By Donna Olendorf
Director of Children & Youth Formation
I remember the day that Daniel told me he had cancelled the youth group pilgrimage. It cost too much money, he said, and required so much fundraising that the spiritual focus of the group was lost. Furthermore, pilgrimage hadn’t deepened the faith of the participants, but had served as an expensive “vacation.” There would be no more pilgrimage trips.
Since a final pilgrimage had been the climax of the Grace youth program for over 20 years, the pronouncement caused quite a stir. Parents of the affected teenagers were stunned and the teens themselves were perplexed and deeply disappointed. They had waited patiently—and expectantly– for their turn to make a pilgrimage and they keenly felt the loss.
And then a small miracle occurred. The same overindulged kids who walked the Camino de Santiago on an all-expenses-paid “vacation” came back and formed a cohort that met online under the leadership of Elizabeth Wolterink.
Two years after the pilgrimage, the blessings of their journey began to manifest. They decided to write about their experiences and submit their papers as an entry to the Parliament of World Religions, the largest interfaith gathering in the world. Their proposal was accepted. Their presentations were profound. The pilgrimage had sown seeds that blossomed into good fruit.
Those returned pilgrims felt strongly that their efforts were possible only as a result of the years of love and support they experienced at Grace. “I may not always go to church,” said one student, “but Grace is my home base.”
Fast forward to 2017 and another group of students. Our current youth group is comprised of young teens that have been together since grade school and have grown up at Grace. As I met with their parents at a Planning Session last Sunday, one sentiment was loud and clear: They want their children to experience a pilgrimage and the chance to undergo that spiritual growth.
But, in addition to the internal focus that accompanies walking a pilgrim’s path, an external focus on service is also important for these teenagers, their parents said. So, we put our heads together and crafted a plan that supports both.
This spring, the students will be taking a short Urban Adventure, mostly likely to Chicago. This three day trip will build external confidence as they navigate trains, busses, subways, and cars to reach their destination. It will also include a service activity that involves helping a community. We’ll save money by staying at a church.
Two and a half years from now, our group will make a pilgrimage. We don’t yet know where we are going or how we will get there, but we will seek out a destination that gives the young pilgrims the chance to journey in the footsteps of faithful Christians who have gone before them. By mindfully walking in their footsteps, we will be prepared to meet our Lord in new and deeply personal ways.
We can’t do it without you. Will you support us on our journey? Not just by purchasing pies and wreaths and other fundraising, but by praying for our youth and embracing them fully as members who will always have a home at Grace.