Our Story



The Pilgrimage has welcomed groups to explore the connection between faith and urban poverty since 1973. As far back as the mid-1950s, architectural plans were drawn up for a building to be attached to Church of the Pilgrims to be used for housing young people, mostly young Presbyterians from the South, on a temporary basis until they became settled in Washington. In October 1971, Dr. Meza, pastor at Pilgrims, suggested that The Pilgrimage could be created to fulfill the need of groups seeking affordable space to explore faith, poverty, and public policy.

The idea was submitted to National Capital Union Presbytery and enthusiastically endorsed. The plan was then resubmitted to the Session in the spring of 1972, which voted in favor of inviting three groups as an experiment that summer.

The name, The Pilgrimage, was created to connect with the name of Church of the Pilgrims. “The Pilgrimage” was picked to capture our identity as Christians that we are all on a spiritual journey and pilgrimages enable us to journey or search for moral and spiritual significance.

Getting Started

Guinea pig groups were recruited and the reports of their visits showed that the concept could be successful. In 1973 the Session (the church governing body) established the Pilgrimage Advisory Board, and voted a sum of $2,000 for start up funds. In addition to housing space and staff assistance, the Session voted to give a significant portion of its benevolences over the next several years to get this ministry under way. These funds eventually amounted to $17,000 over the next five years. This commitment to the Pilgrimage proved fruitful as it helped secure funds from both the Presbytery and each of the two Synods during portions of the infancy of the Pilgrimage. The Pilgrimage facilities were officially dedicated on May 8, 1974 with Dr. Charles Kraemer, Moderator of the General Assembly (PCUS) speaking.


Over the years, The Pilgrimage’s mission has progressed--physically, programmatically, and spiritually. From those initial three groups in the spring of 1972, The Pilgrimage now welcomes almost 1,400 people, or 60+ groups, a year. In 2004, at the General Assembly in Richmond, Virginia, Church of the Pilgrims was awarded the Urban Network of Congregational Leadership Award through the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA).


Church of the Pilgrims was founded in 1903 as "The Second Presbyterian Church." Sixteen years later it was renamed "Church of the Pilgrims," and rededicated as the national church of the Southern Presbyterians, at a time when Northern and Southern Presbyterian churches were still divided. Pilgrims was intended as a home away from home for southern Presbyterian men and women "pilgrimaging" in our nation's capital. The present building was constructed in 1928 with funds from Presbyterian churches throughout the south.

The 1960's brought a change in the congregation's mission and identity. Embracing the Civil Rights struggle, Church of the Pilgrims evolved as a city church with an urban ministry.

Since that time, Church of the Pilgrims has been known for its ministries of social justice and outreach, particularly to the poor and homeless. Pilgrims has its own lunch for the homeless on Sunday afternoons, has strong participation in the Washington Interfaith Network, and is active in the More Light movement within PCUSA. Pilgrims' proximity to the Sudanese embassy has also allowed it to be vocal and public about ending the genocide in Darfur.

In January 2006, the Session of Church of the Pilgrims adopted the mission statement below:

We are pilgrims, together on a spiritual journey, trusting God to show us the way. 

We follow Jesus, seeing God's image in every face, inviting all people into the circle of God's grace. 
We joyfully worship in song and in prayer, and eagerly proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and in deed:

by caring for each other, serving neighbors in need, and seeking peace with justice.

Every year at Service Day, Pilgrims members gather together to share the experience of Pilgrimage groups and learn more about this important ministry. Watch A Video of Service Day 2009.