Journey to Adulthood Pilgrimage, Saint Luke's, Alexandria, June 2007

Journey to Adulthood Pilgrimage, An Account by Skip Jones “Then people long to go on pilgrimages,

And palmers to take ship for foreign shores,

And distant shrines, famous in different lands;”

(Prologue to Canterbury Tales by  Geoffrey Chaucer)

The first ever St. Luke’s Youth J2A Pilgrimage was a huge success!.  Rather smashing, actually.  Thank you so very much for all of the efforts of the entire parish to get us there and back.  The planning and raising of funds and preparation of the youth and drafting of reflections and holding the group up in prayer all paid off. We had a blast, and I would venture to say encountered God in a number of surprisingly different ways.

The Pilgrimage marked the end of the first session of the J2A program.  This capped the work of what are now the rising high school sophomores, juniors, seniors and college freshmen over the past two years.  We have examined many aspects of our lives and outlooks, dealing with issues such as:

  • How do I find my true self?
  • How do I currently perceive my purpose in life, how is that likely to change?
  • Practicing skills needed for adulthood:  active listening, negotiation, assertion, research/information management, partnership, leadership.
  • What does it mean that we are all children of God?
  • What does the Great Commandment actually mean?
  • Ours is a passionate, loving God.  How/why is it then that evil exists and that bad things happen to good people?  What can I do?
  • Reflections on sexuality and interpersonal relationships
  • Reflections on repentance, forgiveness, salvation

We went on an Urban Adventure last June to test the skills we were practicing, successfully navigating around New York City for a day, working together in small teams to accomplish a common objective.  Over the past two years, we have worked together, played together, laughed a lot, cried together, broken bread together, prayed together.  We have gotten to know each other very well, and have built up a good level of trust and mutual respect within the group, youth and adult leaders.

So, the Pilgrimage was a chance to take ourselves out of the daily routine, out of our familiar surroundings, away from the charms and distractions of home and hearth and head off to somewhere that faithful people had gone before us to experience God in a new and different manner.  How did that work out?  Well, just ask Tom McPeek or Erin Ronayne, Sam Monteith or Michelle Gilmore, Phil Huston or Meredith Maple, Greg Hancock or Caroline Odom, Justin Rajadhyaksha or Megan Maple, Jonathan Stevens or Maddie Tindle, Riley Randall or Tiffany, Hugh Smith or Ketlen Solak, Alex Gheesling, David Ayres or Skip Jones.  We will each have a different story, something in particular that stands out from the trip.  Here are a few of the things you might hear.

J2A pilgrimage 2007
J2A pilgrimage 2007

You mean we can dance in church? Tired after flying all night and slightly soggy from our constant companion – the summer rains – we stumbled almost by chance into a charismatic, multi-media church service built around the theme “God is giving a party and everyone is invited.”   Rock music, dramatic re-enactment of scripture, faux boy band, beach balls, learning of a Bible verse by rap (not rote). Who would have thought when we looked at prayer by dance in our J2A lessons that we would actually experience the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit in this manner?

J2A pilgrimage 249
J2A pilgrimage 249

Never knew a joyful noise made unto the Lord could be this incredibly beautiful! Evensong on Monday evening in the Canterbury Cathedral and a visiting choir at St. Paul’s were both awesome.  A wonderfully beautiful experience.  In Canterbury, the amazing sound of the men and boy's choir echoed throughout the building. The young voices seemingly climbing to the very heights of the vaulted ceiling far above and then crashing down upon us seated in the elaborately carved choir stalls.  Tom described the music in St. Paul's as the most beautiful thing he had ever heard.  The beauty and simplicity of this honoring to God was strongly moving.

J2A pilgrimage 245
J2A pilgrimage 245
J2A pilgrimage 265
J2A pilgrimage 265

History doesn’t have to be boring  Our guides throughout the trip brought a wide variety of interests and enthusiasm to their presentations. At St. Martens, the longest continually operating Christian church in England, we heard the story, recorded by the Venerable Bede, of how Christianity became reestablished in England between 580 and 600. This, naturally, led to the christening of the Rite 13 Class’s rubber chicken (who had stowed away in Ketlen’s carry-on) as Ethelbert, after the King at the time. The modern sculpture here marks the site where St. Thomas a Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights, acting on what they perceived to be a request from King Henry II. See the four swords (two in bronze, two in shadow)?

