On Returning to the Parish

I’m quickly approaching ninety days since returning to ministry which finds me day to day in the local church. And for that all I can say is I’m grateful. I thought I’d would be good for posterity to share some reflections on this return.

I’m Preaching Without Notes

This has been one of the biggest changes since the last time I was preaching to the same people week in and week out. Folk that know me half-decently know that I’m a wordsmith and that I love crafting just the right turn of phrase. There’s nothing wrong with this. It just turned out that in my first 15 years of preaching, I either fretted about that phrase to the point of doing nothing but reading my manuscript or I would work so hard at memorizing my manuscript that the first hiccup would derail to that there was no chance of return. There’s 2 particular Sunday’s I’d prefer to forget and hope, one day I will.

A three different things clicked for me during me three year journey away from the local church:

  1. I had to learn to be an excellent communicator away from the pulpit… or at least at a time that’s not the sermon. I don’t know what the hang up was about sermons but it was there and it was real. To really communicate with folks I needed to learn to look them in the eye, know when I’m connecting and knowing how and when to change–even mid-stride–so that folks could get what I was trying to convey. Simple, right?
  2. When I did preach during my time in extension ministry, I had a particular outcome in mind–I wanted my listeners to engage in ministry with the nonprofit I represented. If we’re not preaching with an end in mind, then we need to reconsider the whole endeavor. As a friend says, it’s nice to be interesting but it’s transformational to be helpful.
  3. Carey Nieuwhof says that we don’t need to memorize our sermon, we need to understand it. For me that means understanding starting and ending points, transitions, and desired outcomes. Now, I’m not wedded to saying the exact same words on the manuscript on my desk at home and I don’t fret if an illustration doesn’t fall into flow of the sermon.

Where to Spend Energy

One of the great lessons I learned from our CEO while at my appointment to a nonprofit was that I could not control when (or whether) folks would trust me. All I could control was whether or not my actions are trustworthy. A large part of this in my first 90 days is how I spend my time and energy. And I have been spending a large part of my time investing in leaders–both those who are on staff and those in elected office. I’m listening to a lot stories, asking lots of questions and telling my own story, as well. I cannot tell you how important this has been.

Confidence in the Midst of Ambiguity

This is the other lesson I’ve learn and I really cannot tell you how important this is. First, let me be clear about what this is not–I’m not talking about arrogance, neither am I talking about deceiving folks. Confidence that has nothing backing it up, nor one that lacks any sense of a kingdom-minded trajectory soon rings hollow. And to “fake it until you make it” when it comes to vision is vulgar and disingenuous.

Confidence comes from a few different places:

  1. Rootedness in the calling upon your life and vocation.
  2. Complete ability to grasp current context without letting it consume or paralyze you.
  3. A holy confidence in a vision of God’s reign and a steadfast commitment to articulating that vision in your current context.
  4. A sense of a trajectory towards that vision with the wisdom and humility to course-correct to keep the vision of God’s reign before the congregation.

I’m sure none of this is new but I’m grateful for the lessons learned in extension ministry and to share those lessons learned.

There’s a whole other blog to share about finally learning good business and administrative practices. That will come later.

Walking the Camino: Albergues, Albergequette, and a Few Recommendations

Albergues—you gotta love ‘em.

Seriously, you do. Anyone who has done a lot of backpacking through Europe will probably think of—and mistakenly call them—hostels. All the accoutrements of a hostel are there—dorms filled with bunk beds, shared communal bathrooms, lockers, opportunities to wash your clothes in a tub, and hard-limit lights out.

There are differences, though. Namely, these are:

  • Early to bed, early to rise. Even though locals love to dine late, party into the night (and carry on until morning), Albergues have relatively early lock-out and lights out times—usually 9:30-10pm. Miss lockout because of one more glass of vino tincto? Good luck. Pray your host is gracious. Also, you’ll probably need to be out of the albergue by 8:30a, at the latest. I know most hostels have lights out and kicking-out time but most lights out are late and loose. Kick out is later than albergues.
  • License and Registration, ma’am. When you check in you not only have to provide your passport—verifying your identity and acts as not only a security measure but also a tracker in the rare chance you don’t check-in, call, or arrive when and where you are supposed to. You also have to provide your credencial or Camino Passport. This book of stamps acquired along The Way is proof that you are a pilgrim, giving you the privilege to stay at the albergue.
  • We’re Here All Week One Night Only. Most Albergues will let you spend one night and then you need to be making your way to Santiago. There’s always exceptions—especially if you are injured or sick. The rule, though, is get your rest and and get packing. Literally.

