Stories and Testimonies

Past pilgrims have lots to say about their experiences. Read just a few, and we hope you'll get a sense of what it's like to walk with us...

2016 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England


The 2016 Celtic Pilgrimage was a first ever experience for me.
 I had not read about Celts and their form of spirituality prior to the pilgrimage. I wondered what it would be like. I was not disappointed and look back now on what was a truly unique learning experience. 
 
Several highlights stand out. The warmth of the tour leadership, attention to detail and joy of the moment helped put me at ease.  Sheryl and Ted’s lifelong study of spiritual disciplines greatly enriched the experience and interaction of the pilgrimage participants.  The daily schedule was carefully and expertly designed to facilitate individual and group reflection on what we heard, saw and learned. Intentional community building activities created affection and mutual enrichment among the participants.  Studying the history and development of Celtic spirituality in the actual places where it began and continues, created the context for me to reflect on my own spiritual journey. The local resource persons selected to explain Celtic spirituality were very knowledgeable and inspirational.  It is not an exaggeration to say the Celtic pilgrimage can be transformational for participants who fully engage with the experience.  The food and accommodations were also excellent.  For persons wanting a high-quality life giving spiritual pilgrimage I highly recommend Eklectic Pilgrimages.
 
Ron Y.
2016 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/N. England


To say that this Celtic Pilgrimage completely changed my life would be untrue.
To say that it enhanced life and fed my soul in a way that no other travel had done before or since, would be more honest. Iona, Lindisfarne, other northern English landscapes, speak to the historically rich spiritual geographies.

What changed me: I now pray daily from An Iona Prayer Book because the spirit of Iona called me deeply. But there was something more about this pilgrimage that touched my soul: the way I was welcomed traveling with Spirit-seeking adventurers. We were all welcomed as friends. It was a “safe” way to journey with like-minded, spiritually grounded individuals who became more than travelers seeking adventure. We became a community. Sheryl’s superb planning offered the structure for it and the Spirit bonded and grounded us.  An unexpected bonus was the wholesome fun we had; Ted ignited it and we all received his gift, like a fabulous dessert that follows a gourmet meal. I began the trip without expectations; at the end, I was surprised at the joy and life I had received. The Spirit was with us and a traveler can’t do better than that. 

Anne R.
2016 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England

My Celtic Pilgrimage to Iona proved to be a mountain-top experience at sea level.  Words such as “savor” and “marinate” come to mind as I reflect on the experiences there that continue to flavor my spiritual journey. I departed with my senses sated with the visual beauty found in the landscape, water and the island’s human and four-legged inhabitants; my heart warmed by beautiful weather and the friendship of all who offered hospitality; my soul fed by the sounds of worship in the Abbey, our pilgrim singing voices, and the conversations and laughter over delicious meals; my feet chilled by the cold water of St. Columba’s Bay and my hands filled with the smooth rocks now adding weight to my luggage.  I felt more connected to my Celtic brothers and sisters whose practice of soul-tending through daily routines was now taking root in me

Laura D.
2016 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England

I wasn’t sure what to expect when signing up for my first pilgrimage. I feared it could be a trip with a bunch of strangers wandering between ancient artifacts with obligatory devotional times interspersed throughout the day. Fortunately, things played out much differently than that.

The leaders worked very hard at creating a caring community among the travelers. Although we did indeed see a lot of ancient artifacts, it always had a context. Singing and sharing came naturally as a response to the way ancient peoples reached out to the divine and lived and worked close to the earth that they had a spiritual connection with. It was that common “groundedness” that ultimately led me to reflection on my own spiritual journey and the way it is connected to the vast web of previous lives lived on ancient and holy soil. You could feel in the air the cycles of life and learning that had gone on for centuries before. If you are contemplating a pilgrimage, I encourage you to participate with an open heart and an open mind.

Randy B.
2016 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England

When I was president of Goshen College, we chose this motto: "The joy is in the journey." I still love that phrase, and it applies beautifully to the pilgrimages Sheryl Shenk and Ted Swartz create.

Sheryl prepares copious notes for every step of the journey, based on years of study of Celtic spirituality and relationship building with scholars and leaders. Ted, a talented and experienced actor, weaves stories out of the keen observations he makes as he listens carefully to each member of the group.  

