A trio of Duke Divinity staff co-taught a class on the practice of pilgrimage at the 25th Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference Sept. 11-14 in New Orleans, La.
Every year CCDA draws diverse clergy, ministry leaders, and students from across the U.S. for several days of intense reflection, learning, and growing together in classes exploring reconciliation and community development.
Entitled “Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope as a Practice of Authentic Reconciliation,” the class explored models of pilgrimage based on the instructors’ experiences at Duke Divinity School. Keith Daniel, former interim director for the Office of Black Church Studies; Ismael Ruiz-Millán, director of the Hispanic House; and Dayna Olson-Getty, U.S. and student programs coordinator for the Center for Reconciliation (CFR), led the class of 15 participants.
“We all have participated in pilgrimage with Duke Divinity students, but we’ve never had an opportunity to get together and learn from each other’s experiences,” Olson-Getty said. “Teaching the seminar together allowed us to do that, as well as to reflect together on the value of pilgrimage in preparing students for ministry. We hope that this is just the beginning of our collaboration.”
The gifts of pilgrimage
The pilgrimages Daniel, Olson-Getty and Ruiz-Millán lead often go in different directions. But despite the route, each pilgrimage bears similar gifts.
“Pilgrimage is a really powerful tool,” Olson-Getty said. “It’s an experiential learning pedagogy for helping people temporarily inhabit a world that is not their own.”
The Center for Reconciliation takes students on an annual pilgrimage  to visit ministries in Richmond, Va. and Baltimore, Md. that are involved in responding to systemic injustice and social division. The pilgrimage is built on a model by reconciliation leader Trevor Hudson and was first implemented at Duke by South African Peter Storey , professor emeritus of the practice of the Christian ministry, along with the support of the Office of Black Church Studies.
“The pilgrimage experience is a truly authentic way to experience transformation because you are intentionally looking for the face of Jesus in those you encounter,” Daniel said.
Ruiz-Millán talked about his experiences leading students to the U.S.-Mexico border. The pilgrimage involves observing the harsh conditions immigrants face as they attempt to cross the border and hearing from men and women who have attempted the journey. The result of these interactions is recognizing the humanity of others and developing compassion for one’s neighbor, he said.
“I have seen how people have changed their perspective about immigration, welcoming immigrants, and practicing true hospitality,” Ruiz-Millán said. “Even more, I have seen how people have learned more about what it means to love our neighbor, especially the neighbor we usually would not love.”
Exploring pilgrimage as a practice of reconciliation is important, Olson-Getty said, because it teaches participants to slow down and to listen to one another. “Helping people stop talking and actually give their full attention to someone else’s story is a discipline and is hard work,” she said.
At the end of the journey, pilgrims often are energized to help others experience transformation and healing, Ruiz-Millán said. “My hope is that they can become instruments of hope where they are,” he said.