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One more step along the road

by
19 December 2014

Leigh Hatts considers travelling toward faith 

In Search of Deep Faith: A pilgrimage into the beauty, goodness and heart of Christianity
Jim Belcher
IVP £11.99
(978-0-8308-3774-8)
Church Times Bookshop £10.80 (Use code CT709 )

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 next destination.

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 Gogh's house.

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.

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