One of the most interesting presentations from Synod was when two of our young pilgrims – Emily Gill and Beth Collins – recounted details of their pilgrimage to our link diocese in Virginia.
Over two years young people from our diocese first welcomed their Virginian counterparts to our shores before visiting them twelve months later. Friendships were also formed and developed over the internet. It was clearly a transformative experience and pilgrims were encouraged to bond together as a group and explore their faith and spirituality as part of their pilgrims’ progress. It was clearly a formative experience as these accounts testify.
In the very first meeting that we had when we were initially told about the pilgrimage we got to see a video which the American group had sent us, I can remember watching the video and thinking that was so amazing that although we were from two different countries we were going on this amazing journey together. As the year went on and the Liverpool group was formed we would have one or two meeting a month to get together and get closer as a group and start to think about what the pilgrimage meant to us. It also gave us a time for fellowship with other people around our age group which I enjoyed as it was different to going to church.
Also in our meeting we started to make plans for the American group for when they came over to visit, and we tried to pack as much as we could in. I can remember the very last Liverpool group meeting before the American came over and having a sudden realization that the pilgrimage was actually happening and I felt honoured to be a part of such an amazing thing.
Visit to Liverpool:
On the first full day that the American group arrived in Liverpool we did some ice breaker games and we soon got to know one another, it wasn’t as awkward as I anticipated also we helped out at st Gabriel’s lunch club, where we served lunch to the elderly although this was an unusual activity to do on the first day as we all had to work together it helped us to bond as a group. Also during the American’s trip to England we visited 3 cathedrals, Liverpool’s Anglican and catholic cathedrals and also St Asaph’s in Wales. The Americans enjoyed seeing the differences and similarities between their cathedrals and ours.
But it wasn’t all cathedrals, we took the American on the duck marine boats, thankfully it didn’t sink when we went on it! We also took them to wales for the day and went to castle, they were fascinated by it and I think the boys enjoyed running around pretending to be knights. The also went on a tour of anfield stadium.
When the American where in Liverpool we got given the opportunity to deliver assemblies in the church primary schools throughout huyton deanery and then we did at question and answer session with a group of children after wards, it was a very rewarding experience but some of the questions where bizarre to say the least.
We also did compline every night before we went home as a whole group. On one of the days we did compline at the dream in St Helens, it was a time to reflect and it helped us strengthen our faith.
The last day that we were all together as a group was very sad, we had a last meeting in st barts church where we had time to reflect over the time we spent together, and we also had and open prayer mic which gave anybody to go up and pray for the group and thank god for all the amazing times we spent together. But then the time came for the American to leave it was hard to say good bye.
Visit to America:
The visit to America was amazing!!! After almost a whole day of traveling we finally arrived in Virginia fashionably late to be welcomed by a church service in one of the American churches. After the church service we had a meal together, it was so nice to see everyone again and it felt like we’d never been apart. I was shocked to find that we were just able to pick up where we left off. And the hospitality form the American churches was just amazing and I can’t thank them enough.
In Virginia we visited some amazing places such as the Virginia state capitol building, the city hall sky deck and we even went on a Segway tour which was most people enjoyed, I say most as a couple of people including myself managed to fall off the Segway. Whilst in Virginia we visited shrine Mont, shrine Mont is a summer camp complex type thing which the diocese of Virginia own. It’s surrounded by mountains and forests and in the heart of one of the forest is the cathedral shrine which is amazing and I personally think that Liverpool should have an open air cathedral. One of the main things we did there was walk up north mountain which took ages, and there was a lot of people moaning whiles we were walking up (mostly coming from me) but the view from the top was second to none, and truly amazing and when we got to the top we said the shrine moon t shouting prayer. Going on the walk gave us a chance to get closer as a group as we had to support and encourage one another.
The last meeting that we had in Virginia was even more emotional than the year before, we got an opportunity to share our favourite parts over the past two years and share how the pilgrimage had changes us as people and what we have learnt on our journey together. After leaving Richmond we spent two days in Washington where we visited national cathedral, the Smithsonian the us capitol building and the income memorial where martin Luther king made his “I have a dream” speech.
Opening letters peoples reactions:
Watching people’s reactions whiles they were opening their letters was a moving experience, people where very emotional as they could see for themselves how far they had come, also it gave them a chance to reflect. Although there was some tears there was also some laughs as people realized how silly some of the things they used to say where.
To start off our pilgrimage we visited Outward Bound in Wales and over the course of the week we went camping, on hikes and we did something called jog and dip which is essentially running into the sea in the middle of February and submerging yourself underwater. This week was really important because nobody knew each other. Although we all lived in Liverpool and went to the same schools, we all went to different churches and so we had to learn to trust each other and we formed friendships that will last for years to come. We ended the week by writing a letter to ourselves about what we had achieved, what we had learned about ourselves and what we wanted to have completed by the end of the pilgrimage.
Over the two year pilgrimage we had regular meetings and in these we planned our fundraising amongst other things. As well as doing your regular fundraising like cake sales and table top sales, we did an abseil down the side of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. We raised over £1000 doing this and I would recommend it to anyone, and I'd like to thank the brave people that took part! We also did a murder mystery, mafia style and all the pilgrims took on a role. One of our other big fundraising events was a bag pack at Tesco Prescot and this turned out to be not only helpful for fundraising, but also because we could raise awareness to the wider community. We had the chance to explain who we were and what we were doing and we could show that Church isn't just for a Sunday morning, that there are so many ways to get involved!
The main reason for this journey was to replace the bitterness of the Slave Trade Triangle with hope. We visited the Maritime Museum in Liverpool and this gave the Americans the chance to view it from our point of view, and then when we visited Virginia, we were educated about the Civil War, which we knew nothing about due to it being American History. We were all shocked to find out that it had all consisted around slavery and when we visited Monticello, which is Thomas Jefferson's house, we received another shock when the man who had fought against slavery had owned over 3000 slaves in his lifetime. Also whilst in Virginia, we followed the trail the slaves would have followed from the boats to the auction site. On this slave trail there were men fishing and they were asking us what we were doing; they had no idea that they were sat on part of their history and it just showed how important it was that we did this, that we could raise awareness and share the hope that it wouldn't happen again. The trail ended at the auction site where they had erected a Reconciliation Statue. I'm not sure how many of you will have noticed, but there is an exact replica in Liverpool just off Bold Street. It's amazing how you can see something everyday, but not really see what's truly there and this trip helped us do that.
At the end of our trip to America, we opened our letters that we had wrote to ourselves at the beginning of the journey and we could see how much we had grown, both in our faith and in ourselves.
We would just like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their complete support throughout this whole journey and for their help with fundraising and donations, especially to Liverpool Diocese and the Mothers Union.
For your time given, the use of church space and your prayers, we are eternally grateful. We really couldn't have done this without you.