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By Nancy Derr, Church School Director
Each evening on our pilgrimage different teens chose one of four roles for vespers: preparing us to look inward, offering a metaphor from that day for our inspiration, posing a question and giving the first candid answer, and praying. Our first vespers was led by our four oldest pilgrims once we arrived in Banff after a long travel day. The question was: what are you nervous about? Answers ranged from doing without our screens, to wondering if the pilgrimage could live up to its hype, and most common, wondering if we’d be lonely away from our usual circle. As I write this first account of our week, I’ll quote from nine of the pilgrims.
Rick Bradley and Kathy Kemper-Dean will write from their perspectives between now and mid-fall, each letting you meet another third of the group. On October 29, all twenty-five pilgrims will present the program at our Stewardship Sunday supper. I especially want to thank Kathy and Rick for their outstanding pilgrimage leadership.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” said Morgane Dallaire about the vistas around us in Banff. She let go of her worries, she said; she felt so comfortable. She felt the trust that built up among us during vespers, as the assumptions people held fell away. Also it was fun to just have to give over to an activity together, whether digging out invasive plants on the steep slope of the nature preserve, or submerging in the cold wild rapids together. “I was the best version of myself,” she told me on the plane home.
Isaac Thomas highlighted the meadow filled with circular watery “ink pots,” the summit of a five-mile upwards hike, as a wonderful feeling for him, immersed in untouched nature. He appreciated the good sermon we heard at St. George’s in the Pines, too, where the stained glass windows featured the wildlife of Alberta. The Glenboe Museum in Calgary, whose exhibits focused on First Nation peoples, showed him a parallel history to the Native Americans in the United States. He thought the trip was a “once in a lifetime experience,” that gave him “an entirely new perspective.”
Peter Hechler appreciated the constant support system around him all week. He liked having so many chances to live in the moment, thinking of the night walk he and Owen took in the pouring rain down to the Bow River. The interval at the ink pots made him feel one with nature, as he napped on the pebbles and played games in the majestic surroundings. He thought vespers helped us stop time and reflect on our mission. Peter’s spontaneous graces were memorable. Two of the things he told me he learned: trusting yourself will be enough; even if you’re lost, you can be found.
Luke Courtney said, “I’m good friends with everybody now.” Like several others, he’s the only person from the class who goes to his particular school. He liked the chance to help his team work together on the “stone soup” activity, when twelve of them chopped and cooked for two hours with ingredients they’d shopped for, to put a multi-course and delicious meal on the table for a very hungry crowd of thirty diners, including our Wonder Voyage helpers. Luke was part of the four-man band at the inimitable talent show. His spiritual highlight involved gratitude he felt toward his family. The chance to step back and reflect during this trip meant a lot to him.
Alexia Bernhardt-Lanier found the activities of the pilgrimage ideal for bonding: it was easy to talk while hiking, fun to make up games while resting, great to be all challenged at once. Everyone got soaked by water that had been ice in the snowpack only twelve hours earlier in the rapids called “Gunshot” on the Kicking Horse River. “My joyful side comes out,” Alexia said, when she really likes a group. “My self-consciousness left me.” Alexia liked visiting the museum’s re-constructed Panoka Union Café, showing the resilience of its owners, a family of immigrants from China to Alberta.
Aidan McNulty thought having a big group was an advantage to our pilgrimage because it increased the diversity and the fun. He found it an education to see other people’s ways and to learn to respect them, noting that it is not always easy to get along with everyone. Aidan showed me the way he preferred to keep his journal, full of sketches, including one of the rafting. He especially liked the new adventures of the trip, and the opportunity the class had not really had before, to get close to people. Aidan enjoyed the pool table in those brief minutes after vespers in our hostel outside Banff.
Paige Moffitt characterized herself as a mediator-type of person, who wants to be sure everyone is having a good time. And Paige, with Morgane, remembered being in St. John’s pre-K class, taught by my daughter Veronica when she was in high school. Even with her long church school history and her high sociability, Paige said she could tell she was “more open with people” at the end of the week, and that she had found out much more about even old friends as everybody shared freely. She liked the chance at the service in the chapel at the retreat center in Calgary to exchange the peace through thirty hugs as a way to bring closure to a great week
The Blackfoot people who live in Montana and Alberta helped create a permanent exhibit at the Glenboe Museum. You can hear an elder’s voice saying, “The way I pray is to acknowledge the connection between everything in creation.” This expressed what Tiger Bjornlund felt, he said, especially when he walked off trail on the hike up Johnston Canyon. He was grateful for the chance to be affected by the natural
beauty, “unparalleled by anything I’ve seen” – and also for “the people!” He enjoyed the excellent company, mentioning his cooking stint, amidst music and dancing. We won’t forget the new side of Tiger we saw as a talent show judge.
Darby Harris thought that meeting challenges together was the key to the unusual closeness and trust people developed with each other. Her example was the long hike into ever-thinner air that took a real effort. She loved the rafting and the group cooking: “it was like a movie moment.” Darby’s summation was: “I found myself.” We celebrated the solstice by confiding a personal goal to be met by the equinox to a small group and receiving support for our plan. I was with Darby, Alexia, and Annabel, and we all felt enhanced by that chance both to give and receive.
The uplifting we experienced throughout the week came through several channels. We were supported by others, constantly seeing someone’s good example; we were awed by our surroundings; we had worthwhile projects that took effort; we stayed self-aware, through worship, group reflection, and journaling. How meaningful it was to each of us, to know that we can connect to this transcendence. We thank God for our shower of blessings. Our group is donating to an organization we found that supports homeless indigenous teens in Calgary. I trust our experience will have many ripple effects. We hope you will feel them; we are very grateful for your support.