Spring Pilgrimage Offers Unique View of Reconciliation

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Monday, November 19, 2012

“There are some things that God can only teach us by dislocating our bodies to strange land,” says Chris Rice, director of Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation (CFR).

To give students the opportunity to receive these teachings and to experience God and revelation in new ways, CFR leads students on a yearly pilgrimage exploring what it means to be ambassadors of reconciliation.

On the 2013 Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope March 9-14, CFR staff and selected students will travel to diverse communities on the East Coast. There they will spend time with leaders already at work in the ministry of reconciliation.

Students and CFR staff walk along an historic slave trail in Richmond.Among the communities the students will visit are the Richmond Hill neighborhood in Richmond, Va., and the Sandtown neighborhood in Baltimore, Md. In Richmond, the pilgrims will learn from local leaders ministering to the people of the city through a ministry called “Hope in the Cities” and reflect on Americans’ painful involvement with slavery. In Sandtown, students will shadow community members involved in New Song Urban Ministries, a unique ministry that focuses on affirming racial equality and loving one’s neighbor.

“Sandtown for me was a true revelation. I saw it as a place for me to really see what reconciliation looks like,” said student Angela January, M.T.S. ’12, who went on the pilgrimage last year. “I don’t know if it’s perfect, but I would certainly term it beautiful, hopeful.”

A Pilgrimage Examined

The first CFR Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope was in 2005, when the center’s co-founder Emmanuel Katongole led a group of students and Duke Divinity School leaders to Uganda and Rwanda. There they explored the roots and effects of war and reflected on the hopeful signs of people working toward peace and forgiveness for the building of God’s kingdom.

A church in Baltimore.In addition, the Office of Black Church Studies leads a Durham pilgrimage annually. Pilgrims visit historic sites in Durham—including Stagville Plantation and Hayti Community Center—and reflect, lament, worship, and grow together toward reconciliation.

The outgrowth of pilgrimages such as these led to the CFR pilgrimages in Baltimore and Richmond, where the center’s staff knew ministry leaders pursuing reconciliation work in the areas of racial and socioeconomic equality.

Last year, as the pilgrims moved along the path from Richmond to Baltimore and back to Durham, they learned what it means for God to show mercy and grace through the people they met along the way. They also explored the tensions and emotions that arise from being honest with each other through the pilgrimage experience.

“I think it’s uncomfortable, and it’s painful. And I think that was part of the experience,” said student Kaitlyn Bowie, M.Div. ’14. “They call it a pilgrimage of pain and hope because you do encounter both.”

Unsettled Homecoming

Returning home last March was difficult, the pilgrims said. They saw the realities of brokenness more clearly in their communities and wrestled with how to embody the reconciliation they had witnessed on their journey.

Student Marantha Wall participated in the 2012 pilgrimage.“Where the unsettling comes in is when you leave that sort of journey and come back and you realize either the lack of awareness or the brokenness that is here—whether that’s just on this campus or in Durham,” said pilgrim Maranatha Wall, M.Div. ’13. “You see it and you wonder how you can infuse hope in your settings that are really close to home.”

The experience continues to motivate last year’s pilgrims. They are learning to confront the pain of past injustices while they also reflect upon how they can help contribute to a different, more hopeful future through conversations with other students in the classroom and through interactions with the people they encounter at church and in other ministry settings.

Bowie said those conversations are not something one can force, but she feels more prepared to enter into those discussions and to talk about racial divisions should they arise. She is learning what it means to be a different kind of presence in her community—a presence of reconciliation.

“So now my question is: How do I become a picture of something different?” she said.


For more information on how Duke Divinity School students can attend the Center for Reconciliation’s 2013 Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope, email Dayna Olson Getty at or call (919) 660-3593. In addition, attend the information session on Nov. 29, 2012 from 12:30–1:30 p.m. to learn more about the 2013 pilgrimage.