On June 1, 2014, a group of thirteen J2A members were confirmed at St. Philip’s by Bishop Kirk Smith. The next morning, June 2, the J2A Pilgrimage set off from Tucson to London, England, accompanied by four adult leaders, the Rev. Allen Breckenridge, Allyn Baker, Sue Cross, and Woosug Kang. A crowd of well-wishing parents, siblings, spouses, and the Revs. John Kitagawa and Greg Foraker helped celebrate the start of the journey at the airport. The teens — all rising sophomores or juniors in high school (ages 15 and 16) — and their families had raised funds for two years to make the trip possible, with the generous support of St. Philip’s parishioners. Lori Harwood, our fearless parent leader and trip planner extraordinaire, and Sara Talley, our Youth Minister, deserve special thanks for their leadership and commitment. Participating J2A members were Thomas Alexander, Daniel Chrisenberry, James Cockrell, Chloe Harwood, Brett Goldsmith, Ruby Meyer, Ellie Schaefer, Olivia Shaw, Sarah Spurlin, Karine Story, Jeffrey Vickroy, Read Wilder, and James Wright.
The Pilgrims spent the first three days in London, then Canterbury, then a week at the international youth retreat in Taizé, France, and two days in Paris, before a harrowing trip home on June 18 filled with delays, via Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. They visited major spiritual sites including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Notre Dame, and Sacré-Coeur Basilica, and hit many standard tourist favorites, including Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the British Museum, the London Eye, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower.
Below, several Pilgrims share their reflections and memories in their own words on an inspiring Pilgrimage journey. Some of the longer reflections have been edited for this post, but are included unabridged in a Reflections booklet put together by and for the Pilgrims as a keepsake. (To read leaders’ reflections, click here.)
From Olivia Shaw:
Recently, I went on pilgrimage to Europe with my J2A group. We got to go to London, Paris, and Taizé. I’m pretty sure that your plane ride determines whether or not you’ll have a good trip. In my case, my journey through the air was absolutely perfect. … When we departed from the airport [in London], we boarded the Tube to get to our hostel. I sat next to a blonde, early twenties guy who wore flip flops and a headband. (pause) I don’t know what it is about humans, but we find it so hard to start a conversation with a stranger. A while ago, someone told me to not let fear decide my fate; so instead of sitting there, trying to not pay attention to this cute boy next to me, I started talking to him. I found out that he had recently been in Africa, teaching children English. He told us that he loves American TV shows, and we told him that we love Sherlock and the new royal baby. We talked about sports and how American politics are vastly different than they are in the U.K. He thought it was peculiar how we only have two political parties and how there are only rich people who run for office. From this moment on, and throughout the trip, I began to appreciate how Europe is not like America. This trip opened up my eyes to see how it’s okay if another country’s first language is not English, and how it’s all right if a country doesn’t have a Second Amendment.
During our stay at Canterbury, we had the privilege of visiting the cathedral at night on a candlelit tour. Canon Clare, our spiritual guide, first led us to the back of the cathedral and had all the lights turned off. The air was crisp and cool, like an early morning in winter, and the cathedral was no longer daunting but rather welcoming, its tall cement columns protecting us like God’s welcoming arms. Canon Clare had us lie on the chilled marble floor and look up at the ceilings. Every moment that I was on that tour I learned something that was hidden all along; to pray and give thanks all the time, even for the bad people; that God loves you no matter what, and how you can always go back to God. I can’t explain every little thing that happened on that tour, but I know for a fact that that was the most spiritual thing that has ever happened to me. I think that I came out of that experience more devotional towards God and those around me. And even if I struggle with it, I will be forgiven. (Veni Sancte Spiritus, tui amoris ignem accende. Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni Sancte Spiritus.)
From Canterbury, we made our way to Taizé. Taizé is an ecumenical monastic village in Burgundy, France. … At first I didn’t like Taizé because it was somewhat primitive, but I came to like it as I met more people who follow in the footsteps of God and appreciate simplicity. I wish I could go back.
From Daniel Chrisenberry:
The pilgrimage we took to Europe was a great experience as we all got to know each other even more than we already do and we got to see some of the history throughout Christianity by visiting historic and religious sites around Europe. One of my favorite sites to visit was Canterbury Cathedral, as it felt relatively untouched and as if it was the same as when it was built. Although Westminster Abbey was great with all the history is presented, it felt much commercialized and not very church-like. St Paul’s was also a great cathedral, yet it had a bit more of a modern appeal, but I still enjoyed the walk to the dome top and viewing out over London. The high point of the trip was easily Canterbury, as we could walk everywhere we had to go, the English youth group was very nice and I enjoyed meeting them, and the candlelit tour of the cathedral was a great way to think out the trip so far and process what your choices in life really mean. The low point of the trip was spread throughout as our group experienced many obstacles to continue, from strikes in the metro, to broken bones and scrapes on nearly everyone. Our leaders did a great job keeping us on track and getting through with what was a great pilgrimage.
From Chloe Harwood:
For years prior to our Pilgrimage, we looked forward to our chance to go. In this time we helped other groups raise money for their trip, heard stories from past pilgrims, and eventually worked for several years towards the spiritual and monetary preparation for our own. This summer all the years of talking and planning came together, and our group departed on our pilgrimage, visiting London, Canterbury, Taizé, and Paris. I personally had an amazing time. We spent the first of our days wandering around London, experiencing all the beautiful cathedrals, and learning about their importance in the heritage of our own Episcopal church, as well as getting to hear choral music that follows the same traditions that have existed for over 300 years, and that we ourselves try to follow in our monthly evensongs at home. During our time here, we also experienced traditional tourist attractions, such as the London Eye, the British Museum (one of my favorite parts of the trip), Big Ben, and many others.
