Pilgrim Course – thoughts from a very small town

pilgrimbasiclogohiresThe 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.

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8 responses to “Pilgrim Course – thoughts from a very small town

  1. This sounds a good way to start a new ministry and the uptake you describe, provides resources for the future. I’m not sure of the content, not having any contact with it up to now, but our Vicar is using it for our confirmation course (adapted as necessary) and we plan to do something similar to your course later in the year for a wider audience.

    I await it with baited breath 🙂

  2. We like it too and have been using it for the Wednesday night Exploring Faith group. So much better than others we have tried. Just wish we could have the videos on a CD or flash as they download very slowly and jerkily with our broadband and don’t play smoothly. Need to borrow your techie?

  3. Aren’t you still known as “Sending Church”? 😉
    I’ve downloaded the videos and audios in advance so that I don’t need wireless to play them – they’ve behaved beautifully. I did all my own techie bits!

    • Not sent anyone recently! Time we did another. Maybe my laptop is just too old. It improved a bit when we updated the software but there is only so much one can do on a Pentium. Maybe try with a newer machine? Pity is that it doesn’t seem to work any better on the ipad (sorry, but sometimes Mac seems to have an edge!) as that will only allow live streaming, not download and play later. I may put the files into a flash-stick and try to play them on a newer tablet machine.

  4. Well worth while purchasing the DVD. It avoids any problems with broadband connection and can be played on a television if using a home for the group.

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