Beyond these three, albergues and hostels are pretty similar. Never been in a hotel before? Keep reading….

  • Dorm and Bunks—some are in rooms of 4 beds, some 12-16, some up to 100. Of course there’s also the occasional double room. There’s the occasional albergue that uses mats for regular or overflow use. Many will provide a pillow, blanket and disposable sheets. Other will before some, occasionally none. This is why most people bring a sleeping back, sleep sheet, or both. Some will bring a travel pillow while most seem to get by balling up their jacket and turning it into a pillow.
  • Squeaky Clean. Bathrooms in albergues make some people nervous. Most of the alburgues I stayed in had men’s and women’s bathrooms with multiple stalls. I understand that is not always the case, though.
  • Squeaky Clean, Pt 2. Most albergues will have a washbasin and a clothes line for you to wash your clothes. Increasingly, albergues are installing clothes washers and dryers as an additional service/ revenue source.
  • It should go without saying but….
    • Albergues are coed. This was never a problem for me but I’ve heard of the occasional modesty issue. The rule to follow—don’t stare at anyone’s junk
    • Bathrooms—Usually not a problem. If it is, talk it through—ladies go first while the guys go out for beer, for example. Same rule applies—don’t stare at other peoples’ junk.
    • At 10-12 Euro a night, please stay polite and moderate your expectations. Most hosts are either volunteers or hosting at their own property.

Alberguequette

There are definite codes of conduct for albergues—mostly they can be summed up in the rule of be courteous and respectful. But for some helpful remdinders, here’s a few details:

  • Respect curfew/ departure times. Folks have to get ready for the next crowd.
  • Be quick with your shower—no one likes to wait in line only to find no hot water.
  • If you are leaving early in the morning, take your things out into the hall and pack up there—don’t wake up the folks squeezing out every moment of sleep.
  • Likewise, lots of folks find the red light headlamps useful. They don’t wake up fellow pilgrims as easily.
  • Also to preserve the silence and peace—don’t organize your pack using plastic shopping bags or trash bags. They are noisy and wake people up. Use nylon or mesh bags, instead.
  • Don’t put your backpack on the bed.This keeps things clean and prevents you from transmitting bed bugs on the off chance they are there.
  • Respect the rules about walking poles and boots staying in the hall/ outside. It keeps things cleaner and easier to prepare for the next day.
  • If the albergue/ host provides a meal, make sure you keep your word about your plans. If you are eating there, don’t say yes and then change plans—unless you’re willing to pay for dinner twice. Likewise, don’t say no and expect to have room at the table for you.
  • If you’ve left your clothes on the clothes line, make sure you get them in before nightfall. Nothing like fresh fallen dew to dampen your clothes!!
  • Leave the lower bunks for the less mobile, elderly, or injured.
  • Check out this video from the Don’t Stop Walking series: https://youtu.be/mJkYrKTLGuw. As a matter of fact, watch all of them!

Recommended Albergues

The below are albergues that I have stayed in and I highly recommend each of them.

Sarria- Albergue La Casona de Sarria: On the eastern outskirts of Sarria, this albergue gives you either a head start on the day’s walk or let’s you have a few minutes extra sleep! The property has 2 medium sized dorms as well as double/ twin accommodations. There’s a large cubbie in the room for your stuff. There are men’s and women’s bathrooms and the bathrooms are arranged so that even the most modest won’t have any issues—and plent of hot water. The hosts provide disposable sheets, pillow, and blanket. There are reading lights at each bunk as well as a power outlet to recharge your phone and keep it nearby. The owners love engaging pilgrims and offer a happy hour with complementary drinks—coffee, soft drink, matcha, beer, and wine. The owners also are great to recommend a restaurant for dinner and will call ahead for you.

