A Pilgrim Diary. That will be the new blog title and platform soon to be launched. This is part of how I got there.

I had a good conversation with one of our presbytery leaders earlier this week. The conversation confirmed that I am going the right direction with a shift in my blog and the platform I use for my voice. He didn’t know that he was doing that, but both of us were reflecting on the expectations that were in the air when I was first hired as the executive presbyter and the reality now about my style of leadership.


Photo by Matthew Ball on Unsplash

I have heard this from many corners—that we all thought we needed a strong, visionary leader who could create a blueprint for the future that everyone could clearly follow. I never really fully played into that expectation since I accepted this position feeling strongly that we were in pilgrim time and I had the right experience and temperament to act as a guide through a period of ecclesiastical wilderness.

I share this because whatever is next (and it really is weeks away at this point) I am going to take a dive even deeper into a pilgrim leadership style. Quite honestly, I thought that I would be able to lead with a pilgrim approach for the first few years until it spit us out into a more normal long-range planning, future visioning process. But the pandemic changed all that.


Photo by Brandon Hoogenboom on Unsplash

I quite believe that whatever time I have left in my career and, for that matter, my life, will be dedicated to pilgrimage time. Maybe for the first time in our lives the story of the escaped Hebrew slaves wandering in the wilderness for forty years is just as much our story as theirs. I have always preached that story metaphorically; I think it’s time to preach it literally.

I know this sounds scary and overwhelming. But I do have experience in this. Ten years ago, as I embarked on a personal pilgrimage of 4,000 cycling miles I ran into the Nevada desert. For four or five days, I contemplated taking a Greyhound bus over that 450-mile stretch. It unnerved me, scared me, overwhelmed me, and, quite honestly, put a sort of visceral terror into my flesh. In the end, however, I decided to do it. To not do it felt a bit like cheating.

Bike on hwy 50

Crossing the Nevada desert, 2011

I am so glad that I made that decision. Of the whole ten-week pilgrimage the desert was my favorite experience. It has always been hard to describe that experience, but this is as close as I have come. The desert presented me with a theological paradox. On the one hand, I felt completely insignificant as I knew the desert could swallow me up with one small mistake or misjudgment. My body and life didn’t matter one whit to the desert. On the other hand, it was so barren that I knew that it was just me and God out there having a conversation. No distractions. No other agendas. No responsibilities.

How does one describe an experience where you feel that you don’t matter at all and that you are the only thing that matters. My heart still jumps when I think of that profound paradoxical experience.

My friends, we are in wilderness time. We are in the scary desert of the American experiment. Our wants, our hopes, our needs, our expectations are almost meaningless compared to the scary terrain that we are currently facing.

And yet, yet, yet…all that is left is God and us.


Photo by Simon Hurry on Unsplash

If my experience teaches me anything we are going to discover how frightfully insignificant we are and how completely significant we are all at the same time. We are going to discover how little our individual lives matter to the tidal wave of change that is hitting us. And we are going to discover how much we matter to God. We are going to discover the terrifying and ecstatic reality of life in the wilderness, life on pilgrimage.

A Pilgrim Diary: Making Our Way Home.

That will be the new blog title and platform. Thanks for helping me shape this new voice.

Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

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