In this year so unlike any other, long-distance visits to Coventry have been largely ruled out, for pilgrimages as much as anything else. And so, with faith, but still a fair degree of trepidation, the idea of the ‘online CCN pilgrimage’ developed as the year progressed. This week was the week the first of them happened!

19 pilgrims from ten different organisations and five different countries joined several of us from Coventry, each from their own homes, ranging from a Baptist, Lutheran and an Episcopal Church and a peace garden set on United Reformed ground to an Anglican church,  cathedral, pro-cathedral, relief and aid charity, peace network and  lay minister researching a project on the CCN…. a fantastic, diverse mixture of very new partner organisations, organisations involved for several decades, and individuals seeking to find out more, over justabout as broad a geography as could practically be accommodated given different time zones.

Bringing Coventry to life virtually is inevitably a big challenge, but the Dean’s personal video tour through the Cathedral, recorded in September and October, seemed to put this across very well indeed, and was incredibly special. Dean John then led a talk and discussion on Coventry’s theology of reconciliation.

Day two was more about everyone getting to know each other, with the background story-sharing session for each attending organisation and the usual juggling act of enabling everyone to tell their story in time, which is never quite enough!, but which always so helps to ‘level the ground’ for each reconciler present. Discussion followed on confronting racial injustice with reconciliation, led by Cornelia Kulawik, vicar of Berlin-Dahlem in Germany, and Vicentia Kgabe, head of the College of Transfiguration in South Africa, both of whom we were so glad to involve in the programme. We discussed race both as an issue of problematic terminology, specifically in Germany, and as an active relations issue, in a year when on both fronts, but particularly the latter, the issues have been particularly and in so many cases painfully and tragically prominent.

This extended very naturally into discussions around inclusion and diversity the next day – and how helpful or not those actual terms can be – using Pullen Memorial Baptist Church (a long-standing partner since the 1970s) and Holy Trinity Pro-Cathedral Brussels (partner since February this year) and their different work as examples. Diversity around race and gender – and a growing awareness of how very far we need to go still – were very much to the fore in minds in this pilgrimage, and a source of real concern, as indeed was the anxiety around changes in society just this year arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, the forthcoming US election, Brexit and the rise of the far right in so many parts of the world. We were glad to be able to use the Week of Prayer for World Peace prayers each day just before praying the litany together, which touched on so many issues pertinent to this year.

And did the format work? It certainly did! Of course, this is a very different type of pilgrimage. Physically being in Coventry to experience the holy place at the heart of our network is impossible fully to replicate, and we all missed the opportunity for those spontaneous 1-1 connections with new people over dinner or coffee. Also, entire days at this is impossible; we met over three consecutive four-hour-long afternoons, or mornings for those in the USA. But in the circumstances, Zoom, as many others have also shown, does a fine job at providing opportunity to connect even a large-ish group, with careful forward planning and use of breakout rooms for closer conversations about specific questions to keep things fluid. Connections were still made between people in ways even stronger than we might have hoped. Some inevitable technical issues aside (mainly around connecting to other social media platforms) there is so very much good to take away from this first try at pilgrimage in this way, and having welcomed probably a broader cross-section of partners and friends than any other pilgrimage in recent years is no bad way to start! All of whom were a real joy to welcome for the three days, and several of whom we will hear from via various ‘Thoughts’ in weeks to come.

This is such a difficult year across the globe, but it’s been so encouraging to be reminded this week that our essence is strong, that individually and collectively so much good work goes on, and in the need to connect with each other there is great opportunity. Our physical, in-situ pilgrimages are still very much part of our fundamental ethos, when we can do them once again, but do watch out for more CCN opportunities like this one in 2021 and beyond.

Alice Farnhill
CCN Project Officer

CCN Thought for the Week for 17th October – are online pilgrimages the future?
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