As the clergy of Argyll gathered this week, we were asked to think about the distinctiveness of the spiritual tradition in this part of the world. Our guide asked us to ponder the future role of our church by looking to the past: to the spirituality of St Columba and the nature of a church based on monastic communities rather than ‘parish’ systems. He also shared with us some of his own hopes for a Christian Heritage centre in Argyll, and a well mapped well advertised pilgrimage route following Columba through Ireland, across the sea to Kintyre and then to Iona — a route meant to rival the Camino de Santiago.
That may indeed be a good an worthwhile project, but all week I had a nagging question: what will have have to offer those who come?
It seems to me that pilgrims come, if they come at all, hoping to experience something of God: beauty, mystery, presence, peace. Some of that rests in the land — in the sheer glory of waves and rock and hills. But beyond that, there must be people who pray. People who connect what is given in the land with what is given in Christ.
It seems to me that that would be a better project for the church than creating heritage sites. Though if the tourist board wants to help open a route for potential pilgrims, so much the better.