We at ITS Pilgrimages operate a multi denominational policy. As such we have had participants on our educational tours from the orthodox right, middle of the road and the liberal left all on one tour!
On one of my first tours, we arrived into Jerusalem from Tiberias on a Friday night, giving us Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights in the City of Gold.
On the Saturday morning I announced on our tour bus that we had the following options for Sunday worship.
We could hire a room in the hotel and hold an ecumenical service or we could take and collect all those that wish to attend Sunday morning prayers at their chosen place of worship in the City.
I asked them to come back to me during the course of the day and tell me what they wanted to do.
Within a few minutes one of the participants came up to me and whispered in my ear, ‘I will not pray with this bunch!’
So I was thinking ‘Plan B’, which was to shuttle the group to and from a selection of churches in Jerusalem and we start the day of sightseeing around 11am, which for the Dead Sea was a disaster!
The guide and myself were discussing all these problems and logistics on our way to Bethlehem.
Our English guide (sorry her name escapes me), took us, in the late afternoon, to the Grotto of St. Jerome- located under the Church of the Nativity ‘He is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate), and his commentaries on the Gospel of the Hebrews. His list of writings is extensive.
He is recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Church of England (Anglican Communion). Jerome is commemorated on 30 September with a memorial.’ (From Wikipedia,)
In the Grotto – it was dark and very quiet – with one small light above our heads – extremely atmospheric.
I sat at the back, head bowed, with my eyes closed, simply soaking up the atmosphere. Our group of 30 sat on school like benches in 4 rows and filled this tiny chapel.
The guide said, in a hushed voice. ‘You should know where you are now and the significance of this Holy site and what St Jerome achieved.’
Suddenly, one of our group stood up and said a short prayer, this was immediately followed by another and then another. In fact most probably every member of the group had their say.
At the end, I opened my eyes to see that we were in total darkness and a small group of pilgrims stood by the entrance holding a torch and were our ‘congregation’.
It was a ‘magical’ moment – one that will always stay with me.
As I got back on the coach – I asked my group – ‘Was that our ecumenical service?’
A resounding ‘Yes!’ was shouted back to me.
I responded with ‘Tomorrow is Dead Sea day and we depart at 8am!’ A big cheer came from all the group.
The man, who whispered in my ear earlier in the day, came up to me as we returned to the hotel and said to me ‘ It took a Jew to bring us Christians together!’