From Nomads to Pilgrims

From Nomads to Pilgrims

Diana Butler Bass and Joseph Steward-Sicking (eds), The Alban Institute


One of the big challenges in getting agreement from congregations to change practices is that they can’t envisage what those changes might look like.

From Nomads to Pilgrims is an attempt to bridge that gap.

As a follow-up to The Practicing Congregation, Butler Bass and Steward-Sicking asked 12 pastors what they did to make their congregations work.

The purpose of From Nomads to Pilgrims is not a “how to”, though. Indeed Butler Bass makes clear that she is not prescribing particular programs but telling stories in the hope that they will inspire readers to imagine what might become their own congregation’s story.

Each chapter of this book tells the story of a congregation that has put change into practice and in doing so has found renewed energy and a new sense of purpose. Each congregation has, in its own way, engaged in Christian practices and has, as a result, discovered a renewed sense of identity and mission on the pilgrimage to vitality.

They are stories worth sharing and give us a glimpse of what our churches might look like too.

Graham Standish relays how the Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople changed when it started paying attention to God’s presence in its session meetings. Through its practice of discernment, Calvin has found itself at the centre of a “campaign of divine coincidences” that has brought vitality and a sense of new life.

Lillian Daniel tells how, through the practice of giving testimony, the Church of the Redeemer, New Haven, began to come alive with stories of God at work in its midst. Two new and creative worship services, Alt.Faith and The Studio, emerged in Scottsdale when the congregation engaged in a process of listening and risk taking.

One criticism is the distinct lack of voices from within those congregations. Instead, all of the stories are written by ministers from those congregations — which seems to be in conflict with Butler Bass’ prior emphasis on congregational leadership.

Together, The Practicing Congregation, From Nomads to Pilgrims and her most recent book Christianity for the Rest of Us would make great reading for congregational leaders.

Perhaps they can inspire us to imagine a new old church and a clearer sense of mission and spiritual practice.

Karyl Davison


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