A pilgrim finds memories in the local landscape

img_0819By Peggy Trendell-Jensen

A springtime Saturday found me sitting in my childhood church, remembering along with others the inspired accomplishments of a woman known in past decades as a faith-filled disciple-in-action. Now 52 years old, I was soon to be ordained as a deacon and the service triggered reflections of the many formative influences that have shaped my own spiritual journey. It occurred to me a walking pilgrimage to all my church homes would be a good way to mark my upcoming milestone. 

June 9, a Saturday two weeks ahead of the ordination, was the feast day of St. Columba. Given that he is the patron saint of pilgrims – his own travels took him from Ireland to Scotland, where he founded Iona Abbey in c. 563 – it seemed an auspicious date upon which to embark on my own (decidedly less ambitious!) three-church walk through the hills and valleys of North Vancouver. So I marked it in the calendar.

But then the humming and haw-ing began. I was booked to start a week-long, intensive course the following day, and wondered how aching muscles might impact that experience. Plus, my son was returning from a two-month trip to Europe that afternoon, and I wondered if my duties more properly lay in waving enthusiastically from the airport arrivals area. So I didn’t fully commit, and I didn’t talk it up as I would have otherwise. No festive arrangements were planned with friends from various parishes; no prayers or blessings were requested from folks along the path, just in case I called it all off.

But amidst the waffling the idea continued to beckon, and so June 9 saw me heading out my front door en route to St. John the Evangelist Church where I spent my growing-up years.  Pointing myself in the right direction was the extent of my arrangements.

And how unexpectedly marvellous it was to live an unplanned day. A cousin tracked me down just before I hit the 10,000-step milestone and joined me for a few kilometres on the way to St. John’s. On a whim, I posted the photo she took to Facebook, with a note saying I was about to head off for my next stop at St. Catherine’s, Capilano, where I had been married and raised our kids. I set off alone, with the glorious knowledge that no one was waiting for me and thus I didn’t have to worry about getting anywhere “on time.”

My feet found side streets my car had never driven, and my pedestrian pace allowed me to observe the minutiae of neighbourhood life impossible to witness at 50km/hr. Most interesting of all, I found my thoughts drifting not so much to the influences of my faith communities, but to memories of my wider past: the high school band teacher/yogi who used to live in that house, and made us all a vegetarian dinner one night in the ‘80s; the person who lives over there, and was on that committee with me; the sewing shop I spent so much time at when the boys were in preschool and I was dreaming about my next quilt project.

Amplifying these recollections were the unexpected voices from the Facebook world I received along the way. Unused to posting much of anything on my personal Facebook page, I was taken aback when my pre-ordination pilgrimage post was quickly “thumbs-ed up” by old high school friends I hadn’t seen in years, writing studio buddies of yore, former work colleagues and others whose names brought with them rich memories of the various facets of a life lived outside the church walls.

My off-the-cuff Facebook post had another benefit – a valued St. Catherine’s friend who “never checks Facebook” had serendipitously done just that as she was heading out the door that morning, and so had raced over to St. Catherine’s in time to greet me.  We shared an overdue “catch-up” conversation on a sunny bench in the memorial garden; the kind of spontaneous encounter that is so often unable to wedge itself into a “planned” day.

I turned my steps for a final time toward St. Clement’s, Lynn Valley, where I now minister in the neighbourhood in which I have spent most of my life. As I trudged up the hill, hot and now somewhat weary, I reflected on the interplay between our church life and our connections in the wider community, and the sacred threads that interweave and enrich them both. When I arrive at the last stop of this unplanned day, St. Clement’s is locked, peacefully empty in the late, golden afternoon. I sit under a Japanese maple, tired but content after the 18-km walk, and use the last two percent of my phone battery to call home. Within the hour, I am in the neighbourhood “local” with my newly arrived son and the rest of the family, celebrating milestones of all sorts  – a fitting end to the day, as it turned out, and the perfect start to a diaconal life in the world.

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