On October 7, two congregations—one in the Diocese of Western New York and the other in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania—will take a long walk. Along the way, they will pray for each other, for their dioceses, and for the upcoming convention at which they will vote on whether to embark on a partnership that would include sharing a bishop for the next five years.
Shortly after church that Sunday, the people of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Westfield, New York will start walking west with wine. A couple of hours later, the people of Church of the Holy Cross in North East, Pennsylvania, will head east with bread. They’ll meet at State Line United Methodist Church in North East to celebrate Eucharist and pray together about the possible shared future of their two dioceses.
The idea for the pilgrimage, says the Rev. Virginia Carr, rector of St. Peter’s, emerged from the congregation’s study of “Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries,” by Gerald L. Sittser. The book discusses pilgrimage as a spiritual practice across Christian history.
“We’re a relatively poor parish, and so going to the Holy Land or Spain is out of reach,” Carr said. “But we thought, ‘What if we walked to someplace local? What if, in preparation for convention, we did a pilgrimage and dedicated it to prayer and meditation in preparation for the election?’”
Pilgrims from other congregations in the two dioceses are welcome to join the walk from either end, bring sacred items from their parishes, and contribute ideas for prayers and devotions to use along the way.
The Westfield pilgrims will leave earlier and walk further, since their church is just over 11 miles from the rendezvous point. The North West pilgrims have just over four miles to travel. They’re calling the pilgrimage “Buckling the Belt,” because once they meet, said Carr, they will “close the two ends and make a physical connection between the two dioceses.
“Within that is giving thanks and praying for openness of mind and spirit,” she says. “We’re praying for the feel of the whole thing.”