Reflecting on our 2022 Youth Pilgrimage
Our youth (and several great chaperones) recently returned from their pilgrimage to Wyoming with lots of great stories and photos to share! We asked everyone for a favorite memory from the trip and for something they learned about God, themselves, or others. These are their post-pilgrimage reflections, along with some incredible photos from Janelle Hiroshige.
Jeff Cramer. AKA: “Loopy Jeff”, “Mr. Cramer”, “Horseman of the year!”
When I was asked to go on this pilgrimage, I tried to explain to Kate and Winnie that I was not the epitome of the vibrant, dynamic, energetic, athletic youth leader that I thought they were expecting to lead eight teenagers through a week of high adventure in the high country in pursuit of spiritual highs. Oddly, they encouraged me to go despite my protests. Thus, the question became, who will benefit more from the experience? Will I help the kids discover who they are and who they will become, and/or will the kids help me discover who I still am and who I can continue to grow to be.
Several adults have thanked me for being willing to accompany this crew on the pilgrimage, but I must say, I want to thank the kids, the other leaders, and our parents for feeding me emotionally, spiritually, and physically for one of the best weeks of my life.
I hate to journal!! And yet, I watched the kids dive into the discipline and decided to give it my best shot. I have just re-read my entries and they are not very interesting, but at least I have more vivid memories of our days together. Here is one day, dressed up a bit as I remember it in hindsight.
Sunday, June 5 – We awoke early to have a quick breakfast, then loaded up our vans to drive to the Chapel of the Transfiguration for a worship service. The chapel was a 30 mile drive (everything in the park is at least 30 miles away) and we were running a little late. Upon arrival we learned that the service would not start until 10:00, not the 9:00 hour we anticipated. The chapel is in Jackson Hole, a broad expanse of prairie like land between the mountain ranges on either side. The altar faces the main Teton Range and instead of a painting on the wall, there is a large picture window with a view of the whole line of Teton ridges, capped with snow. Lauren Holder had mentioned that she would love to spend a month as the resident priest at this chapel, bringing her family with her. I wondered who would be the priest for the month of June, 2022. One of my dreams for this trip was that we would be able to have some dialogue with someone from a church on tribal grounds, but we did not have that in our WonderVoyage agenda.
As we walked around the small building (seating for about 50 people, inside and outside) I saw the priest come out of a side door. She was a native Shoshonee woman from the nearby reservation. Roxanne Friday is the first native Shoshonee ordained in the Episcopal Church. She talked with us for 15-20 minutes describing her history, her love of the church, and how she has been able to integrate tribal beliefs with those of the traditional Episcopal Church. This was Pentacost Sunday, so as our family in Atlanta did their usual reading from Acts in multiple languages, Roxanne described how for many years tribal children were taken off the reservation and forced to speak English, thus forgetting their native tongues. The goal of the tribes is now to reteach the original languages, not just to their children, but to adults as well. Each speaking in their own language took on a whole new meaning for me as I listened to her gracefully interpret the scripture.
We left the chapel and took an easy hike to Taggart Lake, a loop of about 4 miles. I started the walk keeping up with the group but ended the trek about 20 minutes behind. This was going to be a challenge! Our evening meal was burritos cooked by four of the pilgrims. The food was delicious, and everyone pulled out their journals to begin recording all their thoughts and feelings. A fire was started so we could end the night with smores. As the kids sat around the picnic table, under a thin canvas canopy, we heard the rumble of thunder, then saw some flashes of lightning. I expected the group to panic and disperse trying to find a safe place to weather the storm. No one moved, barely looking up from their journaling. The rain started and quickly became very intense. Then the hail started. We all stared out into the darkness in disbelief. No one stopped journaling. The fire went out. The rain stopped and as students continued to turn the pages of their diaries, the fire miraculously rekindled itself and began to flame up. We had our smores, shared our best moments of the day, and retired to our tents to attempt to get warm enough to sleep through another sub freezing night.
This day of uniquely special events set the stage for the rest of the week. Not a moment was boring, wasted, unnoticed, or daunting. We heard the voice of God speaking to us in everything we did, and through every encounter we had with each other.
1.) The trail ride was the best part of the trip for me, I enjoyed becoming friends with a new horse.
2.) I learned that the communities that religions provide are extremely valuable, despite distancing myself from some of the teaching of our church. I was able to learn a lot about how much these communities can help one’s mindset.
1. My favorite moments from the trip were the evenings that we spent down near the visitor center at Grand Teton National Park. There was a small lake behind the building, right at the base of the mountains. Three nights in a row, we walked down as a group and sat on the docks over the lake, which was empty of water due to an unusually dry winter. One night, Carter and I walked the length of the dry lake. That was a really cool moment because we could see the pinkish light of the setting sun make its way up the mountains before us. In the background, I could hear the laughter and chatter of the rest of the youth on the docks bouncing off of the trees while Carter and I were on the other side of the lake. It was a really beautiful moment.
