Rest, Relaxation, and Religion

The faithful seek out vacations with a spiritual flavor.

This week, Burt and Peggy Oliphant of Red Lodge, Mont., are joining thousands of Mormons trekking to Palmyra, N.Y., to participate in one of the largest outdoor religious pageants in America. They will witness more than 600 actors simulating the conversion of founder Joseph Smith, complete with Hollywood-style special effects that include explosions, earthquakes and volcanoes. Then they will follow Smith's footsteps through Sacred Grove--where he had a divine revelation that led to formation of the church--and his recreated home.

"We could go to more unusual places than this," explains Burt Oliphant, who first came to the annual pageant 5 years ago. "But we feel here like we are coming home because here are the spiritual roots of our faith and a community of like believers."

The Oliphants are among a growing number of Americans who are casting aside old assumptions and meshing their vacations with their religious faith. Previously, the faithful spent their free time in prayers and Scriptural study at their churches or synagogues. But this kind of religious vacation belies former assumptions that religion and secular society are always at odds.

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While many of us will languish at seaside and mountainside this summer, a large and growing segment of Americans will vacation with a religious flavor and in diverse venues, helped along by an eager segment of the travel industry.

Two and one-half million Christians will travel abroad in 2001 compared with just 1 million 20 years ago, says Irving Hexham, who is the editor of Christian travelers' guides to Great Britain, Italy, Germany and France.

Soluna Tours Sacred Journeys, which organizes tours to both new-age and classical religious locations, accompanied by scholars, ran three tours in 1995. In 2001, it will send 30 tours.

The Virginia-based Ariadne Institute offers two pilgrimages and one retreat for women, including sites on the islands of Lesvos and Crete. There, female pagan goddesses and feminine aspects of Christianity, such as nunneries and the mother-daughter relationship of Anne and Mary, are explored.

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