Inspiration NYC 2017: Recounting a Pilgrimage
Inspiration NYC 2017: Recounting a Pilgrimage
Last month, 19 youth and adults from UPUMC spent a week in New York City. Unlike previous trips that focused on serving with our hands or inspiring others with our music, this was more of an urban retreat - a chance to step outside of our routines and listen for God's call in our lives. This once-in-a-lifetime journey actually began months before as the youth and adult mentors met in small groups, listened to specific sermons, read books, listened to music, and read articles that were all designed to get us ready for this trip. We did these things so that this would be more than just another tourist group vacation. It was a pilgrimage - that is to say that we took this trip to intentionally deepen our spiritual journeys and to grow together – not only as friends, but as Christian brothers and sisters.
Don’t let the term “pilgrimage” fool you. That can sound kind of “stodgy” and overly structured. Let me assure you that we had a really fun and meaningful time together. We did some of those touristy things that you’re thinking about: we saw a Broadway musical, went on a boat tour around lower Manhattan, ate dessert at the famous Serendipity restaurant, and walked the amazing Highline! But, all of that fun was just the icing on the cake. We found our spiritual grounding each day as we intentionally explored some well known landmarks paired with some sacred spaces and reflected on our spiritual lives.
Day 1: Worship
Although we found ourselves in worship spaces each day, the only day that we really focused on corporate worship was Sunday. We started with a quick little subway ride down to the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Their worship is lively and vibrant, with many songs lead by their wonderful 250-voice choir. Beth and I heard youth walk away saying things like, “I felt like I could sing and it wasn’t uncomfortable”…”The repetition of the songs helped me center on God, and the songs were playing in my head all day”…and “the story of adoption made me think about life more”.
That evening, we trekked up to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to catch their evensong worship. That space was awe-inspiring and massive! The music was beautiful and soul-nourishing.
Day 2: Immigration
Our focus this day was to travel to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It was a beautiful day and the magnificence of the statue wasn’t lost on any of us. The symbolism that Lady Liberty has come to embody prepared us for the somewhat sobering Ellis Island, which was where many families not only found passage to the United States, but many also underwent mental and physical testing that sometimes meant the separation of families, if not temporarily, but long-term. Adults and youth felt the plight of immigrants like we had never before. This understanding grew a deeper compassion for some.
We spent time talking about our morning experience at John Street United Methodist Church, which is the oldest Methodist congregation (not building) in the United States. Its museum features a clock given to the church by John Wesley, himself as well as the original pulpit from 1766. This church was chosen not only due to its importance to Methodism, but for the fact that due to its location, it is almost certain that people making their way through the rigors of Ellis Island most likely attended church and became members here.
Day 3: Poverty
The Tenement Museum gave us all a first-hand look at the hardships that many of the immigrants had coming off of the boat and trying to make a life in a city that was highly segregated at the time. The building at 97 Orchard St. has been preserved much like it would have been in the late 1800’s to the early to mid-1900s. The stories of those who lived there are poignant and made it quite evident how difficult life was and how it was almost impossible to simply “work your way out” of a ghetto or depressed area. Half of our group got to participate in an activity that challenged us to think about “needs vs. privileges”. As we wrestled with whether things like a college education is a need or a privilege, we entered deeper conversation on things that matter.
Our sacred space this day was Temple Emanu-El. This was possibly one of the most inspiring sacred spaces that we encountered on our pilgrimage. The scale of the architecture is massive but the tiniest details, such as tile mosaics and intricate woodwork, were painstakingly attended to. We also learned that over several generations, the families that financed the building of this structure originally came from the Lower East Side, the very neighborhood of the Tenement Museum, where we had been that morning!
Day 4: 9/11 Memorial and Grounds
Although many of our youth pilgrims weren’t even born at the time of the September 11 attacks, the memorial really did a fantastic job of conveying the weight and loss of the day. The indoor memorial is so comprehensive and really allows for an immersion into the events of that day. St. Paul’s Chapel was our sacred space that day. It is merely a block away from the twin towers, however, its only damage from the day was a single broken pane of glass. We sat in the balcony, sang a few songs we had been working on throughout the week, and Monica Frazier did a wonderful job walking us through the experience in a way that will remain with us for some time. Among the group we expressed anger, sadness, and hope.
Scripture for the day focused on 2 Corinthians 4:7-9. Youth recently learned about how treasure was stored in clay pots. In order to get to the treasure, the jars had to be broken. This reminded us that even in the most brokenness experiences, God’s treasure still exists within us. Of course, the youth ministry brought clay to play with…as we wrestled with this!
Day 5: Central Park
Really, this was the last day of the pilgrimage. We spent a good deal of the day in Central Park. This is where we took time to be in nature amidst the city. We also took time to write notes of encouragement to one another. It was a day where we thought about all of the strife that we had come face to face with over this week and realized that we were in the center of a city with endless diversity, struggle, hope, despair, ups, downs, wealth, poverty, etc… And, in the midst of all of that, here was a place where all come to find rest, peace, relaxation, and togetherness. Beth heard youth say, “being in nature really helps me connect to God,” “I love seeing what God creates,” and “this was my favorite part of the week.” Clearly, we need to give more opportunities for youth to connect with God in nature. We ended the day with encouraging each other verbally through an activity.
We were ready to come back to the world of pressures and chaos with a greater understanding, not only of those who came before us, but how to take a moment of time and see God working in and among us.
I hope that reading this has inspired you to see God in the situations and people around you and if you see any of the folk who went on this sacred pilgrimage, I hope that you would ask them about it. Each of us has a unique and personal story to share. And as with all trips, the unexpected happened -- our flight back to Dallas was canceled at the last minute and we incurred unplanned expenses for lodging and meals. Should you feel called to assist with bridging the gap of $4000 to fully fund the youth pilgrimage, I would be grateful for your additional support.
Many thanks to everyone who helped make this trip possible: those who helped financially, the mentors, Beth Johnson and Monica Frazier, who developed the curriculum, Clinton Bray who lead us in our music at each of the sacred spaces, all of the staff who accompanied us on the trip and all who supported us in prayer at home.
It was my honor and privilege to be part of Inspiration NYC!
Director of Music Ministries