Tourist or Pilgrim?

By Steve Manskar

I recently returned from leading the annual Wesley Pilgrimage in England. The pilgrimage is a ten-day immersion in Wesleyan missional leadership. Pilgrims worship and pray together while they visit sites important to John and Charles Wesley and the formation of the Methodist movement in Epworth, Oxford, Bristol, and London.

Sarum College, in Salisbury, provides lodging and meals to the pilgrims seven of the ten nights. The pilgrims live inside the close of Salisbury Cathedral. Because the pilgrimage is spiritually, emotionally, and physically challenging the schedule includes lots of free time to give pilgrims time to process and breathe.

On one of the free afternoons I went to the Salisbury Cathedral’s choral evensong service. I entered the cathedral and walked past the huge baptismal font, up the nave to a seat in the choir. As I walked up the nave I noticed many tourists who were taking photos and exploring the beauty of the magnificent gothic architecture. They were not aware that worship was about to begin, and that they were welcome to join in. The tourists were more interested in taking photographs. Most politely departed when the docents informed them worship was about to begin, invited them to participate, and asked them to stop taking photos.

Entering the cathedral for worship that afternoon made me reflect on the differences between pilgrims and tourists.

Tourists are consumers. We consume sights, sounds, and experiences. We capture the experiences in photos so that we can hold onto and remember them when we get home. And we share them with friends and family on social media. Tourists are unchanged by what they consume. We simply move onto the next thing.

When a tourist enters a place like Salisbury Cathedral they see a beautiful old building. Their eyes are not open to see or understand the meaning of the building’s shape, vestments, or furniture. The baptismal font is nothing more than a fountain in the middle of the building. The Lord’s table is merely a beautifully decorated table with big candle sticks. Tourists don’t see a sacred space built for the worship and praise of the Triune God. They see a beautiful old church.

Pilgrims have eyes to see the cathedral is sacred space designed to guide people in praise and worship of the Triune God. They recognize the cruciform shape that reveals God’s self-revelation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The baptismal font located at the western end tells pilgrims they are baptized into the household of God. They see the Lord’s table at the eastern end of the nave and recall God’s love for the world revealed in bread and wine given to all as food for the pilgrimage. The cathedral is designed to help Pilgrims pursue holiness of heart and life and live in the world as citizens of God’s kingdom.

As I prayed with the choir as they sang evensong I wondered how the church welcomes tourists and invites them to become pilgrims who follow Christ in the world. I think most people come to the church as tourists. They hope to see or experience something out of the ordinary. How do congregations today invite, welcome, and form “tourists” into pilgrims on mission with Christ in the world he loves?