In my mind, the two of them form a dialogue. It goes a little like this: 

Sheryl:           "Amazement is better than amusement."
Ted:                "But hey, amusement is good too!" 

Ted:                "The best moments are never planned." 
Sheryl:           "Yeah, but they seldom happen without planning!" 

Based on many years of travel to many places, I can assure you that Eklectic Pilgrimages offer a kind of travel experience impossible to find elsewhere. Sheryl and Ted, together with their spouses and the other pilgrims who join their merry band, will take you beyond mere wandering to wonder itself. The joy, truly, is in the journey.

Shirley S.
2016 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England

Traveling with a pilgrimage group was an experience of discovering and deepening newness in my Christian faith. This came to fruition through numerous ways including daily spiritual practices with my fellow travel pilgrims, developing new friendships, singing hymns, walking together and dining together. Walking collectively as pilgrims along paths, likely taken by early Celtic Christian missionaries, provided me with a new awareness and appreciation for Celtic Christian history as well as current Celtic faith practices. A highlight for me was worshipping at the Abbey at Iona, with my fellow travel companions and others from around the world. As we daily went for morning and evening prayers at the Abbey, I in many ways felt like I had “come home” to a faith practice that my heart so longed for. Now, my heart longs for a return to this special holy place.

Wilma C.
2016 Scotland/ N. England Celtic Pilgrimage

2012 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England

I went on this 2012 trip with new and old friends who came from a variety of religious beliefs and we traveled so well together.  As we explored and walked the lands of ancient Celtic and Christian places, we met people who know and treasure their history. We ate delicious food at local eateries and at every lodging where we stayed.  We began each day and ended each evening as a group with prayers, singing, laughter, sharing ideas and stories. Sometimes in the day we had choices to be alone or be in a small group or with our entire group.

I will always fondly remember my pilgrimages to Scotland (and Ireland). For years as I matured, I realized that even as a child I was drawn to the natural world spiritually because I see God and all His wonders in every aspect of nature, as well as in humans.  Through this pilgrimage, I learned that I am a Celtic Christian. Like the ancient Celtic saints, I believe we are born with goodness in our souls and need to learn the secrets that life offers through understanding the rhythm and close observation and respect of our natural world.

Mary Kay V.
2012 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England          

Our pilgrimage was memorable because of the people who participated, our prayer of song and spoken whether on the bus or in a church, Iona or Durham or Lindisfarne.

Sheryl and Bill were fun, capable leaders who listened to our folks and helped us be creative in leading prayer or writing a day's remembrance.  Each person contributed to the daily success of our travels. It was a treasured experience that I heartedly recommend.

Joan L.
2012 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England          

A life’s highlight experience best describes our Celtic Pilgrimage with Sheryl, Jon and Rev. Bill at the helm.   We 22 pilgrims bonded into a family immediately and were treated to a magnificent variety of places, people and experiences throughout Scotland and Northern England.  Sheryl’s leadership, planning and attention to details created a foundation for spiritual growth, historical learning, fine fellowship, food and accommodation.  My wife Donna’s physical limitations were well attended and shared lovingly by all.  

We travelers shared in the finding of our Celtic roots and were enabled to hear the echoes of the people who had gone before us in these places.  The “Thin Spaces” of Iona, Lindisfarne, Durham and Edinburgh opened our eyes, filled our spirits and created a filling peace among us.  Was it the prayers and devotions?  Was it the fellowship and friendships formed?  Was it the sights, sounds and smells of the places we visited and dined?  Was it the laughter, the caring, and the learning?  Every bit of all those.  Sheryl and Jon make such a loving, incredible team that brings all these elements together.  Don’t miss the opportunity.

Terry C.
2012 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England          

Intrigued by the invitation to go on ‘pilgrimage’…to travel with an openness to risk, to uncertainties, to exploration, questions, and challenge… I might have signed on regardless of the destination; however, the invitation to Iona ‘sealed the deal.’  This was the opportunity to fulfill a long-held dream!  The tiny island off the coast of Scotland did not disappoint. Worship in the Abbey left me with a sense of ‘coming home.’  I have used the liturgy, the songs from the Iona Prayer Book for years, now there I was…gathered in that holy space united with the Iona community, experiencing first-hand the welcoming spirit, the deep, rich significance of each word.

