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‘Consumer’ Feedback On ‘The Pilgrim Course’

Lay Anglicana first wrote about the Pilgrim Course on publication, last October. The Revd Peter Crumpler kindly – and sportingly – gave us his first reactions before he had had a chance to try it out on any potential students or disciples. If you have not yet looked at Pilgrim or used it yourself, you may like to read his post before continuing with the attempt below at a further description in the light of practical experience in a group. The Pilgrim Course also has its own website, with new resources being added to it constantly.

We have just used Pilgrim as our benefice Lent course. Between 15 and 30 people attended the sessions each week, including two people previously unknown to any of us from another part of the deanery, attracted by the publicity in The Church Times and elsewhere.

Of the parts that have been published, we decided that ‘Turning to Christ’ was not appropriate in view of our audience – seasoned Christians one and all – and that we would begin with the second course on The Lord’s Prayer.

Sowing and Reaping

The Leader’s Guide explains the thinking behind the course, and confirms the first impression that this is to be a course for a generation.


Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The course is explained in terms of the church year, as well as the calendar year (unless you happen to live at the equator). A cycle of sowing and reaping, and sowing and reaping in a virtuous circle envisages the gentle evangelisation of the unchurched or formerly churched, followed by fellowship and discipleship, followed by a further round of ‘sowing’.

Publishing cycle

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? In the long run, a community can decide whether it wants to begin with the follow stage or the grow stage. Different Christian groups will choose different paths. For example, a community where there is experience of drawing new people in, and a will to do so, might want to begin with ‘sowing’. Another group, perhaps from a smaller rural community where the congregation consists of the old reliables with little fresh blood coming in, might  choose to concentrate on growing or ‘reaping’ their existing members, in the hope that they might then turn to sowing.

However, at present there is no such consideration as only the first two in the follow stage have been published. It is obvious that one sows before one reaps, but less obvious that the egg comes before the chicken. I see the temptation to begin with the follow stage, and then (some 18 months later) publish the grow booklets. But I suggest it might have been better to publish first the second stage, so that existing groups could be led into the next stage. The problem will cease to be a problem in 2015, of course, when the last booklets are published. Meanwhile, in the session that I led I did tweak the readings (shortening the discussions on the Prodigal Son, and adding some thoughts of Corrie Ten Boom to make the session a little more complex). I was encouraged in this by whoever tweets on behalf of Pilgrim, who reassured me that it is essential to tailor the sessions to those attending. I worried that punitive lightning might strike, appalled at my temerity, but in fact the session went quite well and the heavens took it in good grace.


Overall impression

There was considerable enthusiasm about the course (in a restrained, Anglican sort of way). The mixture of bible reading, discussion, and audio and video clips, ensured that the sessions remained lively. I would very much like to hear from anyone who has used it to ‘sow’, in other words with seekers or new Christians.

The choice of which Lent course to use has been made for us for many years to come.

9 comments on this post:

Phil Groom said...

Good stuff. It went down well in Henlow & Langford back in Jan/Feb so we’re running it again, two courses this time, after Easter: Pilgrim is Back!

13 April 2014 11:56
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for commenting, Phil. Would you mind telling us which courses you picked, and in which order?

13 April 2014 12:05

At St Mary’s Teddington we used Turning to Christ for a morning and evening Lent group (a total of about 25/30 people of varying ages and stages of faith). Each session has so much material that we only used the first half, but it encouraged great discussion and sharing. We loved the use of Lectio Divina which allowed us to hear God’s word in a fresh way.
Apart from anything else, it has stimulated a desire to study the Bible in groups.

15 April 2014 07:08
Anne said...

We did the Lord’s Prayer too, and found it good. I adapted the questions for discussion a bit, choosing those which seemed most relevant and adding things as I went along and generally they were fine. I found the course could have done with some slightly more creative suggestions for ways into discussion, which engaged the imagination a bit more and weren’t quite so abstract. So, for example, on the last session I asked the group, in twos and threes, to brainstorm what their perfect service of worship would be like, letting them be as specific as they liked. We gathered their words and phrases together (and realised what an impossible task it would be to keep everyone happy , which engendered sympathy for the parish priest!)
There is room for all sorts of enrichment, it seems to me, through things like linked works of art, or suggestion for role-play, hot-seating or other ways of “playing” with the material, if that is something which a particular group would go for. Perhaps the Pilgrim organisers could start some sort of forum for sharing these ideas?

