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Kinlock Shelter in Bankhead National Forest is among a dozen sacred sites in Alabama that Episcopal priest Bill King deemed worthy of pilgrimage.
DAILY File Photo
Kinlock Shelter in Bankhead National Forest is among a dozen sacred sites in Alabama that Episcopal priest Bill King deemed worthy of pilgrimage.

Sacred spaces
Priest identifies 12 'places of secret prayer' in Alabama

By Melanie B. Smith
DAILY Religion Writer 340-2468

A deep rock overhang protects a site many consider sacred in Bankhead National Forest.

Kinlock Shelter has been a place of worship for Indians for thousands of years, researchers say.

The remote place in Lawrence County isn't appreciated by hikers and followers of Native American religion alone. The Rev. Bill King, an Episcopal priest, made it part of his book and Web site, "Places of Secret Prayer: Pilgrimage in Alabama."

King created the works as part of his link with Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence at Samford University in Birmingham. He is among at least two dozen ministers who have taken sabbatical leaves or found renewal in other ways through the center, which is backed by a $2 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

King, deputy for ministry development in the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, has taken pilgrimages to distant places like Jerusalem, Rome and Canterbury. At those spots important to church history he prayed, meditated and lingered.

But back home, King said he started wondering if holy sites were nearby. He used a sabbatical in 2004, supported by the Samford center, to find out. He wrote 30 religious leaders in the state asking their suggestions for special spiritual sites.

King picked 12, some considered sacred because of tragic events connected with them.

For instance, Cash Grocery Store in Hayneville is the site of the murder of an Episcopal seminary student in 1965. He died helping to register blacks to vote. The Episcopal Church USA named Jonathan Daniels a martyr.

Several other places on King's list are churches connected with the Civil Rights Movement. Sixteenth Street Baptist in Birmingham is where four girls died in a bombing in 1963. Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma was the starting place for a 1965 march across the Edmond Pettus Bridge. Lawmen beat marchers back, but a few days later, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. successfully led a larger group across. About 10,000 marchers later made the march to Montgomery.

Cullman County sites

Three Catholic sites in Cullman County are on King's "Places of Secret Prayer" list, Ave Maria Grotto and Sacred Heart Monastery, both in Cullman, and the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville.

Each is unique and prompted different reflections from King, which he included on the Web site. For the medieval-style Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, where Poor Clare Nuns pray 24 hours a day, he wrote, "How do we make use of our own church as a place of constant prayer?" After seeing more than 125 miniatures of holy places created by the late Brother Joseph at Ave Maria Grotto, King asked how seeing replicas of holy places might prompt thoughts about the sacred.

'Desperately needed'

Pilgrimage is a tradition Christians should rediscover, said King. Different from vacationing or touring, pilgrimage is a journey into remembrance and prayer, he said. It is a spiritual discipline that Christians in the United States desperately need, King said in an article published by Duke Divinity School.

King put on his Web site a bibliography of pilgrimage that includes the "Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture" by Victor and Edith Turner and "Mystics and Zen Masters" by Thomas Merton. The site also features pilgrimage prayers, Web links and tips.

Among his 10 practical suggestions to prepare for pilgrimage: Rest well, eat simply, pray daily, meditate and read sacred things.

King's book features more detailed descriptions of the sites and background information about pilgrimage. It costs $10, includes a CD for adult Christian education use and is available from

King said he visited and was moved by all of the sites he featured. Every state has its holy places worthy of religious pilgrimage, he said.

"We just have to discover them," he said.

On the Net:;rcpe/pilgrimage.

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