The Pilgrim Course is a fairly new Church of England resource for small groups. I’m a fan of small groups of Christians meeting to share their faith and their knotty problems, to grow together, to grow towards God. I also tend to the view that if we are practised in talking about our faith in safe spaces, we are braver about talking about our faith in less safe spaces, where we may be challenged overtly about what we believe.
I wanted to run a course for a group as a matter of some urgency – I arrived as a new Rector at the beginning of Lent, and so a Lent course just didn’t happen amidst everything else. Why Pilgrim? It bills itself as “assumes very little about knowledge of the Christian faith”. Because I’m new here, I don’t have much idea of the depth and breadth of knowledge about Christianity, so starting with “Christian Initiation” and going back to the beginning felt sensible. There is no history of house groups or discussion groups here, and I was told that very few people used to take part in the Lent course, so it was with some trepidation that I ordered 10 booklets, set a date, told everyone, and showed up on the first night.
People arrived….and kept arriving…. at our Church Hall. I’d got the kettle on, but was sent off to welcome people and find more chairs. Sixteen people showed up (remember those ten booklets I ordered?), and I had apologies from a couple of others. Since then our numbers have fluctuated, as numbers do, topping out at eighteen, and dipping to fifteen, but all the time with people being keen to keep up, to make sure that if they can’t come they send apologies, and doing their reading if they can’t join the group (this in a parish where we have gently increased to a usual Sunday congregation of thirty to thirty-five). People’s knowledge and faith varied hugely. Two of them had very little contact with the Church of England when they began, but most are regular worshippers – one or two from Evensong rather than the main service.
How have we found it? The fact that most have stuck with it indicates we’ve had a good time. Although, my motivation was rumbled in week 4 – “we’ve learned so much more about each other and where we are all coming from, we’re talking to each other in ways we never have before – is that supposed to happen?”
good things include –
It’s all there. Bible readings, video, audio. It doesn’t require much preparation from the leader.
It opens and closes with prayer.
There is too much material, rather than too little – it never feels “thin”.
It is Bible based (confession: I’m not a fan of Christian courses which don’t start with the Bible)
less good things include
It actually assumes a fairly good working knowledge of Christianity already (I assumed I would be able to prepare an adult baptism candidate using it, but I was wrong).
The videos are full of very middle class looking, middle England people. I understand that it helps to have articulate people who are easy to understand, but it doesn’t really help appeal to the marginalised.
God always seems to be “He”. “He” is fine for Father and Son, but less fine for modelling inclusive ways of talking about God.
We’ve agreed that we reserve the right to answer our own questions when we don’t like the ones being asked, or they don’t seem to fit our circumstances. We’ve agreed that we don’t have to agree with each other or with the course material. We’ve agreed that we like talking and praying in a less formal context. We’ve agreed that the group is too big, and that the Church Hall acoustics are rubbish for a hum of discussion.
So, where now in this corner of Wiltshire? The sixth and last session of “Christian Initiation” happens tonight, so I’ll be asking the group that very question. I’ll keep you posted.