting. I would not agree to any such arrangement, and, therefore, I did not speak for them. Prejudice had closed the door of their sanctuary against the colored people of the place, virtually saying: “The Gospel shall not be free to all.” Our benign Master and Saviour said: “Go, preach my Gospel to all.” (Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, First Fruits Press: 102-103)

Whether or not the good Baptists of Chillicothe today know that their forebears ousted a pastor who objected to a woman evangelist, the Methodists may be unaware that their forebears invited a Black woman to preach – but only if people of color were excluded from the meeting. And yet, in spite of these local controversies, Julia Foote wrote that in that town, “we had some glorious meetings,” and “the altar was crowded.” Like John Wesley, Foote sowed grace outside church buildings, even if she could not sow grace inside church buildings. Like the Apostle Paul, she proclaimed the Gospel to those who would welcome her.

But then, she went to Zanesville. And here, readers see a different move of the Holy Spirit. What was the difference? Foote wrote,

We visited Zanesville, Ohio, laboring for white and colored people. The white Methodists opened their house for the admission of colored people for the first time. Hundreds were turned away at each meeting, unable to get in; and, although the house was so crowded, perfect order prevailed. We also held meetings on the other side of the river. God the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest in all these meetings. I was the recipient of many mercies, and passed through various exercises. In all of them I could trace the hand of God and claim divine assistance whenever I most needed it. Whatever I needed, by faith I had. Glory! glory!! While God lives, and Jesus sits on his right hand, nothing shall be impossible unto me, if I hold fast faith with a pure conscience. (A Brand Plucked, 103)

Foote labored for any and all for the sake of the Kingdom when she arrived in Zanesville. While there, for the first time, Methodist worship was integrated. So many people came, hundreds had to be turned away. Despite the crowds, there was no controversy or dispute. And – “God the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest in all these meetings.” There was no segregated worship; the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest.

This is powerful testimony reverberating down through the soil, through the generations, through the Kingdom. Sitting today in a different part of the state over 150 years later, I read the words of Julia Foote and see the rolling hills of Ohio differently. I’ve been in Cincinnati, and Columbus, and Chillicothe. I’ve read those names on road signs. I’ve seen church buildings in those places. Through her words, I hear the voice of a mother of American Methodism, particularly the holiness movement, calling across the rivers, the years. She was pressed, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Her eyes too saw this rural landscape in the springtime; heading from Zanesville on to Detroit, she also likely saw Mennonite and Amish farmers along the road. She sowed grace into this landscape before my great-grandmother was born. Before the Wright brothers followed the birds skimming along air currents, Julia Foote learned how to glide on the wind of the Spirit: “whatever I needed, by faith I had.”

Today, in the yard outside my window, irises are blooming that I did not plant; someone else planted, another watered, and I enjoy the deep purple unfurling from the bud. Reading of Foote’s ministry, I am given a window onto the grace planted by faith, the results of which would have shaped the spiritual life of a community for decades. But it does not let me rest on what came before; her labor calls out across the rivers, the years, questioning: how are you tending to what others planted through the Spirit? She endured great hardship to proclaim the Word of God in this landscape. I would not rip out or mow over the irises carefully planted by another; how might I help to care for what she was bold enough to sow? Decades later – and yet not so very long at all – where is the Spirit brooding, full, like a thundercloud full with rain, ready to burst?

Sister Julia issued this challenge: Sisters, shall not you and I unite with the heavenly host in the grand chorus? If so, you will not let what man may say or do, keep you from doing the will of the Lord or using the gifts you have for the good of others. How much easier to bear the reproach of men than to live at a distance from God. Be not kept in bondage by those who say, “We suffer not a woman to teach,” thus quoting Paul’s words, but not rightly applying them. What though we are called to pass through deep waters, so our anchor is cast within the veil, both sure and steadfast? (A Brand Plucked, 112)

The gifts you have, for the good of others.

