Cars whiz by Bishop Douglas Fisher along Route 7 in southern Berkshire County on his way to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Stockbridge. Starting Sunday in North Adams, Fisher, staff in hand, will have walked 50 miles in four days when he reaches Sheffield Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m always urging our churches to take the faith to the streets,” Fisher said. “Faith isn’t something you just live in that church building, but you bring it out into the world. So on this walk we do prayer services on street corners and in parking lots. Another dimension is that people frequently come to where I work. They go to whatever church I’m at. This is me going to where they work. So I’m meeting people who work in jails, hospitals and halfway houses talking to them about how they experience God in their life.”
Bishop Fisher walked his diocese’s Worcester corridor last year and completed the Pioneer Valley portion in March. He says he’s urged his 7,000 members to walk 20 minutes in each direction of their place of worship to help them learn about their neighborhood. Fisher says the idea for his own pilgrimage came to him when he was running one day.
“I drive all over the place,” he said. “I’ve got 65 churches, but I drive to them, do the service, meet with people and then get back on the Mass Pike and drive home. This way I get to actually see what these neighborhoods are like. The Berkshires are obviously beautiful and there’s so much going on here. When I was walking through Holyoke and Chicopee…I didn’t know that there were canals in Holyoke and that is a big part of their history. To walk along those canals you can see how neighborhoods were shaped. That’s been a wonderful thing for me. The other thing that’s been great for me is just listening. I preach all the time so this is listening to people’s faith stories and hearing how God is at work in their everyday lives. I’ve really been inspired by the people I’ve met.”
People have joined the 60-year-old Fisher along the way for a few hours or days at a time. Mark Miller is a member of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Pittsfield and trekked about 14 miles over two days with Bishop Fisher.
“I’ve been in his presence several times, but I figured being on this walk would allow me to actually talk with him for minutes at a time,” Miller said. “It’s been wonderful…lots of different subjects, some having to do with his particular responsibilities and some having to do with my journey. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s fantastic.”
Throughout his itinerary, Bishop Fisher and the other pilgrims stop for prayer services with congregants and those passing by whose interest is piqued by the journey.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church hosted a prayer service in its memorial garden led by interim Priest-in-Charge Libby Wade.
“The Episcopal Church theologically is a church that believes very much in an incarnational expression of faith,” Wade said. “Jesus Christ being the epitome of that. So we do have a concern for the environment and for people in the here and now not just salvation in the by-and-by or Heaven far off. But a new creation here on Earth and his [Fisher’s] walk I think is a powerful symbol of that. It sets an example for us that he wants to be the church incarnate out on the streets, highways and in the fields.”
Bishop Fisher says he’s certain he will embark on another pilgrimage while his staff is tossing around the idea of a joint trek with the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts along the Interstate 495 corridor.
“They’re proposing that their bishop, Alan Gates, who is a great friend of mine, that we walk the boundary together,” Fisher explained. “It would be a great show of unity and great things of the gospel talking about going out to the boundaries. So we’ll see if Alan takes me up on that challenge.”