The Spirit blew mightily around and through us as gale-force winds embraced the island.  Some of us braved the elements and walked to the North Beach where wind, rocks, water …left me with a sense that ‘even the stones speak God’s name.’

Again, at St. Columba’s Bay…I was drawn to the beautiful rocks! 2800 million years old! Washed in sun, wind and sea, such stories they can tell!  Stories that reveal God’s strength, God’s faithfulness! Surely this is a ‘thin space’ where earth and heaven meet!

Mary Lou M.
2012 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England          

2010 Celtic Pilgrimage to Ireland


It’s hard to express all the joy and thanksgiving I have for the opportunity to have seen holy places of Ireland through the lens of Celtic spirituality:

  • Glendalough in the valley of the two lakes in the Wicklow Mountains;
  • the rocks of Newgrange, in place before the Egyptian pyramids;
  • the Hill of Tara on a rainy, foggy day;
  • the 6th century ruins of Clonmacnoise;
  • hillsides of yellow gorse;
  • walking down a path lined with Queen Anne’s Lace to St Brigid’s Holy Well in Kildare;
  • watching the sun set on the Aran Islands.

Every place we went, I wanted to stay longer, delve deeper.

Sheryl and Jon provided us with the opportunity to become a community of friends who came together with shared laughter, morning and evening prayer, and the joy of discovering a new and beautiful land together. Another gift was Sheryl’s Celtic guidebook, a record of our daily journey that contained a treasure-trove of hymns, poetry, history, and prayers.

I’ve never gone on a trip with such careful preparation beforehand and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to “taste and see” Ireland, not as a tourist but with eyes and heart open to discovering the magic of this green isle. 

Mary Louise F.
2010 Celtic Pilgrimage to Ireland

"Going on pilgrimage" can conjure up images of slogging over narrow, muddy paths, rough roads, in shoes that feel like you got them out of somebody else's suitcase.  Not so the Ireland pilgrimage.  The images that remain with me are of walks through the bustling Dublin City, picturesque country roads lined with beautiful yellow gorse, nonchalant cows meandering across roadways, and sheep sleeping right up against the road as our trusty bus driver painstakingly kept the bus moving to get to our sleeping quarters for the night.

There are memories also of participants on the tour sharing their personal stories, stories that brought more to the group than merely sharing a seat on the bus or table at dinner.  Stories of childhoods and later years spent in numerous places, all with varied experiences.

After a day of touring - which often included much walking - a hot meal accompanied by brown bread and a comforting Irish brew was the perfect ending to an interesting day of exploring.  Bedtime usually came early.  Our fearless leader, Sheryl Shenk, included a devotional each day - sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the evening.

It was a trip easily worth repeating. 

Audrey M.
2010 Celtic Pilgrimage to Ireland

I was a pilgrim.  I will quote a part of my chronicle written about Inishmore, (one of the lovely, lonely, and haunting Aran Islands) to give a bit of the spiritual feeling generated on this trip:

“I had a five-minute talk with an old driver of one of the horse-driven cabs about the time of the day.  His English and/or my ears were somewhat deficient, so it took that long to answer a question about the time of the day – he had no watch – and to comment on the arrival of the next ferry-load of tourists. 

I then had a spiritual experience as I walked by myself about the fringes of the village.  I found the local Catholic church – one of three Catholic churches on the island of about 800 persons.  It was relatively large – seating over 200 – and was decorated for Confirmation Day.  A sole woman was kneeling in prayer at the front, and I was taken by the thought of how many women I had seen in that solitary, yet not lonely, position in churches and missions at home in Texas and Virginia and on visits to California, Mexico, France, Italy, and Spain.  I was taken not only by how global Catholicism is but also by the entire Christian – even the entire human – spirit evinced by these women.  I wish I had better descriptive powers to say how affected I was by that lone woman in a lonely church on a lonely island in the Atlantic Ocean of the coast of this ancient spiritual country of Ireland”.

Terry L.
2010 Celtic Pilgrimage to Ireland

2007 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England

I had never been on a pilgrimage and was attracted to the "Celtic Pilgrimage" because of the title and I had always wanted to visit Scotland. A pilgrimage should be on everyone's bucket list for it is a way to journey out and experience a place different as well as a way to journey inward to your self - all the while traveling with likeminded folks who become like family and good friends for life.

