Ray Arcario
Cathedral Church of the Nativity

Years ago, I was on a planned pilgrimage that worked out much different from the “plan.” The preparation took place over a year’s time. It was well thought out and the itinerary covered every detail of our journey. As mentor to nine teens, all of the advance work had me confident we had plotted our pilgrimage plan and needed only follow the defined path to a successful pilgrimage. The many discussions of purpose had long given way and my attention was narrowly focused on the minutiae; who is in the final group that will go on this pilgrimage, what day will we leave, where will go first, when will we eat, how long will it take to get to our destination, how long will we stay there, when will we eat, how long will it take to get to our next destination, can we eat in the van, when will we eat….nine teenagers tend to want to eat.

These were youth very familiar with each other through years of shared ministry in our parish youth camp – the group roles were well established. This was a familiarity that gave me confidence we could survive 10 days together in the very tight confines of our church van and the modest places we would sleep.

On this trip we all learned that pilgrimage together isn’t about the preparation toward an identified goal. It is about the path traveled together and alone at the same time and what you are willing to see on that path. We learned that we brought much more than just the stuff we jammed into the van; we brought expectations and assumptions that we hadn’t identified in our months of preparation and that certainly weren’t on the “packing list.”

This was a pilgrimage to engage in new experiences in faith communities both that differ from our own as well as in the Episcopal church. The very nature of this path would open new doors and invite questions. The type of questions that youth ask that stop you in your track and make you wonder all over again about matters you thought long settled. The dynamic of the group was different than expected. The roles long established at camp didn’t carry onto this journey. It was extraordinary to witness the youth allow themselves to be comfortable with the unfamiliar and quickly abandon their expectations and assumptions so as to not cloud the path.

In the 15 years since that pilgrimage I have tried to be guided by the youth I traveled with. They truly were prepared to encounter the different and accept it as evidence of God’s grace. As we each travel in pilgrimage as individuals and as a diocese, I pray we are able to see and be awed as God intends.


Image Copyright: tabthipwatthana / 123RF Stock Photo