Portomarín- Albergue Gonzar: Probably my least favorite. It was a great location, at the top of the steps climbing into Portomarín—and there was a bar on the main floor, which was convenient for snack and breakfast. There were only 2 bathrooms, each with one toilet and shower. Again, the host provided blankets, pillows, and disposable sheets. The amazing part about this albergue was that the host did our laundry for us—4 Euro to wash, 4 Euro to dry. There were lockable lockers for our stuff. There was not an ample supply of power outlets—which were all taken up by a group of inspiring men in their 70’s. They had been friends for years and walked part of the Camino together. They all had CPAPs which was both loud and strangely soothing. And they took up the few power outlets. The establishment did have WiFi.

Palas de Rei—Albergue A Casina di Marcello: Another albergue on the outskirts of town. Another opportunity to get an early start or sleep a little later. The owner, Marcello, is great and a jovial host. His albergue is cozy, clean. Probably my favorite shower. He has laundry facilities (4 Euro to wash, 4 to dry). He’ll also cook dinner for 10 Euro. We chose not to and went out for pizza. He offers fresh linens to guests, a pillow, and blankets. I like that each lower bunk has a curtain to tamp down on light. There’s also a power outlet for every bunk, has WiFi. He also seems to have drinks available for purchase in the afternoons. I will say that you either need to get your breakfast the night before or be prepared to wait a while. It’s a walk to the first cafe.

Ribadiso— Pension Albergue Los Caminantes. I loved this village and this albergue. There were 3 establishments in the village—the municipal albergue (owned by the government), a private albergue (possibly regularly staffed by American volunteers?) and a cafe. That’s it. The albergue had many rooms, which it seems they had the option of partitioning during slower seasons. During high season its just first come first serve bed-wise. Again, there was a blanket, Pillow, and sheets. There was laundry and WiFi. This was the one place where there was the potential for a little embarrassment for the modest. The bathrooms were unisex—but the toilets were in each of their own private rooms. The showers had walls between the shower heads—and were completely enclosed, even if the walls were opaque glass. For a tall person like myself (6’4”) if I didn’t follow the golden rule of Albergues—don’t stare at another person’s junk—there could have been the potential to get an unintended eye-full! Thankfully I was the only one in the bathroom when I showered—and I was quick. I think what I loved about this albergue was that this was the one night we didn’t stay in a town—so we were “forced” if you will to socialize more with the folks we were staying with.

O Pedrouzo- Albergue Mirador de Pedrouzo. From a sheer quality of accommodation, this place was tops. A converted large house, this place had just opened. There were several smallish dorms—each with clean sheets, blanket, pillow, reading light and power port. There was a lockable locker and there were many, many bathroom—all newly installed or remodeled—throughout the building. I will say this was the one place I had a cold shower. Apparently I timed it poorly. They had laundry facilities, a cafe, WiFi and what looked like would eventually be a restored pool. Found as you are coming into town, this albergue is along the route but unlike others, you’ll have to get an early start—especially if you want to make it into Compostela for the pilgrim mass. This one was a little more expensive—14 Euro per night. But it was worth it. This was also the only place where they gave us key cards to get in and out of the building. I passed out before I found out if there was a hard lock-out time.

Santiago de Compostela- Hotel Rua Villar. I certainly do recommend, if you can afford it, to splurge a little when you get to Santiago. While you might assume the only place to stay in relative luxury is the Parador, there are many 2 or 3 star hotels that seem like the lap of luxury. I loved Hotel Rua Villar. You were not even a block away from the Cathedral. They have breakfast available, happy hour. Bathrooms are en suite. WiFi is great and there was air conditioning! They even had room service if you wanted it. I would note, especially if you haven’t travelled in Europe much, that there’s a difference between twin and double rooms. A double room is one double bed. A twin room is 2 twin beds, often pushed together. My very favorite thing about this hotel from a customer service view was this: I sent everything I didn’t need on the Camino ahead to the hotel. They held and had my extra bag in my room upon arrival. They helped me check into my flight and even helped arrange a taxi to the airport at an ungodly hour of the morning.

