Today, Friday, was our first full day in Greece. Last night, after all of our pilgrims arrived, we made space for all 29 of us to name a hope, a need, or an expectation for the trip. It was a true privilege and humbling experience to listen as each person shared her (or his) hope for this journey – really, to witness each of us entrusting this group of strangers (who will surely become friends) with a precious hope or a dream.
There were so many wonderful hopes, dreams and expectations: community and solidarity; welcome and acceptance; knowledge and understanding; identifying with and being inspired by our foremothers in faith… But one hope stood out as particularly powerful to me. Recognizing how difficult it can be to be a woman in our Church, one participant lifted up “hope itself” as one of her hopes for the trip.
This morning, we set off a 2-hour journey east to the ruins of the ancient city of Philippi. Once we were on the road, we began with a prayer service, “In solidarity with all who journey.” The intent of this prayer was to help us recognize that we have chosen this journey for any number of reasons; and to call to mind the many thousands of people who are forced to journey from home and to a foreign land because of violence, war, crime, discrimination, and oppression of every kind.
But, holding the previous night’s hopes in my heart, it struck me in a new way that the women in our group are on this pilgrimage, in part, because they too have been forced on a journey that they didn’t choose. Their whole lives are a journey of reconciling their faith and their beliefs with a Church that undervalues them; of seeking to way to situate and find themselves in the story of Salvation; of finding a way offer their whole selves and all of their gifts and talents to a Church that limits them simply because of their gender.
On our way, Sr. Chris told us about the early Christian community at Philippi and particularly about Lydia, who is named in Acts 16. Once in Philippi, we visited the theater, agora/forum, and a few ancient basilicas.
After lunch, like Paul, we went outside the city gate by the river and found Lydia, the merchant of purple cloth from the city of Thyatira in Asia Minor, who was among the first in Philippi to receive the gospel preached by Paul and Silas and to be baptized – likely in the very river we were standing at. She opened her house, where she hosted the first gathering of Philippians to hear them preach and formed and continued to gather the first Christians in Philippi. We stopped to pray, giving thanks to God for Lydia and her important contribution to the early Church.
After our prayer, several of the women among us took off their shoes and socks and placed their feet in the living, dancing waters. I was lucky enough to catch up with Nontando Hadebe, later in the day, who tells us a little bit about what that experience was like for her in the video below. We also hear from Mary Ann McGuckin, who’s convinced that God brought her here and is watching over her despite all the obstacles that stood in her way; Annastacia Mphuthi, who tells us about what she plans to take back with her to South Africa for her liturgy workshops; and Sagoama Maredi, who finds inspiration for women’s movements today in the movement of women who spread Christianity in the ancient world.