From there we went to Canterbury: a small city in southeast England, which has been made famous by the beautiful and historical Canterbury Cathedral. The town itself was lovely, and its quiet streets made for a nice change of pace from the bustling city of London. While we were there, we spent a great deal of time at the Cathedral, learning about its history and having time to explore and pray, as more than simply another group of tourists passing through. For me this was one of the highlights of the trip, and the most meaningful and spiritual part of the pilgrimage.
After we left Canterbury, we went to Taizé and Paris for the second half of our trip. There we met new people, and experienced a different style of worship and culture than any of us were familiar with. In Paris we visited more cathedrals, and we experienced Catholic worship, and saw how it is both different from what we were used to, and in many ways similar. We also saw more famous tourist attractions, and enjoyed a shift in culture and language that wasn’t as apparent in England. Here we also ran into a great deal of problems, in dealing with the language barrier, train strikes, and tight-knit living quarters, but dealing with these problems helped us to grow closer as a group, and appreciate all of the better parts of the trip, and each other, more. Overall, this pilgrimage was an amazing time of spiritual growth and fun, and I could not be more grateful for the experience.
From Ellie Schaefer:
First let me say that I liked just about everything that we saw and did on the trip. I liked riding the subways and going on the London Eye. I liked seeing all the tombs in Westminster Abbey. I loved Taizé, especially the meetings we had where we talked about scripture. I also liked looking at the handsome German boys, and I liked having chocolate for breakfast every morning. In Paris my favorite part was going to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Things that surprised me were the dirty streets in Paris and all the people we saw smoking all over England and France.
Things I could have skipped were having Mrs. Cross fall and hurt herself and O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Still, I would do it all over again tomorrow if I could.
From Jeffrey Vickroy:
My favorite Pilgrimage memory was London (all of it!). My most meaningful memory was Taizé, the services.
From Brett Goldsmith:
While the flight home was definitely the low point of the trip (where’s my lawyer!?), the transportation could have been a lot worse. The train strike and line closures meant that we could have been stuck in Paris — we had to take a subway to another station but the line was closed and we were pressed for time as it was. But fortunately we ran into someone who gave us good directions in 2 seconds flat and we got on the subway at the last possible second. When we got off to switch trains we couldn’t figure out which one to get on. Fortunately, another friendly French citizen got us to the right tunnel in time. We ended up making the train to Taizé with 5 minutes to spare. Or, even worse, we could have been stuck in Taizé because the strike meant the train schedule was non-existent. Mr./Dr. Kang decided that we should leave 2 hours early. Fortunately a train did come (an hour and a half early), and although the amount of people aboard the train was probably in violation of some fire safety regulation, we made it to Paris 2 hours early. The train to the airport was on strike as well, only leaving every 30 to 45 minutes as opposed to every 10. But we made it without any trouble at all. I suppose our luck didn’t apply to air travel (where’s a transatlantic bullet train when you need one?) Overall, however, we were very blessed that as much of it went as well as it did.
From Karine Story:
High Point: Canterbury. The cathedral was amazing but I also loved St. Martin’s Church because of its history and it was a change to see a smaller church after Canterbury, Westminster, and St. Paul’s. The most meaningful experience was the candlelight tour of Canterbury with Canon Clare. I loved seeing the cathedral when there were no tourists and you could hear the silence and see the cathedral in complete darkness. It was more calming than being there during busy visiting hours.
Low Point: Chicago Airport definitely, but I was surprised by Paris. The stories you hear are very romanticized so the reality of the city was a big surprise. The hardest part, I think, was just trying to get seventeen people across streets and down the sidewalks.
From Read Wilder:
While in Canterbury Cathedral, the group was given an hour to individually split up and explore. I promptly departed and soon I felt compelled to visit the crypt. As I descended the flight of stairs to the crypt, I took notice of the concave depressions in the stone, and it occurred to me that thousands of pilgrims before me had trod the same path. It was thus with a sense of solemnity that I entered the crypt. It departed from the High Gothic style of the Cathedral, with its soaring ceiling and abundant decoration. The arches were low and circular, creating a dark and intimate space, an encouraging place for prayer and meditation. The only light flowed in from small, gray windows sparsely located throughout the crypt. In the center of the main chapel hung a sculpture of a man made of nails. The strange work of art attracted my attention, and as I examined it closer, the body appeared to be twisting in agony. I took a seat and stared up at it. The sculpture was of Thomas Becket, Canterbury’s local martyr, but the more I studied it, the more it reminded me of Christ on the cross. I thought of leaving, but I quickly banished the thought from my mind, the peace of the chapel keeping me fascinated. Soon, I became lost deep in thought about the purpose of the sculpture, its modernism so out of place in this medieval church. When I emerged from meditation, I realized that I had already spent half of my time, and with one last glance at the sculpture, I left to walk through the rest of the enormous cathedral. However, even after entering the sunlight of Canterbury Proper and the bustle of the town, I kept the sense of profound quietness that had permeated the crypt.
Photos by Brett Goldsmith, Woosug Kang, John Kitagawa, and other pilgrims and leaders