Are there other places to stay along the Camino besides Albergues? Heavens no! All along the Camino there are pensiones (lower cost hotels akin to a bed and breakfast) and even the occasional hotel. They just aren’t as frequent. But your travel costs are going to go up. Many folks seem to budget staying in either a double room in an alburgue or in a pension once per week—to knock the dirt off, talk a long shower or not have to worry about an early check out.

I also heard a couple tell of a farmhouse they stayed in. The owner opened their home, provided 2 amazing meals and gave them a lovely room to stay in. Accommodations like these—pensiones and farmhouse arrangements usually require some booking or enquiring at the tourist office in the local municipality.

Walking the Camino: Food, Glorious Food

Part of traveling anywhere that is not “home” is experiencing (and hopefully enjoying) the local cuisine. The Camino is no different. Each region has its own unique twists on common themes. And when burning 5,000 calories per day, there’s amply opportunity to try them all. So what’s the food like in Spain? Read on to find out!

Breakfast

It’s the most important meal of the day, right? Breakfast in Spain is simple. Most mornings my breakfast was a pastry of some sort—usually a chocolate croissant—and coffee.

Cafe con Leche and postre

But not just any coffee—cafe con leche. I don’t know what alchemy Spanish cafe owners practice but they take coffee, milk, sugar, and turn it into this delightful elixir unlike anything I’ve had before—and I was a barista . It’s not a latte. Its not cafe au lait. Neither is it Cuban coffee and it is definitely not coffee with milk and sugar. That said, like much of Europe, you are not going to find a “bottomless cup” of coffee like was have in many restaurants in the US. And if you don’t want cafe con leche, you can always order a cafe americano (coffee + hot water) or cafe negro (coffee without water or milk).

Second Breakfast

About two hours after you finish breakfast, you’ve probably walked around 10km… a little over 6 miles. Time to gas up! For me this meant another cafe con leche and, probably a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. To each I would have some variation of toast (with butter, with butter and jelly, with ham, with egg, with ham and egg—get the picture?). Spaniards call this tostada (sorry Taco Bell, yours doesn’t cut it). Occasionally I would get a tortilla—think frittata, but not baked.

Bocadilla

While stopped for my second breakfast, I would make sure I refilled my water bottle, got a stamp for my credencial, and did my first changing over of socks—to prevent blisters. Yep, I’d have second breakfast barefoot. When it was time to go, I’d don fresh socks, clip the already worn ones to my pack, and head out.

A couple of hours later it would be time to cycle The socks because its now time for—

Lunch

The most common lunch food I had was a bocadilla—very crusty bread, Spanish ham (jamon iberico), and—if you’re lucky—a little olive oil. I cannot tell you how spoiled I was eat fresh baked bread and not sandwich loaf slice. And the ham—thinly sliced and dry cured (but not smoked). I don’t know how they do it but its amazing. To wash it down, there’s always water, cafe con leche, or the regional American-style lager—low gravity but refreshing.

Jamon Iberico—hoof and all!

After that, its time to get the pack back on and head back on The Way because you’ve probably got another 2 hours of walking before arriving at where you are going to sleep or where ever you are going to stop for:

Afternoon Snack

If it’s going to be a long day walking, you’ll need to keep your energy up. Maybe its time for a slice of Santiago cake and cafe con leche. Some folks simply sat down at a cafe and ordered a beer or two before finishing out their walking for the day.

Once in town and settled for the evening, its time for:

Dinner

An early dinner (5 or 6). There’s a couple of different options for dinner. Some pilgrims will huddle together with other pilgrims and cook for one another. This is a great community building exercise and a way to learn about other cultures. Sometimes the folks running the alburgue will offer a meal, for a nominal extra fee. If you’re staying at one of the more rural alburgues, this might be your only option for dinner. In the larger towns you can eat at restaurants—most of whom will have a three-course pilgrim menu:

First Course—pasta, salad, or soup

Second Course—some kind of meat, fries

Third Course—Santiago cake, cheese cake, ice cream

On the table—bread, red wine

All of this food for 10 Euro! Is it the best food you ever ate? No. Is it tasty with plenty of calories (again, remember you’re burning as much as 5,000 calories per day). Of course!