2. During the week, I had many conversations with my fellow pilgrims about God and religion in general. I learned just how diverse our beliefs in God can be and that, like anything else, our relationship with God is personal and fluid. I am learning that certainty is awfully rare in any conversation about religion or God, and this trip helped me come to peace with that. Outside of church, I feel like I always have to have definitive answers about everything related to my faith, but this trip helped me to let go of that. It was comforting to be around people who understand our community at St. Luke's and also understand the judgment and skepticism that those in other areas of life have about "church kids." I felt like I could let my guard down with this group, which is a really nice feeling.
3. Journal Excerpt (June 10 - on the flight home)
This week was so amazing, like so fun. I experienced all kinds of emotions and all kinds of beauty. I am clinging to the details: the powerful serenity of a bison resting in front of the Tetons, the crashing waterfalls spraying my skin with cool mist, the diversity of the mountains from sharp peaks to miles of Earth folded on top of itself, the taste of Gigi Hadid pasta and s'mores made with cinnamon graham crackers, the light steps of the kit fox, the adrenaline I felt on the Snake River, the way words fell out of me whenever Janelle asked a deep question, the glossy pages of my wildlife book, Jeff's silly side, the comfort of the cross around my neck. It is so odd to feel a deep need to leave for college, to explore, to create my own life at the same time as I feel a kind of mourning of childhood and the feeling that I am not ready to leave my family. So, I am feeling love and complicated feelings at the end of this trip and the prospect of going home. And that is okay because that is God.
Passage from my journal: 6/5 - Another unbelievable experience I had today was after dinner. We lit the fire in preparation for s'mores but decided to do some journaling before we made them. Clouds had been beginning to form all day and it seemed like it was going to rain any second. We were all anxious because we were scared it would start raining before we had the chance to make smores. As we were journaling, the sky lit up and it began to hail. We all watched the fire in disappointment, as it went out almost immediately. No later than 5 or 10 minutes, the hail fully came to a stop and suddenly the fire lit up again. No one had touched it and it had been completely out because of the rain. This moment was even more remarkable for me because today is Pentecost, a day where fire played such a significant part in the history of God’s relationship with the people. This truly feels like some sort of sign, or at least just a way for us to know that God is watching down on us during our trip. I’m excited for many more moments like this throughout the rest of the week.
Although this trip was full of so many incredible moments, I think my favorite had to be waiting with everyone for the geyser “Old Faithful” to go off. We got to the geyser an hour or so before it was supposed to go off so we decided to walk around a little and go get coffee from a convenience store nearby. When we got to the store, we saw that they had ice cream for sale and came to the conclusion that we all needed to get some. We each only ordered one scoop but the man serving us gave us the biggest serving of ice cream I’d ever seen. There were at least 4 or 5 actual scoops. After we got our ice cream we all went back to the geyser to wait for it to go off, and just talked all together. We were all huddled up next to each other and I had some really nice conversations with a few of the girls. The geyser eventually went off, but the moments before it did felt so much more special and memorable because I felt surrounded by love and I felt so comfortable with everyone. There were so many more times where I experienced this feeling but this one has really stuck with me because we were all together.
I've only ever heard good stories from other people about their pilgrimage, but I still didn't want to set any expectations for the trip. Although, had I set any expectations, our trip would have exceeded them easily. We became close in a matter of less than a week, and just generally had so much fun. One of my favorite memories was walking down to the lake after dinner a couple of days. We sat and talked as the sun went down. It was nice to talk to people who weren't really involved in any of the things going on in my school life.
I'm a pretty introverted person, so the idea of spending a week of nonstop time with other people was something I wasn't sure I could do. I wasn't sure if I would be able to find time for myself or if I'd get really overwhelmed. I learned that I can always find time to be with myself even if I am with other people. There were points every day where we all sat together journaling and reading but saying nothing. This gave me, and everyone else, time to recharge in our small yurt/tent. While I was grateful to have time truly by myself when I got home, the time I spent with everyone was really meaningful. It was an experience that I will never have again, and I am so thankful to have gotten to go!
My favorite memory of the trip was riding the bull during the biggest rapid on snake river and not falling off. I learned that I'm comfortable sleeping on the floor.
My favorite part of the pilgrimage was how connected we all became. Specifically, the fact that no matter where we were whether it was a hike, in the tent, horseback riding, or in the car we could have meaningful conversations that lasted. I had some of the most meaningful conversations about faith and just life in general walking down the side of a mountain. Something that someone said really stuck with me and that was that you should ask specific questions like Janelle does because it leads to better conversation with others. Many times we ask the basic questions but the more pointed your questions are the more you get out of the other person. I also think looking at “wonder moments” in life is really important. A wonder moment is something in your day that was awe inspiring or simply just a great moment. This trip made me realize that even in our day to day lives where we are comfortable there are great moments that we should appreciate amidst the challenging moments.
