Thursday, September 13, 2007

Greenville College: A College Hike or College Pilgrimage?

A first! Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois, is the first college that has welcomed the School of the Pilgrim--and pilgrimage--with open arms and walking feet...and one rolling wheel chair. I had a wonderful time preaching and teaching about pilgrimage before the student body of this Free Methodist Church institution.

Located in southern Illinois, I preached a sermon on pilgrimage during their mandatory chapel service/worship on Monday, September 10th, followed by a colloquium on pilgrimage, death, dying, and people with disabilities on Tuesday, September 11th.

But it was on Wed., September 12th, that I had an "aha" experience: since 1912, the entire campus(or most of the campus) takes off for a six mile "all college hike" to a nearby Free Methodist retreat center outside of Greenville. While there are around 1100 students, a good four hundred or so made it out to the camp grounds, where lunch was served, canoes were paddled, zip lines were zipped, and volley ball was happening. But the beauty was the gathering of faculty, students, and staff who walked out in the beautiful summer weather of Illinois, passed rolling farm fields filled with soy plants and old corn stalks. Water was distributed by the basketball team members along the way; people in cars and trucks waved at us; new and old friends walked together...and a good time was had by all.

In my closing sermon at the camp ground I preached about the wonder and miracle of God's presence in the unexpected moments of an otherwise predictable life. I reminded those gathered together about the times we had on this "all college hike" that reflected the very same movements of pilgrimage. Toward the end of the sermon, I had the "nerve" to suggest a new name of this hike: an all college pilgrimage, for that is what it has become! The people of God from Greenville College did something subversive and radical: they moved as one body out of the predictable college behavior of having classes, and dared to become closer with one another through a common experience, book-ended by the practice of Christian prayer! I reminded them of the Benedictine monks of Esquipulas' statement, "The Christ you seek you will not find unless you bring him with you," and told them that this hike has become a holy pilgrimage, because they brought within them to this camp ground none other than the Pilgrim God: Jesus Christ.

Here's to a re-naming venture, in the name of the Pilgrim God!

Pilgrim peace, Brett