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A pilgrimage worth making more than once

Despite breaking his leg the last time he embarked on a pilgrimage, Rev. Scott Sinclair is preparing to walk the Camino de Santiago this spring as a way to reinvigorate himself and his preaching.

As minister of Elmira’s Gale Presbyterian Church, Sinclair decided about a year and a half ago he was ready to do the pilgrimage again. He completed the lengthy trek (780 kilometres) in Spain nine years ago while at the helm of a different church.

This year he’s doing the pilgrimage – at least the start – with two friends from Canada.

“You really have to approach it in your own way and if my two buddies want to do something different or spend time in one particular centre longer than I want to, they have to do that their way and they have to respect that I’m going to do the same.”

He says when he returns, the congregation will benefit from a revitalized pastor.

Rev. Kees Vandermay lives in the area and upon retirement he joined the Gale congregation. He’ll take over for Sinclair while he’s away.

“The idea of taking this time off is actually written into our agreement from our national offices that ministers are expected to every five years take this sabbatical time of two or three months and just take a break from ministry and do something other than being in the pulpit and preaching.”

He’s been walking two or three times a day around town to prepare for all the walking. He leaves in April and will finish the trip in June. It takes about six weeks to walk the route.

The last time he did the pilgrimage he was laid up in a small town about the size of Elmira in western Spain for four days.

It’s been nine years since Rev. Scott Sinclair completed the Camino de Santiago, but he’s now ready to complete the trek across Spain again, as a way to take a break from ministry and come back a better minister. Here, he shows the book he had made with stories and photos from his first pilgrimage. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
He developed a pain in his leg and it was diagnosed as tendonitis. Once he returned to Canada he found out he actually had a clean break in his leg. Because it hadn’t healed properly, he spent time in a wheelchair.

“An important message that I got out of that and what I often use as a message to my congregation and to my religious teachings is that suffering happens. Life brings you things that cause suffering, you lose somebody, you get sick, you don’t get the job you want, suffering happens. And that’s kind of something the world gives us that God kind of knows that’s what happens, but God doesn’t create the misery end of it.”

When he returns to Spain this time around, he plans to go back and see the dormitory manager who looked after him while I was suffering, letting him stay longer than pilgrims are supposed to, fetching food for him, and eventually getting him to the hospital.

He also met a man named Domingo in Burgos with a little dog who gave him a tour of the town when Sinclair was out late at night. When he goes through Burgos again he’s going to try to find him too.

Despite the broken leg suffered last time, he says the pilgrimage is a valuable experience and you don’t have to be in top physical shape to do it. Some people even do it in sections, two weeks one year, and then pick up the next year when they can take vacation time again.

“If we want to walk 10 kilometres in a day and stop, we have the opportunity to do that. If there’s a day we feel like doing 30 kilometres, we’ll do that. That’s kind of the attitude I want to take to this sort of thing, is no real deadlines, no real urgency, just take it as it comes.”

He notes the concept of walking, pilgrimage, and doing the same thing day after day solidified in him a lot of metaphors about life. During the pilgrimage he began to realize at any particular point you can look way ahead at where you’re supposed to be, and you say to yourself, how can I possibly do that? You soon realize the way you can possibly do that is by taking a step.

“It’s not rocket science. But it was a really powerful way to have that drive home for me, that life comes to you just a step at a time, and just take it bit by bit and eventually you get to that place at the end where you’re going to spend the night.”

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