A pilgrimage through the biblical lands where Jesus walked will mark the culmination of this year’s Easter season for 20 young Canadian Anglicans.
Hosted by the Canadian Companions of Jerusalem in partnership with the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, a contingent of young adults will travel to Israel and Palestine from May 1 to 12 to experience the story of their Christian faith in the land of its birth. The pilgrims will also learn about mission and ministry projects of the local Anglican church and connect with other young Christians from the Jerusalem diocese.
Established by General Synod in 2010, the Canadian Companions of Jerusalem fosters connections between Canadian dioceses, parishes and individuals and the diocese of Jerusalem.
Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, will accompany the pilgrims, who range in age from 20 to 26. Sheilagh McGlynn, national youth animator; Canon Richard LeSueur, a former resident of Jerusalem and member of the advisory council to the Companions of Jerusalem; and Andrea Mann, the church’s director of Global Relations, will serve as hosts and guides.
One of the pilgrims is Chase McLean, 26, who recently completed his master’s degree in archaeology from Memorial University and works as an archaeologist for the New Brunswick government. A member of the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Florenceville-Bristol, N.B., McLean previously served as a parish youth delegate and first heard about the pilgrimage from the Rev. Harold Boomer, incumbent at Trinity, Perth-Andover.
McLean says he applied because “it would be the absolute journey of a lifetime, travelling to a whole other country with new cultures, new languages, new food, different weather, living in history.”
He also says he is hoping to strengthen his personal connection with God.
“Maybe it could influence me to be a little bit more involved in the Anglican community in my home here in New Brunswick and just see what I could bring back to my own congregation,” he says.
The idea of the pilgrimage dates back to the Anglican Church of Canada’s 2019 General Synod which Archbishop Suheil Dawani, then primate of the Episcopal diocese of Jerusalem, attended as a guest. McGlynn recalls how at a lunch between Dawani and youth delegates, she suggested young Anglicans might travel to the Holy Land. Dawani, she says, immediately encouraged the idea. “Come and visit!” he told them.
Young people, McGlynn remembers telling him, “want experiences. They want to know more about what’s in this world outside of our own context here in Canada.”
Each pilgrim had to raise a minimum of $1,500 themselves out of a cost of $5,095 per person. Remaining funds were covered by General Synod and donations, often by the pilgrims’ own parishes. Pilgrims will communicate the experience of their trips through media such as blogging, videos and social media.
McGlynn says the initial plan was for 15 pilgrims, but due to the number of applicants, organizers bumped up that number to 20. She called the pilgrims “an incredibly diverse group” from dioceses across the country, including many who do not often participate in national church events. One is ordained, but most are lay people, including both students and workers.
Robert Woods, 20, is currently studying for his master’s degree in philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, after earning his bachelor’s at Queen’s. Born and raised in Ottawa, he attends Epiphany Anglican Church and before university participated in the diocese’s Youth Internship Program, whose manager, Donna Rourke, informed him about the pilgrimage.
During his time in university, Woods says, he explored and grew stronger in his faith and became a lay reader—all of which encouraged him to take advantage of opportunities such as a pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine that would connect him with other young Anglicans from across the country.
“Many people don’t get to go to the Holy Land, and … this is so generously funded by the Anglican church,” Woods says. “It seems like just a great way to connect with the place of our faith, of the gospel, of Jesus’ work.”
Andrea Mann, director of Global Relations and General Synod staff support to the Companions of Jerusalem, says that the pilgrimage will provide young adults with “wonderful opportunities for meeting family members in the Anglican tradition” and help their faith formation by allowing them to see how young Anglicans in different contexts live and serve.
The people of Palestine and the Middle East more generally, Mann says, tend to be younger than most Canadians. The median age in Canada is 41.1 years old compared to 20.8 years in Palestine, according to data reference website Worldometer.
“The churches and communities that the pilgrims will be visiting have a lot of young people in them,” Mann says. “I think the Companions of Jerusalem are also keen to share the story of the diocese of Jerusalem with young adults in the Anglican Church of Canada to spark an interest in the Holy Land, the stories of our tradition in the biblical lands, and to strengthen young Canadian Anglicans’ interests in the Communion beyond Canada.”