My favorite memory from the pilgrimage was either the hike to the lake or the short hike we did at Yellowstone to the lookout over the geysers. I loved the types of conversations we were able to have on each hike that we did–why we believe in God, our favorite sermons, what we're looking forward to in college, etc. I especially liked the hike to the lake since it was on one of the first days, and I felt like the group really bonded.
While on this trip, I learned the type of people that I value being with. I really appreciated how everyone on the trip talked a lot about their feelings, whether they were negative or positive. Everyone was honest about how they were doing. I thought it was really nice how people could say they didn’t enjoy a certain activity and would get the same level of support/empathy as people who said they loved an activity. I learned that, while in college, I want to find friends who I’m able to have similar conversations with and who are open about their thoughts and feelings.
Growing up in the Episcopal Church, I have understood a pilgrimage to be a spiritual journey
that we are called to take within our lives, to look into the depths of ourselves and those
around us and find the inspiration for inner change and seek time for quiet and reflection, all
while deepening our connection and understanding with God. Sometimes these pilgrimages
take us to new physical locations, as we were blessed to go to on the amazing journey to the
Grand Tetons this summer. Many of the pilgrims (including leaders) carried many things
weighing heavy on our hearts and minds and used this trip to grow our understanding of the
who, what, and why, and how we can come to peace with these things and try to find the
This trip for me was such a release- a release from the busy world we live in, from the hard
decisions I have to make at home. Being in the cold, crisp weather every day allowed me to
wake up every day and realize what opportunities God has given me, and what he has in store
for me. Throughout the week, God showed himself in every hike we trekked, each person we
met, and through each relationship we built and strengthened. One of the goals for this
pilgrimage group was to connect with God in nature- in his creation. I have always found a
sense of calm being outdoors, and maybe that’s where I am closest to God because I am able to take in everything that surrounds me. I caught myself almost every day just staring at the
mountains as we hiked through them or drove past them every morning.
Among the many things I learned on this trip, I learned the most about timing. I learned that it’s
okay to take more time for myself and focus on my own happiness to create the life I want to
live. I realized that God has a plan for me, and whether or not it works with my schedule or
exactly when I want it to happen, I know the plan he has for me will be for the best and that I
can wait a little longer to get the most out of it. I learned I need to take more time to pause and
reflect when I need to and find a sense of peace and calm.
One of my favorite memories from this trip was our first hike to Taggart Lake. At the beginning
of the trail, we had a gorgeous view of the mountains directly in front of us, but it quickly
disappeared as we walked further into the woods. On this trail we crossed bridges, saw rushing
waterfalls, and about halfway through we came into an opening at the lake. The water was like
glass, the trees around us were fairly still. The group settled in, some sitting on fallen trees,
others on a large boulder dangling their legs above the water. Then there was silence. The
clouds were moving, small snowflakes were falling, and conversations stopped as everyone
took in the sights around them looking at the mountains directly in front of us. This was our first
real experience being in God’s creation in the Tetons and a moment I will never forget.
When first approached with the question of whether I would be interested in chaperoning the youth pilgrimage, the first thought that came to mind was “I could use a pilgrimage too.” I knew I would be on the precipice of a lot of changes: moving, new job, getting married, etc. A common phrase we would use throughout the week was that “we are all on a pilgrimage.” That is what I appreciated most about this trip — the openness that everyone had. The students, the chaperones from St. Luke’s, our guide from Wonder Voyage, and even the strangers we met along the way were all open to sharing about the journeys they have been on. To consider that God is in the midst of it all. It was a gift to be able to have that literal shift in geography, trading in our beloved Atlanta skyline, the urban tree canopy, and the way too hot humid summer for the skyline of the Grand Tetons, open space for miles, and chilly temperatures. The change in environment gave space for us to process where we have been, where we are now, and where we hope to go. I am grateful!
My favorite memory was horseback riding. For some reason, I was given the most challenging horse. Her name was Foxy Lady. My horse would try to leave the rest of the group, was constantly eating, and clearly had a mind of its own. I had only been horseback riding once before so having a horse that was clearly testing me to see what she could get away with was very anxiety ridden for me. My body was tense and others were telling me all these things I should be doing. Over the course of the ride, my body started to relax and I felt that we were starting to have a connection. By the end I could just give her the most gentle direction, barely flicking my wrist and she would go exactly where I was pointing her. Maybe there is some life metaphor in there for how to approach the many changes that I have up ahead this summer.
Katherine Claire Kennedy
1. My favorite memory from this pilgrimage was going to the church in the Tetons on Sunday! The view was beautiful and breathtaking. The priest there was the first Native American woman ordained in Wyoming which I also thought was amazing and definitely someone very special to talk to and hear her life story. The whole experience was very memorable and will have a life long effect on me.
2. Something I learned about myself from this trip was that I long for deep meaningful conversations. I search for and love to have friends that build me up and make me a better person while showing immeasurable kindness. This was something evident in everyone during the pilgrimage.