Regional Variation

There’s things you’ll want to try along the way:

  • In Galicia: Pulpo (Octopus), Galego soup, Paella
  • In Basque Region: cheese, Pinxtos (basque tappas)
  • Rioja: wine!
  • Anywhere west of Rioja: Tapas
  • Anywhere: churros and chocolate
Churros y chocolate

Just remember, some of these regional special meals—tapas, pinxtos, pulpo, paella will blow your budget. So save and spend accordingly.

What’s the Bill?

If you budget 40 Euro per day for food, you’ll live like a king. Need to economize? Buy breakfast and a picnic lunch in the local market. Drink water. Keep your discipline to the pilgrim menu at night. You can get by for 20-25 Euro per day this way.

So You Want to Walk The Camino?

While it is foolish to think that there’s no preparation involved in walking The Way of St. James, its also… convenient… to think that it takes years of preparation to walk. In fact, it is one of the simpler trips to plan.

How Long Do You Have?

For most of us that are not retired or between jobs, we may or may not have unlimited time. Family, work, and other responsibilities can dictate how much time you have. Also, maybe you are worried about distances. Generally, folks can travel 20-30km per day. That’s 120-180 km if you walk 6 days and rest 1 (a recommended practice). At an average of 160km per week, you could finish from St. Jean Pied-de-Port in 5 weeks But, if that’s not appealing, there’s a myriad of starting points but the major cities seem to be:

Buy a Ticket

After you figure out how much time you’ve got, everyone I’ve talked to, every blog I’ve read, every podcast I’ve listened to begins with this advice—buy your ticket. When it comes to large international airports, you have 3 options:

  • Madrid
    • Hub for Iberia Airlines. One World Alliance, of which American Airlines is a part.
    • Served by Delta (Sky Team), United (Star Alliance).
    • You can get to your starting point via rail, bus, or a combination.
  • Paris
    • Hub for Air France (Again, Delta’s Sky Team)
    • Also served by Star Alliance and One World Alliance airlines
    • Mainly for folks who which to start in St. Jean Pied-de-Port or other locations in France.
    • Folks usually take a high-speed train to southwest France (Biarritz) and then catch a local train or bus to St. Jean Pied-de-Port.
  • Barcelona
    • Not a major hub but served by the major Airlines—either as a connecting flight or direct year-round from a few location, with more seasonally.
    • Sometimes it is cheaper to get to your starting point because, while it might be marginally more expensive to get to Barcelona from the US, it can be cheaper to get from Barcelona to where you want to start.

I’m sure folks have their favorite travel sites but let me recommend:

  • Scott’s Cheap Flights. This is a curated list of sales, date entry errors, and generally cheap flights. Select your home airport, the part of the world to which you’d like to travel and you’ll get emails when a deal pops.
  • Kayak and Google flights are good.
  • For me, I travelled on skymiles (Avios Points, actually). The original plan was to fly through London but it turned out cheaper to fly through Miami to Madrid—simply because of taxes and landing fees for Heathrow.
  • Once you get in Spain, Rome2Rio is an amazing site and app. It can tell you very possible way to get from point A to point B, and the cost.

Buy Your Pack

This is simply the single most important purchase you will make. Factors to consider include:

  • Size—35-45L is plenty. Any smaller and you risk an uncomfortable load. Much more and you’ll either carry more than you need or have a ridiculously empty pack.
  • Fit. Do not under-estimate this. Fit is everything. Historically, I’ve been a Gregory guy. Also, I know that the general public loves Osprey packs—they’re everywhere on the trail. They’re got good features—especially straps to carry your poles without having a friend unstrap them from the back of your pack and a suspension system that keeps the airflow between your back and your pack. But when I looked at what fit my needs and my long frame the best, it was the REI pack. The only two complaints I had about my pack—no daisy chains and side pockets—were fixed on the 2019 version of the pack.
  • While you don’t need to wear your backpack every time you go for a walk, it is a good idea to get used to the weight and make sure it works for you over a long hike.

