This last year has been quit a journey for me as well as the J2A youth. A year ago I was led into being one of the J2A leaders to help prepare this group for a pilgrimage trip that we took in June 2012. I knew it was a worthy cause from the effect it had on all three of my sons when they took the pilgrimages in 2004, 2006, and 2008. I didn’t realize that it would be just as meaningful for me as it had been for them.
My journey began with going to Chapel Rock Camp last summer with some of the youth. It was the beginning of getting to know the youth and learning what was important to them, what they wanted to learn more about, and where they saw the group headed. It was the beginning of me looking to see how I could best help them on their journey. We spent the next year in classes discussing everything from communication skills, sexuality issues, self-image issues, relationships between each other, self, community, prayer forms, rituals, beliefs, and more. We worked on fundraisers, planning, researching sites to visit, listening, and questioning past pilgrims. We worked on our relationship with each other, and supporting each other through good and bad. We learned what it meant to be Episcopal and Christian. Each day that I prepared a lesson or an activity I tried to keep Jesus and his message of love at the center. I tried to keep communication open, honest, and loving. It was a journey that we all began long before we left for the first plane on June 6.
There were many things that impressed me while traveling. The youth were inclusive during the trip, mixing up whom they sat with, walked with, and talked with. The youth were helpful with each other and the leaders, especially with Ruthie and me, helping us with our luggage up all the stairs in train and subway stations and hostels. And when there were emotional upsets they were quick to “circle the wagons” so to speak and support each other. It truly became a living community of love, and a family.
Visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral and Canterbury Cathedral were amazing to experience such beauty and history but also to experience a service that is so familiar to what we do at St. Philip’s — it bridged not just the ages but also the distance across the ocean. Canon Clare Edwards at Canterbury took us on a candlelight tour in an empty cathedral, inviting us to touch the past, to contemplate our own baptism, our journey with Christ, and to connect with all the pilgrims that had come before us to this very site as well as the ones that were yet to come. It made my faith in God, my community in Christ so much bigger.
I asked the youth to say a few words about what stuck out for them about the trip, what affected them, and here is what they had to say.
April Huckleberry: My most memorable moment was sitting in the candlelight service at Taize. The music was so pretty and filled the whole building. All the flames represented the people that were on a spiritual journey with you.
Something that made a lasting impression on me, personally, was that so many people around the world are worshipping in the same way that we do in church every Sunday. Seeing everyone in the several services we attended, as well as Taize, made me realize that our religion branches out all over the world. Christianity seems so much more powerful than before.
Yelena McCullough: The most memorable, spiritual moment for me was in Taize, during the services and in the Source (a meditative garden of sorts). The services were so beautiful and showed how no matter where you are from or who you are, you could join in the services and enjoy the worship of God in their own way.
Something I will always keep with me was going in the high areas – the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Eiffel Tower — and seeing the entire city below you and seeing far out. And seeing the old chapels in Canterbury Cathedral and the stairs that were used by so many people for so long. It is a reminder that we aren’t the only people in the world and we never will be. There are so many other things we should be caring about than ourselves.
Mette Story: This trip to Europe had a tremendous effect on me because it was my first time to Europe and I met many different people and had experiences that I couldn’t have imagined. Canterbury had the greatest spiritual impact on me, when we took the private night tour by candlelight. One of the first things we did was lie on the stone floor of the cathedral. When we looked up we saw the many stained-glass windows depicting Bible stories and Saints. Our guide, Canon Clare Edwards, began to sing several chants and simple hymns. As her clear voice encircled us I felt so connected to everything and everyone. When I closed my eyes a tear ran down my face. I can’t really explain how I felt — I just knew that I had experienced God without question. I had often questioned what God was and how he/she/it was expressed, but in that moment I knew that it was right beside me. It was the first time that I knew without a doubt that I had experienced God. The candlelight made it even more surreal.
Another experience that had an impact was the week in Taize, France. Every morning all the youth had Bible study, and because there were so few Americans, almost everyone in J2A was put into a group without another American. My group was mainly people from Germany and a few from Sweden. It was difficult at first to communicate with everyone because I did not know Swedish or German and they knew a bit of English but they kept saying how bad they were at it. Despite this, we were able to communicate effectively and become friends. During our free time I would hang out with people from my group and meet their friends. Since then I have kept in touch over email and Facebook. They have inspired me to learn German and to visit Germany someday. I had such a nice time and I really hope I see them all again someday.
There are others who I am sure want to tell their experiences and are not in town because it’s summer, so you will have to come to our presentation in the fall to hear more. As for me, being a leader for the J2A group and going on Pilgrimage has been spiritually enlightening; an honor to be with the youth as they explored their beliefs, questioned and searched for faith; and a blessing I will be forever grateful to have been a part of.