It is the Holy Spirit who transforms history into testimony, the same Spirit who was “powerfully manifest” now bearing down, laboring again. In the original introduction to her work, Thomas K. Doty wrote, “Those of us who heard her preach, last year, at Lodi, where she held the almost breathless attention of five thousand people, by the eloquence of the Holy Ghost, know well where is the hiding of her power.” (A Brand Plucked, 7)

What do you know of Zanesville, Ohio? That Julia Foote preached there in the 1850s, sowing grace? That Methodists there rejected segregated worship, joining together, and the Holy Spirit was “powerfully manifest”?

What do you know of the Holy Spirit, today? What do you know of those who planted and watered while God gave the increase, long before you saw the buds?

Sisters and brothers, we do not walk into ministry alone today. Wherever you are, someone has gone ahead, sowing grace ahead of you. If the rivers could speak, they might gossip to you about the ones who went before; who crossed rivers when no plane had yet crossed the sky.

What do you know of Zanesville, Holy Spirit? Hearts there once were soft.

What do you know of the Holy Spirit, Zanesville? Once, the Spirit was powerfully manifest in your midst.

Holy Spirit, where are you brooding now? Give us the grace of readiness.

Shaun Marshall ~ Learning How to Tell Your Story

This powerful sermon by Rev. Shaun Marshall comes from Genesis.


Tammie Grimm ~ Why Pilgrimage is Part of Discipleship: Discovering Lindisfarne


Nether Springs.


Holy Island.

For years I casually entertained the hopes I might visit the Northumbrian Community that produced Celtic Daily Prayer. Inquiries to the community recommended a minimum stay of two nights and three days. Required trips to the United Kingdom for PhD residency never quite afforded the wiggle room on either end to steal away for the time necessary. So, the hoped-for trip to the Northeast swath of England’s shoreline remained a will-o-wisp of the mind, never seriously contemplated, just a flirtation briefly considered for the merest of moments before the notion flitted out of my brain as effortlessly as it had entered. Even after arriving in the UK with an extended visa, I never dwelled on the thought, just placed the idea in a mental hope chest I labeled, “IF…”

Then, opportunity presented itself. The pipe dream became possible. Time and circumstances conspired so that I might travel and live among the Community. Not only was I going to go to Nether Springs, I was a registered participant on their retreat, “Celebrating the Saints.” The added dimension of being on a retreat with other Christians during All Hallow’s Eve, All Saint’s and All Soul’s Day was of such significance to me, it’s hard to describe. Suffice it to say, the pipe dream was becoming a pilgrimage.

Despite cognitively knowing every Christian is a pilgrim traveling through this world, pilgrimage, to me, is something other people do. It is teens attending a winter youth event or persons who condition themselves to walk the Camino de Santiago. Pilgrimage did not seem to me to be part and parcel of our ongoing discipleship. I understood pilgrimage to be either a nice way to spiritualize tourism or an extreme commitment that wore out the soles of one’s shoes as the interior soul was similarly stretched to its limits.

And yet I knew I was doing more than simply attending a retreat. Something deeper within me than my casual hopes and dreams had been preparing for this moment. Even though I journeyed alone, walking a mere quarter mile to the bus stop that took me across town to the train station, where I boarded an express that carried me 180 miles northward towards the coast, where I joined others who arrived at the same platform by other routes, I began to sense that this was a pilgrimage of sorts.

A quote by Canon Stephen Shipley, discovered a few weeks after I had been to Northumbria after my first opportunity to explore Lindisfarne, confirmed that I was indeed on a 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.

Viewed this way, pilgrimage is very much a necessary part of our discipleship. Pilgrimage might describe the whole of our Christian journey in this world, but the opportunity to experience a pilgrimage offers particular, defining moments along the way. Just as a person is justified when the heart is made right with God after prevenient grace pricks and prods the soul that may produce realized faith, I found a sacred centeredness after years of ephemeral hopes swirling about me. At last, I had, like Moses, been distracted from the daily demands and tasks “to turn aside and see” the work of God in an extraordinary way (Exodus 3:1-3). Pilgrimage to the coast of the North Sea provided me with a perspective about who I am as a child of God in ways I sincerely doubt I could have ever seen otherwise.

