I want to express my appreciation for all the support I have known during my recently concluded pilgrimage to England. I have been blessed by your encouraging words and faithful prayers on behalf of Sybella and myself. It was a great blessing to have four weeks out of the pulpit: I have not been away from preaching for that long since I was out of ministry from 1994 – 1996. I am so thankful for the leadership of Dave Thompson, Vaitafa Heimoana, Alexis Easton, and Tevita Vaikona who preached in my absence, as well as Tracy Tennies who ensured that everything was in place for worship to proceed smoothly.
I can assure you that my heart has been filled by all I have learned and those I have met over the past month. Over the next four weeks, both in worship and in this space, I will reflect on some of what has profoundly blessed me while I have been absent from Holy Cross.
God’s grace was reinforced in a variety of ways during my month of July which included the four days of Ashram, my 11 days of pilgrimage, and our 12 days of vacation. Curiously, one of the greatest manifestations of God’s protection involved our last week away as we both dealt with cases of COVID-19.
On the last full day of our pilgrimage in Salisbury, England it was revealed that one of our pilgrims had tested positive for the virus and was exhibiting symptoms. The rest of us self-tested and only one other came up positive. I tested negative and—though I did not feel particularly well—ascribed my symptoms to a cold or other minor ailment. I parted from the others at Heathrow airport on Tuesday, July 19, meeting Sybella there before boarding a motorcoach for a 5+ hour trek to Manchester. It was the trip from hell as far as I was concerned as I was feverish, yet still equated that with having gotten overheated during a trip to Stonehenge the day before.
We arrived and stayed with one couple for three days, travelling about each day with another couple. Our final three evenings were spent in a hotel, though we readily travelled about in a small car with our genial hosts. On Monday, July 25 we took a rental car to visit a clergy colleague and spouse in Ipswich, some 200 miles away. By this time I was feeling pretty good but Sybella had come down with a bug manifested by a nasty cough. We showed up on our friends’ doorstep and they suggested we each take a COVID test, which we both failed magnificently. We immediately found another area hotel in which to dwell for our two evenings in Ipswich.
We set about warning our friends in Manchester of our health status, and also our prospective hosts in Denmark, inquiring as to whether they would still like us to come visit. They voiced their willingness to take the chance so on Wednesday, July 27 we flew to Copenhagen. While spending the days travelling about seeing the sights, we did have the privilege of occupying their “summer house” for our nightly slumber.
Sybella’s condition steadily improved and then we flew home on Monday, August 1. We were delighted that Tracy Tennies was willing to pick us up in Pittsburg when we disembarked from BART. Subsequent testing has assured us that we are no longer infected with the virus. Subsequent communiqués have confirmed no infections in our wake as well.
I see God looking after us, allowing us to enjoy our long anticipated journey, albeit it with a couple of miserable days each, yet not at the expense of those willing to welcome us into their lives. While I do not recommend contracting a potentially deadly virus while on vacation, I am glad to not have brought it all the way home. I have much to share from my recent travels: I’m glad COVID-19 is not on that list.
This experience confirms for me the value of vaccinations and boosters: yes, we got the virus but it was annoying, not life threatening. The value of masking was also affirmed by our friends’ lack of infection. I urge us all to continue to be mindful of doing all we can to ensure the health and well-being of those around us: that is what is meant by loving others as we love ourselves.
It was a great trip, and I’m glad it has led me back to Stockton to begin another year as your pastor, filled with new insights and inspirations for how we can grow in faith and manifest that faith in works of compassion.
Yours for Christ,