Get Fitted for Shoes

This is the other major purchase you’ll need to make—and make it early. You’ll want to not only break your shoes in but go on several long walks to make sure your shoes fit well and don’t rub. A word of warning—I broke my shoes in, wore then on long and short walks and never had an issue. In Spain, I couldn’t keep my heel from slipping and wound up with blisters on both heels—ouch!! I survived but if I was walking longer, I would have had issues.

What shoes did people wear?

  • Most people wore low-cut boots, like the Merrell MOAB2’s I wore.
  • A smaller group of folk wore trail running shoes.
  • A much smaller group of people wore ankle-length or higher boots.

Folks that wore a fuller boot were comfortable with the familiarity but didn’t like the weight. Trail runners loved the weight but sometimes felt like they didn’t have a rigid enough shoe for some sections. Low-cut boot folks felt good about their choice but wondered if the lighter trail runner would work.

Another question folk ask about their shoes is whether to wear Gore-tex or not. I chose not—to wear ventilated shoes, as they are called. While you can keep your feet a little bit more dry when walking through puddles, on a rainy day it won’t matter. What does matter is that Gore-Tex boots are hotter and if your feet sweat even the least bit, this can raise your potential for blister. Just like there’s no one type of shoe, there not a right answer to this one, either.

Camino Family: They’re the People That You Meet Each Day

For people who walk long distances of a Camino…. possibly those that are that walk shorter distances alone… find themselves walking with others at a similar pace. Of those, you’ll get along with some more than others. The ones you get along with become your Camino Family.

What does a Camino Family do? They will look out for one another, share meals, tend to try to stay in the same alburgues, etc.

Since I walked with a very long time friend and we hadn’t caught up in a few years, we kinda stuck to ourselves. If there had been a Camino Family, here’s who mine would have been:

The first folks I met on the Camino was a family—husband, wife, and adult daughter. Given my daughter’s determination that our family, of the same composition, will walk the Camino in a few year, I was intrigued. Every year the family did a big adventure and the Camino was their 2019 adventure. We saw them a lot the first day we walked and then nothing until the last day. We must up on Monte Gozo.. Mountain of Joy.

It was this family that took the above photo. We reciprocated, exchanged pleasantries and went on our way. We didn’t see them again.

We met a young man that was taking the summer off his consulting job before heading to Law School. We never stayed in the same alburgue or walked together but we ended up stopping at the same places for food… a lot. So we shared several meals, coffees, and snack breaks. The last time we visited over a meal was in Santiago over tapas—a true delight.

One of the lessons I realized I needed to re-learned on the Camino was talking with folks just for the sake of talking—no agenda, no “sizing up” as to whether they could be a donor, no opening question of “what do you do for a living?”, Just acknowledging each other’s common humanity and that, for a season, we’re sharing a common journey. In church work, many times when we ask someone about their faith journey or ministry they tell us what committees they serve on. When we meet someone in our communities, do we acknowledge them as a fellow human being and beloved child of God before we objectify them as a potential church member? This isn’t an anti-evangelizing statement. Rather, its an acknowledgement that non-churched folk can smell inauthenticity and objectification a mile away. As my wife says, instead of trying to get people to like us, are we adding value to their lives?

The standing greeting on the Camino… to everyone is “Buen Camino”… “Good Way”. You say it to everyone you meet that is a fellow pilgrim and every merchant of any sort that serves you sends you forth with this blessing.

One of my take-always from the Camino is seeking to—in some way big or small—bless the lives of each person with whom I come in contact. And it also starts with recognizing we’re all fellow sojourner on the way.

I Can Name That Antiphon in Two Notes…

One of the gifts that the Church received in the second half of the 20th Century was the liturgical renewal movement–both in the Roman Church as well as Protestantism. Ironically, both happened in response to the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. There was an explosion of interest and activity in rewriting our liturgies loosely based on the same text given to the church by Hippolytus.

