'Triangle of Hope'- A Pilgrimage
In August I had an opportunity to meet up with a group of youth and adults from the Diocese of Liverpool and the Diocese of Virginia as they were on pilgrimage in Virginia and Washington, D.C. This was the second portion of the pilgrimage this summer. In July the group spent a week in Liverpool. The Diocese of Virginia and the Diocese of Liverpool began a relationship following the Lambeth Conference in 1998 and the youth pilgrimage grew out of that relationship. The first pilgrimage took place in the summers of 2012 and 2013 in Liverpool and Richmond respectively. The journey was so transformational for the youth and adults involved that they decided to continue the journey with a new group leading to the pilgrimage this summer.
Preparation for the pilgrimage for this group began back in 2015. As the youth prepared, they each met with an adult mentor regularly and created three goals. Each goal served a specific purpose for the pilgrim. The first goal was to be something that the youth could achieve within the first year of the process. The second goal was to be personal and support the youth in discovering more about their own gifts. And, the third was to be something that stretched the youth and could be achieved while on pilgrimage in Liverpool and Virginia. Through these goals, the adults saw the youth step up in confidence and grow in their sense of what it means to be children of God. Everyone [adults and youth] also wrote letters to themselves at the beginning of this journey over 18 months ago. At the last event, a visit to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the youth and adults received their letters back just before meeting with the Dean.
When asked what he hoped would be the primary take away from this journey, The Reverend Canon Malcolm Rogers of the Diocese of Liverpool said, “For all pilgrims including the leaders it’s a journey of discovery. As personal goals are met, we learn that God can and does use us in significant ways to bring hope to a world which has largely turned its back on Him.”
A second hope and dream of this pilgrimage is for the youth to understand that the friendships and relationships built over the two years do not have to end when everyone returns home. Joseph Vandenberg, a youth from Liverpool, said it well, “This has been a journey of faith, but also to get to know people in Virginia and in my hometown to build bonds that will last a long time and now with these bonds we can talk about slavery and how not to forget it, but to work upon it and create something good from it.” Another way this dream was realized was through the sacrament of confirmation. Bishop Suffragan Susan Goff of the Diocese of Virginia was consecrated Assisting Bishop of the Diocese of Liverpool in May of 2016, which allowed her to confirm Jess Mythen and Rhys Hamilton, two of the youth from Liverpool, while they were on pilgrimage in Richmond, VA. Both Rhys and Jess spoke of the service as something that they will not forget as they were surrounded by their fellow pilgrims.
One main focus of the pilgrimage [through conversations with the youth from the beginning] has been looking at the relationship of the two dioceses to the Transatlantic slave trade through a lens of reconciliation. In talking to the youth and the leaders, that theme came through. Daisy Richmond, a youth from the Diocese of Liverpool, talked about how the experience over the past 2 years learning about reconciliation as a group has “helped them grow closer to each other and to God.” Whitney Anderson, a youth from the Diocese of Virginia, noted how visiting museums and walking the path made history real for her. For The Rev’d Rock Higgins of the Diocese of Virginia, “it is about preparing the youth to do the hard work of reconciliation throughout their lives to help all of us move deeper into the Kingdom of God.”
Reconciliation is front and center in the partnership and has now led to a new relationship and deeper connection. This past June at a conference in Nairobi, Bishop Johnston (Diocese of Virginia), Bishop Bayes (Diocese of Liverpool), and Archbishop Sarfo (Diocese of Kumasi in Ghana and Primate of The Church of the Province of West Africa) signed a joint statement creating the ‘Triangle of Hope.’ It is built on the 3 historic corners of the slave triangle. “As bishops united in faith within the worldwide Communion we are delighted and proud to support and encourage all this. For us it is an expression of the Christian hope for a future where all are saved and all are free, free from slavery and from all oppression. We commend this work to the grace of God and we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, confident that by God's grace the work will prosper.” The full text of the statement can be found here.
The itineraries this summer included a reception at Lambeth Palace, the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, several different worship communities, Colonial Williamsburg, the Richmond Slave Trail, the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., the National Cathedral, and many other events celebrating the culture of each diocese. At Lambeth Palace the group was promised a 30 second photo opportunity with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Upon learning about the pilgrimage Archbishop Welby invested closer to half an hour listening to their stories and sharing in their experience of transformation. The leaders and the youth both noted that regular worship was an intentional component of the pilgrimage. It led many youth to talk about taking ownership of their faith. The participants spoke candidly about growing up in the church and how it becomes mundane and almost automatic. This pilgrimage has opened their eyes and their hearts to experience worship in meaningful ways.
The youth that participated in the pilgrimage over the summer have several ideas about how they wish to share their experience and build upon it. One of those includes creating a website for the Triangle of Hope. As they return home and talk to their friends, families, and parishes about their journey, please pray for the youth and adults that their story may glorify God and inspire others.
The three dioceses involved in the ‘Triangle of Hope’ plan to continue to explore new ways of engaging with each other and we look forward to learning about what is next.
Photos contributed by The Rev. Jeremy Fagan, Diocese of Liverpool