J2A pilgrimage 006
J2A pilgrimage 006
J2A pilgrimage 011
J2A pilgrimage 011

Vows of poverty, chastity and obedience  On Tuesday, we exchanged Chaucer ("And most especially...to Canterbury they come, The holy blessed martyr there to seek, Who gave his help to them when they were sick...") for Shakespeare ("get thee to a nunnery").  We traveled across much of the south of England, stopping to view the white cliffs of Dover and arriving towards late afternoon at an Anglican community of St. Francis. Interesting to hear the story of how one of the sisters discerned her call to a life as an Anglican Sister. After evening prayer and a Eucharist, we pressed on to Tauton. We lodged at a Holiday Inn (back to Chaucer "Our host gave us each and all a warm welcome, And set us down to supper there and then, The eatables he served were of the best; Strong was the Coke; we matched it with our thirst").

J2A pilgrimage 049
J2A pilgrimage 049
J2A pilgrimage 069
J2A pilgrimage 069

Cathedrals and more cathedrals  We toured Salisbury, with the tall, tall spire and Winchester with the long, long nave. We learned more about cathedral architecture than some in our group cared to know.  On a more off beat note, we learned that stone bends, that deep-sea divers sometimes work on cathedrals (complete with helmet and diving gear) and that it is not only in Spain where the rain falls mainly on the plain. And seeing one of the 4 original copies of the Magna Carta (in Salisbury) was a definite plus.  Our breakthrough moment of Wednesday came in late evening discussions of what it means to perceive a calling to some type of ministry and how God does not issue such a call without also promising to be present in our lives.

J2A pilgrimage 085
J2A pilgrimage 085
J2A pilgrimage 115
J2A pilgrimage 115

Science and religion are not necessarily in conflict  Thursday morning, we stopped at Stonehenge and contemplated what might have motivated prehistoric man to drag these massive stones vast distances to set them up in this particular order.  We reflected on the meaning of "progress" and the scientific era against the backdrop of societies 3000-5000 years ago that appeared to have no problem reconciling science and faith. Perhaps this visit should be required for the Kansas board of education!  Later, in London many of the group indulged in a truly modern pilgrimage...a visit to Harrods, while others marveled at the gardens at Hyde Park. Then, back to the Thames for a dusk "flight" on the Millennium Eye...an outstanding birds-eye view of the city.

J2A pilgrimage 123
J2A pilgrimage 123
J2A pilgrimage 240
J2A pilgrimage 240

A day rich in history of church and state  Friday we immersed ourselves in centuries of British history, visiting Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s and the Tower of London.  It is hard not to be moved by the sheer sweep of human accomplishment that is memorialized in Westminster Abbey.  From Kings and Queens to Scientists and Poets. From Unknown Soldiers to Decorated Admirals. From Politicians to Movie Stars. Queen Elizabeth buried atop Mary Tudor. They are all represented in this magnificent church.   At St. Paul’s, many chose to take the memorable trip to the very top of the cathedral dome.  Ask Greg how tall the average Brit must have been when the stairway was first built!  We took time for a structured reflection before leaving.  We used as our text the wonderful meditation on the transformative nature of an encounter with God, based on Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Adam Thomas, who was ever with us in spirit, had prepared a wonderful book of daily reflections for the pilgrims’ use. In the small world category, we bumped into Joel, Liza and Miles Gheesling while visiting the Tower of London.

And through it all, we had fun! Not all the rain in England could dampen our spirits. Whether it was in strolling the streets of London, tumbling on the incredibly green lawn at Old Sarum, following in the footsteps of Harry Potter, or inventing games to pass the time on the bus, the Saint Luke’s Pilgrims were quick with a smile.

J2A pilgrimage 098
J2A pilgrimage 098
J2A pilgrimage 154
J2A pilgrimage 154
J2A pilgrimage 149
J2A pilgrimage 149
J2A pilgrimage 009
J2A pilgrimage 009

And we want to thank you all, from the very bottom of our hearts, for your collective support, love, patience, understanding, prayer and guidance that helped us experience this wonderful journey.  God bless us, everyone!