Route 66: Our Pilgrimage Begins


Intentional Pilgrims: April 24 – May 8, 2019

By Rev. Mark LaRocca Pitts

Flying to Chicago, six North Georgia Conference clergy rented a large van and drove 2,700+ miles to Santa Monica, California over 14 exhausting, yet exhilarating days. We stayed in 14 mom-and-pop motels. We ate at more than 40 local cafes and greasy-spoon diners. We visited over a dozen roadside attractions. We met hundreds of people. We practiced spiritual disciplines including contemplative prayer, sabbath, submission, journaling, and pilgrimage. And throughout it all, we encountered God in the varied landscapes, the people we met, and ourselves. 

We, the Intentional Pilgrims, chose for our ACE² project a pilgrimage along Route 66. Crossing prairies, rivers, mountains, and deserts, connecting large cities, small towns, and forgotten hamlets, we traversed perhaps the most iconic roadway in our American culture.

A pilgrimage is a time-honored tradition, a search for meaning and purpose through the experience of connectedness. Jerusalem, Rome, Mecca, or the Ganges River, have long held meaning due to their connection with a religious figure or event. Secular destinations, such as Omaha Beach, a famous person’s birthplace, or Wrigley Field, can be considered pilgrimage sites because of the meaning they have and the experience of connectedness they provide.

More than a destination, a pilgrimage, is about attitude and intent — an attitude of being open to significant meaning and an intent to experience deep connections along the way can transform an ordinary journey into a life-changing pilgrimage.

The most difficult, yet most transformative part of our pilgrimage, was our encountering God in ourselves and each other. Pastors are used to being in charge. We like being in control. Now put us in a van for 14 days with little downtime, add the exhaustion of traveling, the headaches of living out of suitcases, and the anxiety of not knowing each other, mix it vigorously, and you have the recipe for social discord. Except for one ingredient: The Holy Spirit. 

After several confrontations, misunderstandings, and attempts to avoid each other even when face-to-face, we began to believe that integrating all our different personality quirks seemed beyond our abilities and possibly not worth the effort. Then the Holy Spirit struck one morning in our daily devotion when we combined a reflection from Colossians 3:12-15 with the idea of God being most present when things are not going as planned. Suddenly realizing God brought us together intentionally to teach us new things, we submitted to God and one another and committed to go the distance trusting God was present with us.

God’s work is not yet complete. We are far from perfect and still stumble. But our intentional pilgrimage has begun. It has taken us through the heartland and soul of America via Route 66 where we encountered God in the everyday and in everyone, especially ourselves. Learning more about ourselves and the ways God can transform the ordinary into the sacred and the old into the new, we hope to bring to our churches a better and renewed us and a deeper understanding into how spiritual transformation occurs in the lives of God’s people. We look forward to seeing where God will lead us next on this pilgrimage. 

Intentional Pilgrims
Cindy Conner
Dan Dixon
Deborah Holloway
Liza Marler
Mark LaRocca Pitts
Kathie Statsko

ACEis a two-year self-selected peer group for North Georgia Conference clergy to bond together, learn together and dream together. Groups design a custom plan to refresh self, church, and community through sharing best practices, gaining new tools and exploring adaptive adventures for making new disciples. We invite participants to be part of a modern pilgrimage in order to experience the holy in themselves, their churches, and community. Learn more about ACE at