Guest Author: Will Piferrer on the Camino de Santiago

Dear Friends,

I’m humbled and excited by the opportunity to be a guest author in our weekly newsletter! A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to share with you a message that has become something of a recurring theme in my life. That is, the idea of walking – not necessarily as a physical activity – but as a spiritual activity. The last few years of my time at St. Liz have been increasingly devoted to finding new ways to walk with God, and grow in faith, and I’m grateful to be walking alongside this wonderful community that we’ve built together. In that spirit, I’d like to share with you once again, a very exciting personal journey that will unfold in September, and invite you to join me in prayer and reflection as we move into our seasons of Stewardship, and Thanksgiving.

When I was a boy growing up in South Florida, my family endured Hurricane Andrew, a vicious Category 5 storm which devastated our South Miami community, and took with it the sense of normalcy and tranquility we had enjoyed in the years prior. Following the storm, there was no electricity or clean water for months on end. It was nothing short of a disaster zone, and it was hot (think August in Texas, but slightly less forgiving). The roads were impassable, and we were frequently forced to walk together in order to acquire the things we needed – clean water from the National Guard Armory, food from the local supermarket, shelter from the unrelenting rain, or just simple peace of mind from checking in on our family, neighbors and friends. In those days, it was an unambiguous reminder of how we took for granted the ease with which we went about our lives, and secured the things we needed from day to day. We prayed for strength to find a way forward amid the devastating circumstances, and we found that despite the hardships, walking and praying together brought us closer as a family, and gave us the courage to persevere.

Sometime later when my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and slowly became unable to walk, we lost the ability to enjoy those familiar things we had always done together – roller skate, go to the beach, or just have an impromptu dance party in the living room. We took for granted that we would always retain our physical abilities; we didn’t really spend a great deal of time thinking about something as simple as walking, until we couldn’t do it anymore. Here, it was my mother’s inability to walk that ultimately brought us closer together as we found new ways to enjoy familiar things, even if they didn’t quite look and feel the way they did before. We found new ways to walk together, and continued to pray for the patience and clarity we knew we would need to accept this new stage of life.

And so it seems only natural that walking would re-emerge as a central theme in my own spiritual growth at St. Elizabeth where I’ve made new lifelong friends, baptized my children, and consistently sought new ways to give thanks and pray for the extraordinary community we’ve build together over the years.

The Way of St. James, or the Camino de Santiago is a medieval pilgrimage route that runs across the north of Europe, primarily through northern Spain. For more than a thousand years, the faithful have embarked on religious pilgrimages from their doorsteps, walking until they reached the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, where tradition holds the remains of the apostle St. James were located in 812 AD. Today, pilgrims from all Christian denominations embark on Camino journeys to renew their connection with Christ and the natural world, and to find peace and comfort in an otherwise noisy and sometimes turbulent world. Pilgrims walk together for hundreds of miles on personal journeys to seek meaning in the greater world, reconnect with their faith, unburden their souls, and find healing and comfort from the losses that have devastated their hearts.

At St. Elizabeth’s, none of us has ever walked alone. In that spirit of community and friendship, I’m excited to invite my church family to continue to walk with me on a version of this journey, undertaken in the name of our congregation. On the audio table at the front of the church throughout the month of August, you’ll find a small letter box next to a scallop shell – the symbol of the Camino – and some stationery, where I’d like to invite you to send your prayers, letters, thoughts, poems or other petitions with me on this spiritual journey of renewal. My walk begins on August 31st in St. Jean Pied de Port, France. Your devotions and prayers will be sealed and remain confidential, and will be carried from the town of St. Jean across the Pyrenees mountains, stopping in of Santiago de Compostella for the traditional Pilgrim’s blessing at the journey’s end. They will then continue on to the capital of Madrid, where on Sunday, September 16th, they’ll be placed upon the altar of the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer, our sister church within the worldwide Anglican Communion in Spain, for a blessing and prayer of kinship between our respective churches.

As we approach our stewardship season, I would humbly ask each of you to reflect upon this theme of walking together in a continuous renewal of our faith, and of our commitment to one another as members of this extraordinary spiritual community. I’m very thankful for all of your prayers and good wishes (for safety, serenity, and strong knees), and invite you to follow the journey as it unfolds on a blog I’ve established to capture the good, the bad, and the muddy along the path. Link: https://wpiferrer.wixsite.com/camino.

It would be my privilege to carry your prayers and expressions of faith on my shoulders, and in my pack, across the miles as we walk together in Christ.

Will Piferrer