What started as a dream truly was a gift to these two weary ministers looking for rootedness in their tradition.

On the morning of Sept. 25, we were driving home from a night away. We just stayed in town but needed some time for the two of us after parenting and pastoring together for seven months in a pandemic.

On our way home that morning, we were listening to NPR uninterrupted by cries for Dora the Explorer.

They featured a story about a history teacher from Austin, Texas, who traveled the country to take videos of her teaching history lessons in the places where the history actually happened.

She spent time in Washington, D.C., Boston, Williamsburg and several other mid-Atlantic locations to give her students a feel for what these locations actually felt like.

We looked at each other, both of us with a hunger for adventure in our eyes, and said, “Why can’t we do that?”

Within three hours, my husband, John, and I had the trip planned. We would travel up I-95 to the historic Baptist churches in the mid-Atlantic and northeast. We would preach and record sermons from these places to give our congregation a feel for what these other churches look like.

Katie and John Callaway headshotAs we began planning it, we realized what an interesting trip this could turn out to be. It began to get bigger than just traveling to record sermons.

We wanted to get to the pulse of these congregations we’d be visiting. We wanted to talk with their pastors, learn from them and truly connect with them because as the planning began, we realized how much we truly needed these other congregations.

All religious institutions have struggled during this time of COVID-19 to determine what is the best route for operating safely for their community. Some have implemented different practices. Others have transitioned to online church, an entirely different beast than simply doing church online (thanks to our online engagement coach, Jim Keat, for this differentiation).

First Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia, has kept our doors closed, but the church is as vibrant as ever. We are fully online, though there are options for those who are unable to connect to the internet.

The pandemic has exacerbated any sense of isolation that was previously present. Senior adults who felt isolated before the pandemic are more so now.

After some time dreaming about the possibilities of this trip, we realized how isolated our church is. We are the only church of our “type” here in the Savannah area. The nearest churches that associate with either of the denominations we claim – Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists – are hours away.

Though we have great relationships with local congregations of other denominations, it can be lonely to be the only church that has to explain to visitors and passers-by, “We are a different kind of Baptist.”

As we began planning our Baptist history pilgrimage, we realized we had an opportunity before us. This would be our opportunity to help our congregation – and perhaps those we would visit – feel a little less isolated in this time.

Not only would we be immersing ourselves and our congregation in the history of our tradition, but we would be highlighting churches that were living into identities similar to our own.

Though we planned this trip as a pipedream, it was beginning to become a necessity as we unfolded what could be real pastoral and congregational benefits. Just days later, we had the trip fully planned.

Only one church that we originally reached out to did not respond. We kept waiting for a roadblock, but one never came.

We shared the idea with the necessary people in our own congregation, who got excited about it. Within a week, the trip was fully planned and scheduled.

Our only complicating factor was COVID-19.

To mitigate risk, we committed to staying in campgrounds instead of hotels and brought our own portable potty we could use while traveling instead of stopping in public restrooms. We quarantined two weeks in advance, wore N-95 masks the entire trip and abided by state testing guidelines.

The plan was set.

We would start out with our longest driving day: Savannah to Washington, D.C. After a day of filming at First Baptist Church in the City of Washington, D.C., we were bound for Middleboro, Massachusetts, which sat directly in between Boston and Providence, Rhode Island.

We would spend three nights there, our longest stay, to film for a whole day in Boston at Old Cambridge Baptist Church and another day at First Baptist Church in America in Providence.

Then, we would travel to Philadelphia to film at First Baptist Church. The trip would conclude with a visit to Williamsburg Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of Williamsburg.

All in all, it would be around a 2,700-mile trip over the course of 10 days (Oct. 19-28).

We were most excited for the opportunity for a different setting for our sermons. We love our sanctuary in Savannah, but without people filling the pews, it can become rather monotonous.

What began with excitement over preaching in these historic pulpits morphed into something so much greater. We never could have anticipated all that we learned during this pilgrimage.

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a two-part series. Part two is available here.

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