It is an experience like non-other when the richness of the country and culture shared by locals and natives steeped in history will bring alive the times and people of long ago and link ourselves with them. The historic sites explored, literature shared, meditations reflected or music sung tap into an interconnectedness among the travelers that stays strong well beyond returning home. And many a day will be spent in reflection back home on the very special moments experienced during the trip.

A unique once in a lifetime travel with deep immersion into the way of the people and life of the country. The leader-created guidebook prepares one for each day's experience, noting highlights and ways of reflection. The spiritual guides lead pilgrims thru this life discovery adventure and offer wisdom and understanding, teachings and learnings that enrich each day's experience.

Vicki L.
2007 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England

Surrounded by beauty of the rolling green hills of Scotland, I had never imagined:

  • learning that Christianity has an older story than I realized.
  • walking the path to the sea where St. Columba arrived on the island of Iona.
  • worship in ways I had never experienced.
  • delight in encountering new friendships.

Was it the beauty, history, walks, worship, friendships or thin space between earth and heaven?  Whatever it was, for ten short days I was in a place where I felt very close to the Divine...a place my heart and memories will treasure always.

Connie D.
2007 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England

A pilgrimage, at its best, is to set out on a journey away from one's ordinary rhythms of life. 

  • To travel with companions beyond the safety of our own faith traditions and to discover places where earlier Christians had left their footprints upon the earth. Remembering those saints and the places where the strong Spirit had drawn them.  
  • To discover that God's beauty exists in so many forms; the lyrical voice of our Scottish bus driver, sheep dotting the green landscape of stone fenced pastures, lavender skies that reached down and touched the earth giving us all the renewed sense of what the early Celts prayed in their prayers… that the glories of heaven and earth can indeed come close.

Blaine D.
2007 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England

What a grand cornucopia of places and people this trip was. I have many happy memories from this expedition. 

Iona:  so beautiful.  I still have this clear vision, but no photograph, of that white sand and turquoise sea, of the hills sprinkled with wildflowers, and the cache of tombstones from many hundreds of years, now kept indoors in a safe place.

I loved Lindisfarne, and would love to go back there.  Be sure to see the facsimile of the Lindisfarne Gospels if you go.  

I also keep a clear recollection of the sea journey to Inner Farne:  the tiny Arctic terns that attacked us so mercilessly they could draw blood if your scalp was unprotected!  Fierce parents, they...  And the puffins with their underground nests.  They're not great in the air, but wow, watch them swim!  The chapel built there in memory of all those that spent years there in prayer.   It was a good trip, and certainly memorable for those who were part of it who have been friends ever since.

Anne N.
2007 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England

Iona and Lindisfarne — two islands (one on each coast of Britain) which between them hold much of the early history of Celtic Christianity in the British Isles.  Sea and wind.  You reach Lindisfarne only when the tide is right…. Wild geese are at home here — you discover why the Celts love them.  Old stones witness to a tradition that has often been suppressed; ruins speak of changes which war and conquest have brought to the land.

The Abbey of Whitby — Some call what happened here in the seventh century a tragic mistake.  But Celtic Christianity never quite died out.  Can the Celtic insights be recovered for our time?

Durham Cathedral — built by Norman invaders but established in the soil of a faith handed down by Celtic hearts and minds.   Big, even by twenty-first century standards.

We worshipped together — our liturgy influenced by words and concerns of Celtic Christians.  We sang together…and came away influenced forever by these often-forgotten roots of our faith.

Bill and Louisa P.
2007 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England

I am an introvert and a homebody, holding little fascination with the world outside of the one I joyfully inhabit. Living on an isolated mountain top in the Potomac Highlands offers the perfect backdrop for my contemplative nature, yet interest in Celtic spirituality increasingly drew me to The Scottish Highlands --- Iona and Lindisfarne, in particular. It required considerable self-talk and encouragement from friends to move out of one "thin place" to visit another, but I'm glad I did it. 

Getting there and returning home was as uncomfortable as I'd expected. However, from where I sit this morning, I am grateful that the desire to be attentive to the Spirit won-out. Cherished memories are the relationships, the singing, the laughing, the worshiping, single malts, walking the ground of my Scottish ancestors, and recognizing how being a "guest of the world" deepens and broadens the inward journey. 

Tom B.
2007 Celtic Pilgrimage to Scotland/ N. England