I have always relished that when I, a United Methodist, lead worship it is essentially in the same shape (and using many of the same words) as all the other flavors and tribes of Christianity. It has helped us live a little closer to Jesus’ prayer that we might be one.

Walking into a pilgrim mass, I didn’t know what to expect but in retrospect I should have. The priest was praying many of the same words I do when I lead worship. So I could connect with the service. Also, this meant that when there were congregational responses–the Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, the Benedictus Qui Venice, the Memorial Acclamation, or others I not only knew where we were in the service but I could join in and pray the prayers in my own language.

Walking away from the Pilgrim Mass, my friend (an Episcopal Priest) and I were reflecting upon this phenomenon. We were approached by a younger British pilgrim–whom I believe remember her saying she started in Paris. She asked us if we understood the service so we explained not exactly the Spanish but how we knew the same service in English. She was someone who was not a person of faith but attended the masses. She had walked for weeks on end and these last 100km were valedictory as much as anything.

She kept asking questions… there was an openness there. Probably not looking to profess faith in Christ but at least process what she had experienced along this Christian pilgrimage route.I regret that as we were all turning towards the restaurants we parted company with her. My friend wanted pizza and, apparently, it was in a different direction.

We have so much more in common than what separates us and there’s a real strength in that. It seems as if we’re so bent to be original and innovative in the fleeting moment that we forget the rich shared language we have as a resource.

I think this rich legacy might be part of the renewed interest in The Way of St. James. We can speak of Ley Lines, the Milky Way, or even appropriate whatever sensibilities. But the Camino is deeply rooted in a 1,000 year old Christian tradition. And there’s power in that. There was no difference in the dirt I walked on in Spain versus the dirt I walk on in the Georgia Mountains. The purpose is different, the destination is different and who has walked on that dirt is definitely different–Francis of Assisi, El Cid, Charlemagne, even Jed Bartlett!!

Tying into a deep tradition and finding belonging are two of the pieces I think churches need to pay heed to. How do we help those walking into our doors find those things without having to fly across the Atlantic? And how do we help people ask their questions, process them, and either ask deeper questions or live into the responses?

Yeah, there’s lessons for the Church on the Camino, as well.

The Camino Provides/ You Carry Your Worries in Your Backpack

Like many experiences that have any age on them and help give shape to meaning, The Camino is often spoken about in metaphor or aphorisms.

One of them “The Camino Provides” is part of what captivated me about the whole endeavor. The thought goes something like this—walking on the Way of St. James, you really only need to take the things you absolutely need. For one, who wants to schlep across the Iberian Peninsula with something that you might only use twice–a travel pillow, for instance. Every ounce you can take out of your backpack means that much less wear and tear on the legs, knees, ankles, and feet. Also, many of the Camino Routes–especially the Frances and Portuguese–are resourced enough such that anything you need and isn’t in your backpack can be purchased. More than likely, though, there’s another pilgrim walking with you or staying in an alburgue with you that is more than willing to share. So in a very real sense, “The Camino Provides” applies to tangible items.

But the aphorism also points to the lyrics from The Rolling Stones…. you don’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you find you get what you need. There are countless pilgrims tales of folks walking all day, coming into town late only to find that the alburgue they had highlighted in their book was full and they had to stay in another one. That, or, folks had to sleep on the floor. Desirable? No. Did they get a place to stay? Yes. One such story that I read (and can’t find) was that all the alburgues were full in the town and the pilgrim was told there was a restaurant in the next village that could put her up. The pilgrim was imagining that they would be spending the night sleeping on a table or the floor…. maybe some chairs ganged together. That she discovered was the restaurant had just finished building an alburgue. She got to stay in it and, because the CO was yet to be given, the owner could charge. So it was free.

The Camino Provides. Yes it provided lodging but it also provided an opportunity for hospitality, to trust, and an invitation to adventure. In our work-a-day lives where everything is structured, everything is predictable, and everything is double-checked and verified–the Camino invites you to consider opening yourself up to a little ambiguity.