At Nether Springs and on the tidal island of Lindisfarne I encountered God in profound ways. Daily prayer with the Community. Meals shared with others. Conversation and new friends found. Retracing the lives of Aiden, Cuthbert and other Celtic monks on the island they first populated in the 7th century. Building a memory cairn from the weather-worn rocks at the prominent tip of the island. Walking over the grassy hillocks and along the rocky shoreline to which these men brought Christianity to England, I discovered spiritual roots that allowed me to draw deeply from the wellspring that feeds the soul of every Christian.

The nourishment I received alleviated a latent thirst that had gone unacknowledged for too long. My awareness was roused to understand pilgrimage as part of the rhythm of our ongoing discipleship. Experiencing pilgrimage allows each of us an opportunity for our lives to be focused afresh on our heart’s true home as we journey further towards our destination in God.

When Summer Camp Becomes Pilgrimage

It is summer camp season. For thousands of children and youth that means night hikes and camp fires, arts and crafts and lake fronts.

It is commonplace for churches in the United States to offer a trip to summer camp for their children or youth. It is often a highlight of the year for these ministries. Years after their experiences, many former summer camp participants describe it as a particularly important time: when they accepted Jesus as Savior, made a deep commitment to Christian discipleship, or heard a call to ministry. What makes summer camp such a significant experience?

Perhaps it is because, in some ways, summer camp is a bit like a Christian pilgrimage. Historically, Christian pilgrims journeyed to a place where they understood God to have worked in the past, expected that he would work again, and expected that he could work in them while they were in that place. When setting out, the pilgrims do not expect to stay at the pilgrimage site, but to be there for a fixed period of time and to return to their homes different than when they left. So it is with many Christian summer camp experiences.

In a classical understanding of pilgrimage three things are necessary: 1) a strong sense of community among those on the pilgrimage, 2) an escape from the routines of home, and 3) a return to that home after witnessing God do something amazing, perhaps even miraculous. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Community. My teenage children talk throughout the year about the friends they made and the counselors they got to know at camp. Though they were only together for a few days, they speak of these friendships as though they have lasted for years. What makes this bond so strong? In part, the strength of this bond comes from the common experience they share. For example, while together, the kids in the cabin are much the same: in a room full of bunk beds and sleeping bags. No one has a “cooler” bedroom than another here. They are all the same at camp.

Escape. Many camps do not allow the students to have mobile phones or other devices. Even if they did, students are often so far out in the woods, no one would get phone service! Such devices may be a part of everyday life at home, but not at camp. Similarly, the pressures of school and home life are left behind at camp.

There are a few keys to make the community strong and the escape profound. The pilgrimage to camp must be voluntary, to a place considered extraordinary, where special goals are pursued. These goals can be physical, like passing the swim test or going on the zip line. Or they can be spiritual, like those pursued through Bible study and prayer that are integrated into daily Christian summer camp schedules. These first two, community and escape, create a space for the profound to happen. By leaving the mundane the pilgrim seeks the sacred. It is here that the pilgrim discovers what was otherwise hidden at home. 

Return. But the pilgrims do not remain away from home forever. After leaving to search for the holy, they will return to the place they call home—in an elliptical motion. Often when the camper (pilgrim) returns, she will be a bit different than when she left. She has been on a sacred quest and learned more about God and herself while she was away. Sometimes the lessons become obvious immediately upon return. Sometimes the lessons reveal themselves years later.

If your church is sending youth to summer camp this year, how can you continue foster the lessons of their pilgrimage? What can you do to help them process what they experienced in their sacred time away? When they get back to the routine, how can you rekindle that spark they felt while they were away at that extraordinary place?

Featured image courtesy Josh Campbell for Unsplash.

Michael Smith ~ From Aldersgate to Holland Road

Let us go to the Holland Road.

On May 24th, 1738, John Wesley reluctantly attended a meeting in Aldersgate. Someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. Sounds awesome right? But Wesley shared this concerning what happened to him that night.

“… I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

For me, as a Methodist, this is an important day to celebrate. It is important to tell the story of what God can do in a person’s heart, and because of that work, the world could be forever changed.

The story and message of Aldersgate can easily become forgotten if we are not careful.  Though many churches may carry its name, many also in our movement have forgotten its power.  It is like this with a lot of things in our history.  Take for instance the name Asbury.  People in my neck of the woods hear that and only think of the town where Bruce Springsteen got his start.

