This article originally appeared on the Baltimore MM website.Listen, listen, listen to my heart’s song. Listen, listen, listen to my heart’s song. I will never forget you. I will never forsake you. I will never forget you. I will always love you.
Twenty-five pilgrims selected from fifteen Yearly Meetings came together for the spiritual experience of a lifetime: Quaker Youth Pilgrimage (QYP) 2008. This almost month long adventure was made possible by the Friends World Committee for Consultation, and is an ongoing effort to encourage friendship among all branches of the Religious Society of Friends, which is held biennially. The itinerary for this trip included traveling through “1652 Country”, the birthplace of Quakerism, as well as trips throughout other portions of the United Kingdom.
For me, it all began at Abington Friends Meeting House (outside of Philadelphia) on July 16. As more Young Friends from Canada, Mexico, and the United States began to trickle in over the course of the afternoon we amused ourselves by exploring the connected Friends school, making semi- awkward conversation, and eagerly awaiting the next arrival. Looking back on the strangers I met that first day, it is hard to believe that they are the same people I now consider part of my extended family! That first night was a quite important one. For us it was the first night of “the pilgrimage” and the beginning of something huge and unknown. We were all beyond excited!
The next day we explored Philadelphia before driving to the airport to catch our 6:30 PM flight to Glasgow. The highlight was visiting the grave of Lucretia Mott, an incredibly important Quaker female abolitionist, at the Fair Hill Quaker Burial Ground. As the casual semi-awkward conversation died down, we began intense spiritual discussions and comparisons of Yearly Meetings! The school bus buzzed with the talk of Evangelical Friends views on homosexuals, the question of “Are Quakers Christian?”, and of course “Is Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior?” We didn’t know it then, but these topics of conversation, and others like them, were to play a vital role in our spiritual growth and understanding throughout the rest of the pilgrimage.
The seven-hour flight quickly accustomed us to the Pilgrims we were sitting next to and before we knew it we were at the Glasgow airport. We exited the building into the weather that would soon become the norm on this British Isles excursion, a cold wet drizzle. We then proceeded to Glasgow Friends Meeting House, where the European pilgrims were to meet us. We played some name games and participated in general introductions (Monthly Meeting, Yearly Meeting, Size of Monthly Meeting, Programmed/Semi-programmed/Unprogrammed). It was quite interesting to find how vastly Meetings ranged in size, from a worship group that simply consisted of the members of one pilgrim’s family, to 75 or so people on any given Sunday. After this brief time together we broke off into small groups and left with our home-stay families.
I was placed with a group of six Pilgrims about thirty minutes outside of Glasgow in Lochwinnoch, Scotland. It was the perfect little village! They had a river in the backyard and chickens too! I quickly accustomed to the endless pots of tea as I compared cultures with our host family and other pilgrims, YouTube also played an important role as I was exposed to modern British television (and some of the old classics too: Faulty Towers!). This group gave me a spring board into the community, so I wasn’t so overwhelmed by having to socialize with everyone at once, which served as a fantastic aid in the first few days of the trip.
All Pilgrims were very taken by the beauty and serenity of Yealand Conyers, the meeting house, and the surrounding fields and hills. We had our first business meeting, approved our first two clerks, and settled into a rhythm that we would maintain for the rest of our 10-day stay there. Typically, we would rise early, somewhat reluctantly due to our habit of talking into the early hours of the morning, eat breakfast, pack a lunch, and load the buses. These daily excursions would take us anywhere from the Quaker Tapestry in Kendal to Pendle Hill, and every significant historical Quaker site in between. In our free time we would have committee meetings, leisurely walks, trips to the phone box, spiritual discussions, and rowdy games of wink and Frisbee! But although it seemed a paradise to us, we eventually had to move on.
Our trip to Dublin was complicated, but we managed the three trains and the ferry combo quite well (and without losing any Pilgrims or luggage!). Once we had arrived in the Republic of Ireland we took up residence at Churchtown Meeting House outside of Dublin. The scenery here was different, suburbs versus the sheep fields we had come to know, and so were the accents! By this time the group had gotten quite comfortable within itself. We would break out into song during almost any activity, and there was always a surplus of hugs! Our first full day in Ireland we participated in a fund-raising event for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland in which we sold pens and took donations at several local shopping malls. It was great fun, even for the less socially inclined among us, and we raised a considerable amount of money for a great cause. The next day was our excursion into the buzzing metropolitan hub that is Dublin. The highlight of this adventure was the trip to the ancient Book of Kells at the Trinity College Library. The intricacies and dedication that went into its creation is simply incredible to behold! After what seemed like a very short stay, we again loaded on the buses with the Moyallon Retreat Center as our destination.
Northern Ireland seemed very much like England had been, except with more rain. We began our stay there with a three day retreat focusing on kindness and love. We had many interesting activities and workshops ranging from “chatrooms”, which center on many different issues and their place in Quakerism (Quakerism and God, Quakerism and the Bible, Quakerism and the Environment, etc.); to a fishbowl type discussion on all aspects of sexuality. These organized discussions also provoked less formal spontaneous ones as Pilgrims continued to explore their peer’s spiritual beliefs, as well as coming into their own. A very important part of the retreat for me was also the “Silent Afternoon” planned by Ministry and Worship Committee. Starting at the close of lunch and ending with the start of Business Meeting at 7:30 p.m. we participated in silent games, a silent walk, and times for individual reflection and meditation. It proved to be a very intense yet enjoyable spiritual experience and I am quite grateful for the opportunity. After the retreat we made trips into Belfast to explore the political system and parties of Northern Ireland, as well as taking a closer look at the tension still existing between the Catholic and Protestant communities there. The latter was most evident in the “peace walls” which served as protection between the denominations neighborhoods. We also visited Quaker Service, a visitors center with a daycare and a café at one of Northern Ireland’s prisons, as well as Quaker Cottage, a group that brought together Protestant and Catholic Mothers from highly challenged families (either due to physical/ sexual/drug abuse, etc.) in an effort to help them heal from those wounds and make steps in a positive direction. Both of these organizations were highly inspirational and prime examples of how Friends have been and can work to make this world a better place for all of us. Our time at Moyallon came to end with a pleasant but hot service day, during which we battled weeds and moved gravel in a small attempt to repay Moyallon Friends for their bottomless generosity.
Once again we travel by ferry, but this time to Scotland, where we took up residence in a simply enchanting Y.M.C.A. owned and operated castle. It is here that we celebrated our last days together as a community. Our activities ranged from dance parties to epistle writing as we slowly came to terms with the fact that this unbelievable trip was coming to an end. Although a month seemed like an eternity when I first left my home in mid-July, in reality it was barely enough time, and I was left hungry for more. I know I can’t speak for all the Pilgrims when I say this, but I have come home a more confident, knowledgeable, and open-minded Quaker than I ever could have become without this trip. I quite frequently find my thoughts traveling back our last worship in the airport terminal in Philadelphia. Although we may have looked like a dirty group of strange singing teenagers to some, we knew what this trip had meant to us and what we were walking away from it with (besides a pack full of dirty laundry).
Furthermore, as I head off for College, I am beyond grateful to have a 29-member family supporting me in the next steps and entirety of my spiritual journey, and although I realize our belief systems vary quite a bit, it doesn’t matter, for these differences don’t separate us from one another, they just require an open mind and a loving heart, and with these two features, they can in fact develop deeper and more meaningful relationships than we have ever known.