Celtic Spirituality Initiative at Bethlehem Cathedral

By Melinda Rizzo

A new experience offered by the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, based in Bethlehem, offers spiritual open space through a new twist on an ancient practice.

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Monthly Celtic spirituality evenings, accompanied this summer by live Celtic harp and violin music, candlelight, and set inside the 150-year-old sanctuary of the Cathedral, are a continuation of recent Celtic Spirituality class entitled the Bardsey.

The Bardsey Initiative, offered during this past winter, was a 10-week spiritual pilgrimage for participants, according to the church website. Based upon Celtic Christian spirituality practices, morning and evening sessions were offered from late December through February.

“I savor the time in the Cathedral illuminated by candles and filled with Celtic music,” said long-time Nativity member Victoria (Tori) Penske Aitchison, in an email regarding the latest Celtic spirituality offering.

Aitchison, who also participated in the recent Bardsey workshop series, said, “as an Episcopalian, I feel grounded in the monastic traditions so adding the Celtic way to see the sacred all around me has been a beautiful gift.”

The Very Rev. Anthony (Tony) R. Pompa, Nativity’s dean and rector, said his hope is for the monthly Thursday evenings to become a touchstone for anyone interested in seeking a new way to approach spirituality and make a deeper connection with the sacred.  

All are welcome to the Thursday evening Celtic spirituality offerings, regardless of their denomination, or faith affiliation,  according to Pompa.

“We would like to embrace all and make folks welcome here,” Pompa said.

Janet Felix, a Nativity member of about two years, said she most enjoyed viewing the Cathedral space from a different perspective, and feeling transported by the environment to her Celtic roots.

“It was such a treat…to walk into the darkness of the Cathedral with all the candles lit and the music of my heritage playing,” Felix said. 

Felix, who also participated in the winter Bardsey series, said, “I always seemed to learn something new, either about Celtic spirituality, and/or about myself.”

Pompa is quick to stress that the experience offered is based on ancient Christian teachings and customs, which originated in the British Isles including England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Felix, who also attends the monthly Celtic spirituality evenings, said the sessions became a bridge for her, since the Bardsey completed.

“I miss the weekly (Bardsey) meetings.  But I am thankful that Tony has continued with the once a month gathering.  It is a time to refresh myself and to reflect on what has happened in the past month,” Felix said.

The Thursday evening sessions are informal, and invite participants to enter the Cathedral for meditation, silent prayer, personal reflection time, to light candles, privately ask for healing prayers, and simply enjoy brief theme appropriate meditative readings and poems spoken, all supported by quietly played Celtic Music by guest musicians, well known and versed in Celtic themed music.

“I am truly indebted to Allison Gillespie, a well known Celtic musician in the Lehigh Valley, and adjunct faculty at Moravian College. Allison responded to my plea looking for musicians not only coordinating a schedule of musicians but occasionally playing herself with various family members”.

“We offer a variety of opportunities for sacred connections in about 40 minutes, and the sessions hold a peace-filled and paced economy of time, the Celtic music played by our gifted guest musicians throughout the majority of the evening invites transformation, it’s a recipe of sacred mystery”,  Pompa explained.

Nativity member Marie Mauro of Williams Township, said having a meditation opportunity inside the Cathedral, supported by candlelight and music, is a powerful and holistic experience.

“I feel like I have access to a (greater power) and to all the many souls that were here before us inside the Cathedral,” Mauro said.

“Meditation and the Bardsey experience opened my heart. In our lives, we fail to stop and acknowledge, and to take a breath,” Mauro said.

The inspiration to create a Celtic spirituality offering on Bethlehem’s Southside grew out of a sabbatical Pompa took in 2013, to England and Wales and his familiarity with a Celtic themed experience offered at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. On Sabbatical, Pompa took a residence program with Ester DeWaal, staying on her rural property situated on the border of England and Wales.

DeWaal is a Celtic spirituality leader, scholar and writer. During his time there, Pompa began creating the framework he’d ultimately bring back to his parish community in Bethlehem.

“The goal is to provide a place for anyone interested in making some sacred space in their lives,” Pompa said.

Even those already rooted deep in faith could benefit from taking a “time out” from regular daily activities to journey within.

“I think in our culture today people thirst for mystery, I know I do,”  Pompa said.

If you go:
What: Celtic spirituality evenings as a time of prayer, reflection, healing and meditation supported by poetry and spoken reflections, accompanied by live Celtic music.
Where: Cathedral Church of the Nativity, 321 Wyandotte Street, Bethlehem.(Corner of 3rd and Wyandotte Sts on Bethlehem’s southside.
When: Monthly, from 7 p.m., on the fourth Thursday

Celtic spirituality evenings run about 40 minutes with light refreshments and fellowship following inside Sayre Hall at the Cathedral campus. The monthly evenings are currently scheduled to continue through 2014.

Celtic spirituality evenings are free and open to the public.

For more information call 610-865-0727, email tpompa@nativitycathedral.org, or visit the website at www.nativitycathedral.org