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much for this Anne.

We had some discussion afterwards about the physical seating and grouping of those attending.

For the small group of 15 on ‘my’ evening (not a direct result of my involvement, I think, we coincided with the installation of our new Area Dean!), it seemed best simply to sit round a large table in a U-shape with the screen at one end. This had the advantage of promoting fellowship, but it did mean the quieter, more reserved participants said very little even with encouragement.

On other evenings, we sat at a series of tables for four – which attracted groups of three and five as well – and they had the advantage of promoting conversation amongst all present in the small group, but did not foster a general feeling of being ‘all in it together’.

On one occasion, we sat in two concentric half-circles with the leader facing us, and made mini-groups by talking to our neighbours and then reporting back.

Although it was happenstance, rather than deliberately arranged, I think this jumble of physical layouts from week to week was quite effective – and any deficiencies in one grouping were compensated for by subsequent sessions.

I agree with what you say about possibilities for further enrichment – though when I discussed it with one of the priests leading the course, he gently pointed out that people had come to take part in ‘The Pilgrim Course’, not ‘The Laura Course’ and were entitled to expect to go through the material on offer which, properly done, would easily take up the recommended 75-90 minutes on its own!

15 April 2014 13:59
15 April 2014 09:58
Marknw said...

I’ve just used ‘Turning to Christ’ as a Lent course with a mixed group – mostly long-standing Christians, with a couple of ‘newcomers’. The mix seemed to work well – the material is rich enough to explore at some depth for experienced Christians who want a refresher; their sharing their experience, understanding, doubts, questions … was encouraging to the seekers; and the seekers’ questions were helpful for the longstanding Christians who didn’t dare ask what they thought they should already know!

It took several weeks for people to get the hang of lectio divina – they were so used to a more analytical approach to the Bible that it felt odd not being ‘allowed’ to discuss the things they found puzzling straight away.

But the verdict at the end of last night’s session was that it was the most enjoyable Lent course they had ever experienced. Most of them want to do another course in the summer – unheard-of! And both newcomers want to be baptized and confirmed.

Lay Anglicana said...


At its best, Alpha can work like this, with the longstanding Christians doing what they signed up to do, that is spreading the good news. I am so glad that The Pilgrim Course worked like that for you – my own two cents worth would be that you had a very good understanding of the ‘pulse’ of your existing Christians, and they enjoy supporting you, which is why it went so well.

Our own church is in a strange position – in the middle of a second interregnum with only a 4 month ‘priested’ interlude, due to the sudden death of the new incumbent. So we are definitely in ‘huddling’ mode, holy or otherwise, and not strong enough at present to evangelise. Apart from our sorrow at the death of our priest, the effect was initially like poking a stick into an ant hill – lots of scurrying around trying to make sense of it all. However, Pilgrim served very well to cement the existing ‘people of God’ so that we can shore up our base from which to make forays in future.

16 April 2014 09:57
16 April 2014 09:32
Joyce said...

i-church did Pilgrim -Turning To Christ for the Lent course. I thought it was very well-chosen because it was suitable in various ways for all ‘stages’ of Christian experience. I intend to take a look for myself at some of the others in the Pilgrim series.
Another group I am in followed the CTBI Lent course Parables and Possessions instead of our usual weekly Bible Study. We found it dire. It was largely unusable.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for this, Joyce. I’m afraid I had to look up ‘CTBI’, but have learned something new: (see if you also do not know of this organisation). I’m sorry it was dire – it is so depressing when the group feels out of tune with the course.

In our house group, we used to use a series of bible studies intended, I think, for American evangelicals which our hosts were wedded to, but an embarrassing degree of soul-baring was required by the booklets which the ‘conservative with a small c’ group were simply not prepared to engage in!

‘Turning to Christ’ is of course the first booklet, and in many ways is the obvious place to start. Similarly, Alpha – though intended for ‘new’ Christians is much appreciated as ‘a shot in the arm’ by many long-standing Christians.

17 April 2014 21:25
17 April 2014 20:36

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