After our lunch we boarded the coaches once again and head off into the Golan Heights in order to reach the spot where the River Jordan rises. Our purpose in doing this is in order to re-affirm our baptismal vows in the River Jordan where Jesus was baptised by John.
I always find re-affirming my baptismal vows very special and it is even more so to do this when we are in the place that Jesus was also baptised. We all gather around in one of the little amphitheatres as Bishop Christopher prepares to lead the service with Bishop Karowei we sing together and people begin to gather around as they walk past in order to see what we are doing.
We recall our baptismal vows and re-affirm them before Bishop Christopher and Bishop Karowei sprinkle us with water using rosemary (which one of our Pilgrims had gathered from outside the restaurant. I was moved to tears as I reaffirmed my beliefs. Truthfully I cannot be exactly clear why but I know that it was an extremely emotional and inspirational experience for me and for others too. Sometimes we do know what moves us as we can articulate the thought processes and emotional responses that make us feel as we do. Other times we simply know that something within us is responding to God and that feeling can be utterly overwhelming. That too is what pilgrimage is about and what Bishop Christopher talked to us about for it happens when we are open to God’s spirit at work in us and is one of the many blessings of pilgrimage wherever it is.
The Bishops, it must be said, were in a little of a playful mood as they light-heartedly sprinkled each other and then Bishop Christopher ‘sprinkled’ the Dean with the rest of the bowl of holy water!
When the service was finished many used the empty bottles that they had brought to collect water from the River Jordan for use in baptisms at their home churches. The bottles were all over 100ml and so will have to go into people’s checked luggage. It is a wonderful idea and I know from previous pilgrimages that churches have really appreciated the water and being able to use it. I do hope though that it reaches home safely and that our Pilgrims do not have soaking wet belongings by the time they get back!
There are five Southwark Readers on the pilgrimage and they had their chance to get a group photograph with Bishop Christopher at Banias.
We then had time to wander up to the caves in the hills or to eat and ice cream or drink something before heading for the coaches and for an early (for us) return to the hotel.
We were back in time for about twenty of us to make it in the Sea of Galilee and for many others to watch. Some then went for a swim in the pool afterwards too. I was one of those in the Sea and so do not have any photographs but you can find them on Twitter….
I had heard before we came that the water levels in the sea were very low but I was really surprised at how low it was as I had never seen an actual bit of ‘beach’ at the Ron Beach Hotel, the water had always been right up the steps. But this time there was a few feet of beach and people were also able to make use of the chairs on the beach after their swim or whilst watching their friends and family. I hope that tomorrow the water is high enough for us to leave for the airport on our boat trip from the hotel rather than having to get to a pint of the sea that is high enough by coach first.
Our evening meeting showed how enthusiastic everyone had been about this wonderful sunny, evocative and moving day. One of our Pilgrims said that she brought a message from some of those who had watched us at Banias. She said that they had said how serious we seemed to be about the service but also how much we seemed to be enjoying ourselves and relaxed and happy.
She said that they said that they had wanted to come and join us. I could help but think back To Bishop Christopher’s sermon earlier in the day when he had talked to us about being openhearted and sharing the blessings that we have with others. I think it might be that at the service at which we renewed our baptismal vows we were absolutely sharing our blessings with others and I hope that we can all continue to do so.