New friendships forged thanks to successful youth pilgrimage

Young people from the Dioceses of Liverpool and Virginia are celebrating new friendships as they reflect on time together as part of a unique, two year long pilgrimage.

Young people from the Dioceses of Liverpool and Virginia are celebrating new friendships as they reflect on time together as part of a unique, two year long pilgrimage.

It all began 12 months ago when both dioceses established similar groups who have kept in touch, prayed for each other and planned the pilgrimage using social networking. With the Virginian’s visiting Liverpool for a week of spiritual, practical and social engagements all involved experienced a deep experience of God that will linger for ever.

Highlights of the pilgrimage included visits to the Liverpool Cathedrals, St. Asaph Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, planning and delivering assemblies in both primary and secondary schools across Huyton Deanery and Community Mission Projects including speaking at a lunch club and organising a ‘Swap Day’ (a partnership between the church and the local authority aimed at reducing landfill).

Leaders reported a real mix between the English and American young people as the week progressed and the group became really unified. Leaders also witnessed significant spiritual growth in the pilgrims as the time progressed.

Organiser Rev Malcolm Rogers said “this was no holiday or even an exchange visit, the pilgrims have had an intense and at times demanding journey working and worshipping together, growing in their understanding of each others’ walk with God and how that relates to their own. Nowhere did we see this more than in the final worship with queues of people wanting to share their reflections during an open mic session.”

Malcolm’s comments were echoed in the reflections of the young people. One said “I was given the chance to meet new people and to share my faith with others. When anyone asked what we were doing, we had a chance to speak about God.”

Another added ‘I feel like I’ve been on a journey exploring my faith”. One of the American staff leaders commented “It was great to visit you, experience new forms of worship, meet new people and make new friends. I felt God was present in all that we did”.

Worship formed an important part of the journey with the group praying at every location. This involved unusual prayer activities including evening prayers at the Dream statue alongside the M62.

The pilgrimage not only supported relationships across the continent but it strengthened links between the host churches of Huyton Deanery in Liverpool. 

Malcolm explains “The whole deanery caught the vision for this and the young people have been going beyond their own home church and sharing their experience with others. Their presentations to Deanery Synod have been amongst the most enthusiastically received items and there is a real sense of common purpose among the deanery.

"We are together in prayer and in getting excited that God is clearly active in the lives of 44 young people. Who knows what that will lead to? The pilgrimage is something that has caught the imagination here and could easily do the same elsewhere”.

The young pilgrims have grown in confidence as they worked on various community projects and were challenged to design and deliver assemblies on themes such as self awareness and anti-bullying. “They really excelled and surprised themselves,” observed Malcolm. “Before the pilgrimage some would hardly say a word and they ended up sharing stories with hundreds in an assembly.”

In her journal one pilgrim wrote, "I feel like for the first time I have discovered my true self before God", another said "I don’t know how to describe this but I feel better about myself, about life and about God."

Malcolm and the team are now hard at work raising money for the return leg to Virginia. There all 44 pilgrims will experience a visit to the White House, and meet some of the US decision makers, as well as working in a soup kitchen before finally joining a youth camp near the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shrine Mont, where the Diocese of Virginia has its wonderful open air cathedral.

The pilgrims are doing a lot of work to raise the £35,000 needed for this trip with a range of creative fundraising ideas, including a plan to cycle the equivalent distance between Liverpool and Richmond, Virginia. Clergy and other adults from around the Deanery are abseiling down the Cathedral whilst others still are baking, organising concerts and prayerfully giving what they can.

Malcolm said, “this is a tremendous once in lifetime opportunity for these young people to grow emotionally, spiritually and in their understanding of the world. I am delighted we have had a successful trip and pray that we raise enough for what promises to be a wonderful second part of the pilgrimage.”