In Search of Deep Faith: A pilgrimage into the
beauty, goodness and heart of Christianity
Church Times Bookshop £10.80 (Use code
JIM BELCHER is a Presbyterian academic well known in America for
his book Deep Church, written when he was pastor of a
church-plant in Newport Beach.
In Search of Deep Faith is an account of a year's
sabbatical that he took with his family. It reads like a novel, as
he travels around seven European countries, uncertain about his
Belcher is an Evangelical with an appreciation of the Book of
Common Prayer, which he uses at home. The story is intended for an
American audience; so you must get used to math for maths, and even
"Cotswalds" for Cotswolds. The pictures are in black and white. A
surprise is his failure to mention joining in worship in any of the
great churches they visited.
First stop is Oxford, where he explores every place associated
with Archbishop Cranmer. He believes in the idea of pilgrimage, and
the sense of place. He wants his children to be convinced
Christians, and so in Oxford they explore places associated with
Alice in Wonderland, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien,
besides the Harry Potter film locations. At first he and his wife
Michelle fear that their children might not grow up being quietly
confident about living and articulating their faith. Will they have
pride rather than humility, preventing their admitting that they
are ever wrong?
When the children cease responding to home learning, and
Oxford's attractions have been exhausted, sightseeing is widened to
include Clapham and William Wilberforce. Soon the Oxford house is
replaced by a camper van, as they travel abroad to find Vincent Van
The children are then exposed to the challenges of the Second
World War faced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller.
Visiting the French village of Le Chambon, the Belchers are unable
to treat the horror once faced by its Protestant congregation as
mere history. A request to see the secret doors and false walls
that hid Jewish children is refused. "We might need them again,"
their host says.
The climax comes in Austria, where they join a Sound of
Music pilgrimage led by guides who manage not to mention
religion. At the conclusion, Jim suddenly touches on the importance
of liturgy in a wider sense, and within the family. Whether the
pilgrimage is understood for what was intended will be known later;
for we are reminded that life is the main pilgrimage, and this tour
was just the beginning.
Leigh Hatts is a writer and an online journalist.