The Appalachian Youth Pilgrimage, 2008

It began at a rustic spot called Salt Log Camp, just off Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway.  Thirty-two miles and 3 ½ days later, it ended on the upper reaches of the James River. 

That was the late-July game plan for an Appalachian Trail pilgrimage that served as the “culminating experience” for seven youth members of St. George’s.  There were plans for hiking, singing, playing and praying—a time, as team leader Nick Cadwallender put it, “to uncover and discover the people we are, where we have been, where we are going.” 

Helping the group to reflect on Christ “in us, with us and through us” was the Rev. Ridgeway Addison, an ordained Baptist minister who has studied mysticism at Catholic University and who now serves as a Chaplain-in-Residence at Georgetown University. 

Last month I touched base with three of the youth members as they prepared to lug their tents (and dodge the bears) in one of the most beautiful areas of Virginia.  Maria Colopy, Anna Jones, and Stephen Dorrance talked about their hopes and fears as they prepared, not only for the pilgrimage, but also for college in the fall. 

Indeed, at this exciting and challenging time in their lives, the youth members selected as a theme for the pilgrimage, “Embracing Change: Living the Questions.” 

For Anna, a soft-spoken “cradle Episcopalian” who’ll be heading to George Mason University, the pilgrimage marked her first camping trip.  Though confessing to being a bit anxious about the adventure, she spoke positively about the role young people have played at St. George’s during her time in the parish.  She finds St. George’s to be a “very accepting” community, and feels that 

Maria’s time at St. George’s began five years ago, when her family left the Roman Catholic Church.  Encouraged by friends to try the parish, Maria says her family has found St. George’s to be open and supportive.  Her parents liked the fact that the parish is so involved in the community.  As she prepares for her freshman year at the University of Virginia, Maria already has had a memorable summer.  She and her family, including parents Paul and Anna, took a 2 ½-week tour of Italy and Croatia.  Maria’s older sister, Christina, has just begun a one-year mission in Nicaragua. 

For Stephen, who moved to the area from Connecticut with his mother, Sarah, four years ago, this summer has been a time for “chilling” and motorcycle riding.  He plans to begin classes at Germanna Community College this fall. 

Anna, Maria, and Stephen, who all graduated from Stafford High School, see the pilgrimage as a time for closure after several years of close ties at St. George’s.  They have been inspired by their adult leaders and want to maintain their ties.  Together they have studied such topics as cults, different religions and different denominations.  Said Anna, the pilgrimage is “an opportunity to come closer together, so we have something to come back to” during breaks from college. 

Also scheduled to take part in the pilgrimage were youth members Leigh Gayle, Meghan Pscolyar, Nick Sharp, and John Sharp.  Along with Nick, adult leaders included his daughter, Mary; Casey Hu; and, as spiritual director, Ridgeway Addison.