On January 3, 2016 the congregation of St. Stephen Lutheran in Williamsburg embarked on a virtual trip to Jerusalem – planning a 12 week program, arriving on Easter Sunday. As a congregation, they walked, biked, and swam (among other ways of exercising) and recorded their miles each week.
Coordinated by Parish Nurse Marcie Clark, a committee compiled the miles traveled each week by over 150 of the members from St. Stephen and charted them on a map in the Church’s Gathering Space. This virtual trip created an enhanced sense of community and a shared goal as they compared miles traveled each week. Participants not only gained physical benefits such as improved fitness and weight loss, but the project also brought members together as they experienced spiritual growth and increased their knowledge about the world-wide Lutheran Church.
St. Stephen applied for and received a grant from The Nightingale Fund of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation to purchase pedometers to assist members in tracking their steps. Many were amazed at how few steps were taken on a typical day. Using the pedometers and participating in the Walk to Jerusalem, members consciously increased their physical activity.
- Week 1 — The group virtually started in Williamsburg, walking to Roanoke to visit with Bishop Jim Mauney, and went on to Chicago to see Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. They ended up in Niagara Falls, just to “see the sights”.
- Week 2 — They went to San Juan, Puerto Rico, learning about the Caribbean Synod of the ELCA, visiting Philipe Lozada-Montanez, Presiding Bishop of the territory.
- Week 3 — Traveling to the South, to Brazil, the virtual group stopped to visit the president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil, Egon Kopeck.
- Week 4 — St. Stephen traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to Guinea, where the Lutheran mission of the Lutheran Church in Libera began in 1952
- Week 5 — On to Cameroon on the West coast of Africa. The far western part of the country is English speaking, with a large majority speaking French — with over 275 native languages spoke in this country.
- Week 6 — Next they reached Tanzania in East Africa. This is home to Roggy Tippe, a student the congregation supported through Godparents for Tanzania.
- Week 7 — Soon they arrived in Addis Abba, the capitol Ethopia, where they learned that the church was founded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
- Week 8 — Cairo, Egypt was the next stop. There are no Lutheran congregations in Egypt, as the country is predominately Islamic. The ELCA partnered with St. Andrews United Church of Cairo to serve Christians in the city.
- Week 9 — On to Belgrade, Serbia. The Slovak Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Serbia — Montenegro joined the Lutheran World Federation in 1952 and has 49,000 member. In many of these congregations, the men and women still sit in separate sections in church.
- Week 10– Next they went to the place that started it all, Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door on October 31, 1517.
- Week 11 — By the last week they had walked a total of 20, 708 miles in real life that translated into a major achievement for their virtual journey–They arrived in Jerusalem for Easter!