You Carry Your Worries in Your Backpack

I heard about this aphorism in the later stages of planning for my Camino. Again the saying in multi-layered. If you are really worried about not having enough clothes, you overpack on clothes. If you are afraid that you will run out water, you’ll carry multiple water bottles. If you are afraid that you’ll get blisters, you’ll carry boxes full of your favorite blister pad/ barrier.

But it works on another level as well. Confessionally, I’m embarrassed at my relatively paltry Spanish. While I didn’t carry my best friend–rather fluent in Spanish–around in my backpack, every time I ran into something that required more than muttering 2 or 3 words I would defer to my friend to translate. I also hate being the cliche. One of those cliches was that American pilgrims are always the ones to arrive last at the alburgue and the last to leave the alburgue. Well, we were the last folks leaving each morning. Why did that matter to me? I said it was because I didn’t want the alburgue hosts thinking we were ungrateful or get in their way cleaning up. But, if I’m honest, I just don’t like looking like I’m not “in the know”.

So What Was in My Backpack?

Folks always want to know what you carry on the Camino. If you search YouTube, you can find a plethora of packing lists and gear reviews. Here’s mine:

Backpack: REI Flash 45 (2018 Model). This pack was more than enough room. You really only need 35 Liters in your bag. 45 was overkill. But the pack fit my long frame and (slowly diminishing) gut better than others. The pack cover was useful on rainy days but the travel lock was not used. In my top pocket was my Brierley book and a waterproof bag with my wallet, my phone, my credencial, and my passport.FIrst Aid, Sewing, and Emergency TP:

All I used here was the Compeed, Triple-Antibiotic and Advil. Everything else was superfluous.Sleeping Bag: I took an REI 50F Bag. I also used the gray waterproof compression stuff sack. Worked like a charm to shrink the sleeping bag down as much as possible. The green thing on the left is a sleep sheet. It didn’t get hot enough to use that instead of the sleeping bag. If I ever go back I’ll take one or the other, not both.Electronics kit (kept in a mesh stuff sack): the international travel charger with 4 USB ports was a winner (and friend maker!!). The earbuds were useful for music. The headlamp I used once. I’d take all three again. The cord that came with the charger worked on Lightning and had an adaptor for USB micro. Not pictured is a small lithium-ion battery that I used to keep my Apple Watch charged.Hard wear: Extra carabiners, extra trekking pole tip covers, diaper pins and bulldog clips, compact day pack, clothes line, laundry soap. Only ever used the day bag. But the rest was there just in case. And its all light.Toiletries and pack towel–’nuff said. I did like the Dr. Bonner’s peppermint bar soap and the tiny “dry bag” for the bar.Foot lotion, sunscreen, Peppermint foot powder. While all this stuff made it to Spain, everything but the three items I identified didn’t make it out of the airport.Socks and underwear. Gross confession–I have sweaty feet. I took 2x the socks as I did outfits. And I changed my socks every time we stopped for a break. I think that’s why I didn’t have too many blisters. Base layer/ underwear? I doubled up as well, not knowing about accessibility to washing clothes. It wasn’t an issue. Extra clothes items: glove liners, toboggan, flip flops, wide-brim hat, extra boot laces, rain jacket, 2 buffs. I used all of these except the laces. Flip flops were for the shower and walking around without my boots. So you really only need 2 outfits–today’s clothes (the ones on your back) and tomorrow’s clothes (the ones in your backpack) . Both outfits were zip-off quick dry pants. The shirts were wicking/ quick dry shirts. I also brought a pair of soccer shorts and 1 cotton shirt to wear after I showered/ as pj’s. I rarely used them. Instead, I just went ahead and put on “tomorrow’s clothes” after my shower. Not pictured: I took a down jacket that folded up into one pocket. The idea was it could double as a pillow. I used the jacket in the mornings a couple of days. Never used it as a pillow. Also, trekking poles. I used them almost all the time. They were amazing. Shoes? I wore Merrill MOAB2 low-cut, ventilated. They served me well. Ankle height boots are overkill for many and trail runners, so I understand, aren’t enough support for cobblestone sections. Lastly, I had a copy of St. Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle. It was amazing to read her in her own country.