By Donna Olendorf
Director of Children & Youth Formation
From the earliest days of the Church until today, Christians have made pilgrimage a part of their faith. And, in 1998, having adopted a curriculum that holds pilgrimage as its central feature, Grace youth also embraced this tradition, traveling to distant lands in search of God and their own identity. Those who have made such a journey describe it as a life-changing experience. Being in new environments with people you don’t know well asks you to trust in something larger than yourself. It makes you grow.
“Pilgrimage is both a looking in and a looking out,” said Barb Johnson, who co-led the 2010 trip to Yosemite. Read on to discover the blessings that youth pilgrimage has brought to Grace:
The first Grace pilgrims traveled to the Center for Celtic Spirituality in Glendalough, Ireland, in the summer of 1998. “We had adopted the Journey to Adulthood (J2A) youth program and were told to take a pilgrimage,” recalled J2A leader Bill Pierce, who researched destinations and discovered Father Marcus Losack at Glendalough. A poet, Anglican priest, and Celtic scholar, Fr. Marcus led the youth in spiritual direction. “It changed my life,” said Lisa Kelly, who took the trip with her brother.
Inis Mór, Ireland (2001) under the leadership of Jan Stump Tharp and her co-leader.
Three years later the second group of pilgrims journeyed to Inis Mór, one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Ireland. With over 50 different monuments of Christian, pre-Christian, and Celtic mythological heritage, the pilgrims were never far from some of the oldest archaeological remains in Ireland.
The success of the first two pilgrimages to the British Isles inspired a third trip to London, England in 2004, also under the leadership of Bill Pierce. For this journey, Jill Polmateer joined him as co-leader.
Ready for a European experience, the J2A pilgrims traveled to Italy. They visited famous Roman ruins, ancient churches dating back to the 4th century, and attended mass at an Anglican church. Their travels were highlighted by a tour of the catacombs of St. Sebastian where the pilgrims saw first-hand where many martyrs and early Christians were buried. When the trip was over, Dan summed up the experience, “We are unconditionally grateful for the opportunity we had to grow together as a community and to grow in faith.”
Eight J2A members traveled to California in 2010. Their pilgrimage included daily Bible study, journaling, hiking a spirit walk, and doing a service project in Yosemite Park. In San Francisco, they worked in a food garden, helped serve a community meal, and attended service at a monastery. “The most rewarding part was watching the youth step out of their comfort zones and trust others, whom they had not known well,” wrote leader Barb Johnson in a reflection about the experience. “I felt as though we had met our objective: We planted the seed.”
The most recent J2A pilgrimage took place in June 2013. Led by the Schuberts and the Wills, the seven Grace teens traveled to Spain to walk part of the ancient Camino de Santiago. Journaling became an important part of their travels and helped solidify their experience when the group reconvened two years later, under the inspirational leadership of Elizabeth Wolterink. They crafted a panel paper, “Walking Toward God: Confronting Consumerism,” which they presented to the Parliament of World Religions in Utah in October, 2015.
This year’s J2A group spent the past month interviewing pilgrims and pilgrim leaders, and have created a video presentation that will be shown at Coffee Hour on November19. Please stop by for a look.