The Rev. David Pattee leaves for Israel this month in hopes of seeing the desert bloom as it did for him as a teen.
But this time around, the adult who leads the Kent United Church of Christ has more grown-up expectations.
Pattee first traveled to The Holy Land at age 17 as an American Field Student in 1972. Then he visited Cyprus and traveled the country by a way "that would be completely unthinkable" today.
"It's the first time I will have been to this Israel," Pattee said. "The country has changed a lot."
The Kent church's senior pastor leaves Jan. 24 with a delegation of other religious leaders and scholars organized by the Chicago Theological Seminary. During the two week overseas stay Pattee and his colleagues will meet with their Israeli, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Palestinian counterparts.
Pattee called it a study trip.
"We're going over to meet other people like us," he said. "We're going over as tourists with a sense of purpose and connections that go beyond sight-seeing."
His hope is to meet religious leaders such as himself — progressive rabbis, Palestinian Christian pastors — and to be part of a collegial conversation with people atomized by the struggle for peace in the country.
The trip also fulfils a personal wish.
As a young man, Pattee had a certain kind of fascination with Israel. He admits having a romanticized view of what the country was, as he saw it, a people oppressed, dispersed who eventually could return home. He envisioned a socialist democracy with respect for individual rights.
Pausing, he lowered his voice to describe his view now 40 years later.
"They've made the mistake that we've made many times in the U.S.," Pattee said. "They've organized themselves around what they're against more than what they're for. And that, to me, is always a sign that things are going bad."
Personally, he also hopes to pray at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.
"That will be a little personal touch stone for me," he said.
But he wants the trip also to carry broader significance for his congregation.
"They're very interested in this," Pattee said. "And I'm interested in having us have a broader world view."
The pastor will return to Kent in February, when he will take a week off to organize his notes from the trip to prepare presentations and sermons for the church.
"I think it will be a tremendous opportunity to learn about the struggles for peace and justice under intense pressure," he said.