Sick Pilgrim, a decidedly offbeat, dark yet stubbornly hopeful blog by a group of misfit Catholic writers, has won a 2017 Wilbur Award for Best Faith-based blog. Created by Jessica Mesman Griffith and Jonathan Ryan, Sick Pilgrim is intended for people on the margins “who’ve never felt at home anywhere but who are tired of traveling alone.” This year, they find themselves among a list of honorees that includes the Oscar-nominated film "Hidden Figures," CBS “Sunday Morning,” NPR, and The Story of God with Morgan Freeman.
The Wilbur Awards, presented by the Religion Communicators Council (RCC), recognize excellence in the communication of religious faith, values, and themes through a variety of secular media – print and online journalism, book publishing, broadcasting, and motion pictures. The awards will be presented on April 1, 2017 during the RCC’s 88th annual national convention.
Written by and for outsiders, Sick Pilgrim is “a space for the spiritually sick, and their fellow travelers, to rest a while.” Griffith, Ryan, and associate editor Matt LaFleur are Catholic, but write for those in the church and beyond. Blog posts range widely, offering provocative takes on faith, art, pop culture, politics, disability and illness, depression, love, death, mercy, music, and more: Beyonce and the Black Madonna, Feast of St. Nicholas: Slap a Heretic Day. Or Why Are We Hitting Ourselves?, What It Means to Be a Catholic Woman in Trump’s America, and Interview with a Traiteur, one of their most-shared posts, about Cajun faith healers. Regular features include “Dark Devotional” reflections and “Things Keeping Us Alive”—roundups of contributors’ latest obsessions with writers, podcasts, music, TV shows, food, drink, and spiritual practices that might include Flannery O’Connor, Lady Gaga, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Stranger Things, Mahalia Jackson, or The Kraken Spiced Rum.
The Wilbur honor for Sick Pilgrim means the self-described outsiders aren’t as unusual as they thought, says cofounder Jessica Mesman Griffith. “It means that lots of people are suffering, wondering, and doubting in the pews, and that we as a church haven’t been accompanying them as they try to keep the faith. We haven’t been telling the whole story, showing the infinite possible shapes the Christian spiritual life can take.”
“To get the Wilbur award is a humbling experience,” says cofounder Jonathan Ryan. “I hope it encourages others to not be afraid to talk to each other about faith—even if they have no faith at all. We need spaces of welcome and safety more than ever.”
Besides the flagship blog on Patheos.com, other Sick Pilgrim initiatives includes a new book by Griffith and Ryan: Strange Journey: How Two Homesick Pilgrims Stumbled Back into the Catholic Church, which will be published by Loyola Press on October 1, 2017; the Wonder podcast; and the Trying to Say God Conference, a Catholic literary conference June 22-24 at the University of Notre Dame curated by the Sick Pilgrims, featuring keynote speaker Mary Karr.
“Our hope and prayer now is that receiving the Wilbur Award will, somehow, help us continue to create, promote, and publish work that serves the sick. You. Me. All of us,” says Griffith.
About the Sick Pilgrim cofounders:
JESSICA MESMAN GRIFFITH is the author of four books, including the Christopher Award winning Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship in Letters. She is a cultural columnist for US Catholic Magazine and a contributor to America, Christianity Today, and Living Faith, among others. Born and raised in Louisiana, she lives with her family in Northern Michigan.
JONATHAN RYAN is an author, columnist, and speaker. Ryan has written for Christianity Today, U.S. Catholic, Notre Dame Magazine, Quantum Fairy Tales, and Huffington Post. Jonathan currently lives in South Bend, Indiana, where he is an editor at Ave Maria Press.