Twelve young people and four adults from the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri recently returned from a pilgrimage that helped them explore their roots as Christians, Anglicans, and Americans.
The driving force behind this trip was the Youth Action Council, made up of 22 youth from across the diocese who prayerfully considered the choice between planning a pilgrimage or a mission trip. Since the diocese already has an annual week-long mission-focused event, the council members decided a pilgrimage would offer another way to explore their Christian faith.
The pilgrims set out to understand what motivated, inspired, or filled their ancestors with passion -- and help put history in another perspective, said diocesan youth coordinator Kim Snodgrass. "Exploring a small portion of the East Coast was seen as an excellent choice for them to discover 'where it all began' and to consider how the church in what became the United States influenced faith traditions and personal beliefs -- then and now."
Leaving late July from Kansas City in two tightly packed rental vehicles, the pilgrims began a daily routine for the next seven days. They listened each morning to music specially chosen to fit the theme and saint for the day. Questions were posed each day for discussion, contemplation and journaling, chosen to reflect upon the sites they visited. While in a Shaker village they were asked to think about, "How do Anglicans focus on simplicity and discipline?" and at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello they considered, "Why study ethics? Do ideals matter if they're not lived out in practice? What ideals are worth dying for?"
Traveling more than 2,500 miles in seven days, the pilgrims visited seven historic Anglican churches; toured six historic sites including the "historic triangle" of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown; crossed at least seven great rivers, and enjoyed the mountain chains unique to Virginia.
"I had one of the most enriching experiences I have had during a church event … I've learned to try to understand others' situations and respect their motives before making a judgment," said youth pilgrim Alexandra Connors.
"It would have been difficult to come away from this pilgrimage without a deeper awareness of the significance found in historic places and their meaning to each of us -- as individuals, Christians, and Anglicans," said diocesan youth coordinator Kim Snodgrass. "In all honesty, there wasn't one favorite part for anyone, but more a continuous stream of 'ah-ha' moments found riding in the car, on a thought-provoking tour, in an extraordinary historic building, or in those few minutes of inner silence."