It is a long drive from Lake Galilee to the airport in Tel Aviv and so we set off after breakfast to begin our journey. We still had a couple of places to visit on the way to the airport. After about an hours drive, we stopped at Caesarea Maritima. We were fortunate to be able to look at the remains of the old city and particularly to see a film which told us about its history through the ages. It was fascinating to put the biblical stories that we know and heard during our Pilgrimage into the context of place too and to imagine all that had happened there. Once again we were back in the coaches and we drove along the coast a little so that we could go onto the beach near the aqueduct for our final service before going to the airport.

Once on the beach Bishop Paul and Bishop Christopher anointed the Pilgrims with the oil of gladness for our onward journeys and we were each presented with a small Jerusalem cross as a reminder of all that we had seen heard and learned from our time as Pilgrims together.

Then it was onto the buses for one final time and we travelled for another hour or so to the airport. Truthfully, we all thought that we were very early arriving at just after 1pm for a 5.30 flight, but, once again our guides proved that they knew what they were doing: the queues were phenomenally long for absolutely everything and we made it thought to departures with about 20 minutes to spare before we needed to go to the gate to board our flight.

Coming home always seems like it takes so much longer than going does. It is the anticipation of seeing family and friends and telling them all about the Pilgrimage, but it is also because there is so much to be processed and it is as if being at home helps with that. All that we have seen and heard and done will resonate with us all in the coming weeks and months.

As we move back into our everyday lives and go back to work it will take us all time to think about what has touched and moved us and what this will mean in the way we live. Having been to the Holy Land a number of times now and every time there is something new to learn and to take back home and turn around in my mind prayerfully as I seek to build what I have experienced into my life. I hope that our Pilgrims, old and new, will find much upon which to reflect and that their faith will continue to grow and deepen as a result of all they have shared.

As we were on Pilgrimage, we were sent this email from a 2020 Pilgrim:

I was on the 2020 Southwark Ecumenical Pilgrimage to the Holy Land which really was a life-changing experience for me. Due to Covid we missed Bethlehem and Jacob’s Well and I would have so loved to return to the Holy Land with you for this 2023 pilgrimage – maybe next time.

I have been thinking about our experience and our trip on the boat at sunset when we were given Jerusalem crosses. At that time I was newly baptised and confirmed, my church being St Mary The Blessed Virgin, Addington, Surrey. I am a librarian by day and in my spare time I am a singer/songwriter and book author.

Today as I sat thinking about our 2020 pilgrimage, a song with a melody and words just poured out of me. It was written in about 20 minutes and all came at the same time. I can’t help it want to share it with you.

We hope and trust that three years on the 2023 Pilgrims will be able to recall their Pilgrimage as similarly life-changing.