“Youth Pilgrims.” Posted on: August 9, 2015 Jeff Cook. (From two of the young people who participated in the cross-Canada pilgrimage to Corner Brook, and who are now participating in the 42nd General Council of the United Church of Canada.)
(Pictured: Max Martin & Katie Vardy)
“This whole experience has given me a new outlook on the church and myself. I don’t think I can go home the same person I was.”
Katie Vardy’s words capture the experiences of the 13 youth commissioners who participated in a 34-day pilgrimage to General Council.
The pilgrims—one from each Conference—travelled across Canada to Corner Brook for the 42nd General Council. The pilgrimage began in Vancouver on July 4 and included stops in Fort McMurray, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Sudbury, Hamilton, London, Toronto, Kingston, Montreal, and Miramichi.
Vardy and fellow pilgrim Max Martin spoke with GC News about the experience. Vardy, 18, lives in St. John’s. Martin, 18, was born in Halifax and raised near Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia.
“I feel like I’ve taken pieces from every Conference and a piece of all the people I met,” said Martin. He said that the energy of the people they met kept them going.
“We have been to so many quirky spots,” said Martin. He recalled falling into the water while canoeing near Sudbury and driving by bus on back roads in Alberta.
In Alberta, they visited the oil sands. Vardy said Sun Core personnel told them about the benefits of the oil sands. “We saw what they wanted us to see,” she said.
Then the pilgrims met with First Nations people in Fort McKay, and Martin recalled how they said the river is now so polluted that they can’t swim in it without getting sores on their bodies.
The pilgrims visited an outreach centre in Vancouver. The ministry has no Sunday worship service, but offers daily chapel time. “It kind of taught us that you don’t need a formal worship service to feel connected to Christ,” said Vardy.
At Sydenham Street United Church in Kingston, Ontario, they learned about Affirming churches, which work for the full inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
“It was so beautiful,” said Vardy. “It was one of my favourite presentations and was so educational.”
The pilgrims shared a meal with Aboriginal Elders and learned about residential schools. Vardy said it was hard and frightening to hear the stories of residential schools, but it was also very educational.
Throughout the pilgrimage, they were moved by the hospitality of people. “The generosity that the church has shown us was a common theme,” said Martin.
“There has been an abundance of food,” added Vardy.
Someone in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, purchased a train ticket, not to ride the train, but to ensure the train would stop at that station so the pilgrims could be given a bag of cookies.
Martin said he was continually asking himself, “Where do I find God in this journey?
“I’ve realized how little I know, yet at the same time, I realize how willing I am to learn,” said Martin. The best part were the conversations they had with people, he added.
“Everywhere we’ve been everyone has been so loving and caring and open to our ideals as different people from across the country, even if it doesn’t exactly match with their ideals,” Martin recalled. “I learned to be more open and respectful of others’ boundaries.”
The pilgrims were accompanied by two young adult leaders, James Aitchison and Alana Martin.
During the pilgrimage, participants shared their experiences through Twitter, blogging, and Instagram.