Pilgrimmage to the Shire

Although I didnt initially see it as such, our trip to New Zealand represented a genuine pilgrimage for me (if I'm properly understanding a pilgrimage to be a trip you undertake which allows you to get yourself sorted out spiritually). With all I was going through after college, I didn't feel that I was in any place to immediately continue my path into youth ministry, and wasn't entirely sure where to go. I had a degree designed to prepare me for the ministry, but I didn't feel comfortable practicing the only model of ministry I knew. New Zealand provided me with more time to consider my future and my faith, because I was traveling as a student, and enrolled in a Master's program in Theology at the University of Otago, in Dunedin, at the bottom of the South Island.

At the point we arrived in New Zealand, I had essentially had about a year off from any significant involvement in either church or Christian organizations. However, maybe because we were in such a different place, I was finally comfortable enough to begin to feel my way back in. Obviously, enrolling oneself for a Christian theology degree necessitates some consideration of spiritual things, but perhaps more significantly we also quickly found a church and began to get involved. In Dunedin, I recognized several things about the institutional church almost immediately, which I don't think that I had considered before. Firstly, religious organizations provide a sort of multinational community unlike any other organization that I have been a part of, and secondly, the Christian church is an amazingly diverse entity, and it cannot be fully characterized by any one locality's expression of it. Both of those understandings were initially very important for me: as a stranger in a strange land, I needed the community that church provided, and in experiencing a church which wasn't very much like the one at home, I realized that there was room for me to comfortably exist as a part of the institution.

In traveling, I think I also quickly began to adopt a new attitude towards faith in general, and more specifically my own. That is, that religious faith is not necessarily something objective which one can either have or not have; it is really a feature of the process of one's life, which you often have little control over, and which is extremely difficult to quantify. Prior to NZ, I had questioned whether I had lost faith by rejecting many of the essentials of the faith of my youth, but I soon came to realize that "losing faith" is not so simple a thing as rejecting a few generally ridiculous doctrines.

Just making the trip to NZ then marked a significant turning point for me in terms of faith and my commitment to the Christian Church. However, the course of my time there also directed my thinking in the trajectory in which it is still headed (time will tell whether I think that's a good thing or not). There are several stories I should tell in relation to that, but for brevity's sake, I'll do that in the next blog.