We know that it is something much more.  I wonder if we are going to tell the story today – how might we make it come alive?  I submit to you another road – “The Holland Road” by Mumford and Sons.


“Holland Road”

So I was lost, go count the cost,

Before you go to the Holland road,

With your heart like a stone you spared no time in lashing out,

And I knew your pain and the effect of my shame, but you cut me down, you cut me down


And I will not tell the thoughts of hell

That carried me home from the Holland road

With my heart like a stone and I put up no fight

To your callous mind, and from your corner you rose to cut me down, you cut me down


So I hit my low, but little did I know that would not be the end,

From the Holland road well I rose and I rose, and I paid less time,

To your callous mind, and I wished you well as you cut me down, you cut me down


But I’ll still believe though there’s cracks you’ll see,

When I’m on my knees I’ll still believe,

And when I’ve hit the ground, neither lost nor found,

If you’ll believe in me I’ll still believe


But I’ll still believe though there’s cracks you’ll see,

When I’m on my knees I’ll still believe,

And when I’ve hit the ground, neither lost nor found,

If you’ll believe in me I’ll still believe


As people who are walking the road of faith, let us point out particular places and stops along the way where God can meet with us.  Let’s travel the roads that will invite us to come to the end of ourselves that we might find Christ in us, to truly be the hope of glory.  Whether you prefer Aldersgate Street or the Holland Road, start walking and be transformed.


Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Way Roads Shape Us

I’ll bet there are roads you could drive blindfolded if you really needed to.

Maybe it’s the road from your house to the entrance of your subdivision, or the route you take to work, or the circuitous path you carve in your daily routine – stop, start, turn, pause, start again. The rhythm of acceleration, brake, the swing of the vehicle as you round a curve – commuters, too, know the rhythm of train stations and bus stops, so that travel becomes second nature.

We see the construction workers and construction equipment so big it nearly qualifies as a building on treads that squelch their way through mud and we think we build roads; oh, maybe not you and me. But our proxies are out in all weather spreading hot asphalt and leveling hills, that’s us – that’s Our Civilization Out There Building Roads. We think we build the roads.

I think the roads build us.

Recently I returned to central Kentucky, where I had lived for several years. I’d been away a while, and when I came back I was confronted with a new highway snaking through the rolling horse farms where an old one used to be; safer, undoubtedly, but out of sync with the old drive.

It was disorienting. I found glimpses of familiarity in unfamiliar proximity and proportion. Finally I discovered remnants of the old highway remained, running parallel to the new installation, and immediately pulled onto the original road. My body relaxed. Here was a landmark. There was a familiar farm. I knew the curves of the aged tumbling stone wall that marked old boundaries. The lift of the hills, the force of the turns – it was almost like muscle memory.

Hikers will tell you to leave your surroundings as untouched as possible, to preserve nature, to protect wildlife. But whatever trail you take, you won’t remain untouched. The path itself will have shaped you in some way.

Maybe that’s part of the reason that, over and over again, God reminded the Israelites to tear down the high places – those elevated perches of idolatry. Those paths needed to grow over and be forgotten. Those trails needed to be neglected; new roads needed to be established. Those muscles needed new memories. We hear stories of absent-minded drivers accidentally driving to their old place of work, or their old house – the same principle.

We think we shape the landscape, but the roads are shaping us.

How is it that the angle of a foot planted on a sidewalk can feel familiar? But it can. And the angle of the soul is similarly directed and shaped.

What roads are shaping you? The sentimental route to a loved ones’ house? The familiar trip to Sunday worship? The freeway journey to your job? The worn path trailing down to a beloved grave that you tend? The swaying course of a city bus to night class?

It’s best to be mindful of what roads are shaping you. Roads can be sly, shifting you this way and that when you’re lulled into complacency. Once, while driving, I mindlessly followed the person I was supposed to be following, only to look up and discover I’d been led past a Do Not Enter sign and was driving headfirst into oncoming traffic.

Examine your roads.

They shape you when you’re not looking.

And as pilgrims, we’re called to be mindful travelers.