Several years ago I worked on a project called “International Pilgrimages with Youth.” The project involved sending youth and young adults in their older teens or early twenties to spend time with mission partners serving in other parts of the world. The destinations chosen for the pilot program were China and Turkey - two places where the United Church of Christ and its predecessor denominations have long histories of mission partnerships. My role in the project was as editor of the educational materials. Although the project was never fully funded and only pilot trips were taken by youth and young adults, the process of developing the curricula and theological background for the trips taught me a great deal.

Throughout the history of the church, faithful people have undertaken pilgrimages for the sake of spiritual transformation. the International Pilgrimages with Youth program addressed the transformation in the life of the traveler, but also the transformation that takes place in the community that stays behind. The curriculum included ceremonies for leave-taking and return, prayer guides for travelers and for the home congregations. The belief was that when communities are attentive to the process of travel and return they grow in many different ways.

This particular trip that has taken us to South Carolina from Washington and will bring our return over the next few weeks is not the kind of spiritual pilgrimage that the program envisioned. But, in a sense, every trip can be a pilgrimage. As we travel, our grandchildren in Washington have several ways to follow our trip. After a carefully planned time of saying good bye, we have posted short stories from our trip on this website in The Adventures of Edward Bear. In addition, we have written and sent post cards to our grandchildren in Washington. We have also shared Skype and FaceTime conversations with them. They are aware that we are gone and that we will be returning. They know that the journey takes several days. They know the family members we are visiting.

As we travel, they are living their lives and having their experiences. Yesterday, for example was a productive day at the farm where they live. The first egg was found among the pullet chickens. That means that they will be given access to their nesting boxes and soon will be integrated with the mature chickens. Garden produce is starting to mature. In addition to greens and other crops, the berries are starting to mature. Cherries have been harvested and it will be a while before apples come on. Blueberries are ripe and ready for picking. There will be a lot of berries to harvest and preserve. The first peppers have been picked. The weather has been unseasonably warm, but the farm is not in the places of the most intense heat of the northwest.

Meanwhile, here in South Carolina, we are working on a play structure/swing set for our grandson here. We have celebrated his second birthday and have a significant construction project assembling the structure. It was purchased from a neighbor who is moving, but some of the wood needed to be replaced and fresh paint will help to preserve and unify the structure. There is a lot of measuring and cutting of wood to make the replacement pieces. there have been trips to the hardware store and there will be more today. We work in the mornings and evenings because the mid-day heat and humidity make work more difficult.

As I work, I am learning about the design and construction of play structures in anticipation of constructing a structure back in Washington at some future date. I am using skills that I learned in other construction projects, including farm projects back in Washington. I will return with a few new skills and a bit of new learning. I am also doing a bit of teaching as our son in law works side by side with me. He has significant skills and could complete the work without help, but it would take much longer.

Being the travelers means that we are aware of how much our family in Washington and our family in South Carolina are connected. There are many differences. The weather is different. The homes are different. The chores are different. But there are far more similarities. Children need care and nurture and education in both places. Love shapes family in both places. Grandparents work with parents in both places. I am confident that our grandchildren in Washington and our grandson in South Carolina are aware of their connections with each other. They recognize each other and express affection in video chats. And we treasure the memories of the times when we have all been able to be together. But we also accept that we are a family of different places. There are good reasons for our South Carolina family members to be here and to remain here. There are good reasons for our Washington family members to be there and to remain there. And there are good reasons for us to use the freedom afforded by our current life phase to make the big trip between the two places.

There have been times in the past when other family members have been the travelers. There will be times in the future when that will also be the case. As we age and as our health changes we may be less able to travel at some future point. For now, we are grateful that we are able to travel and experience the diversity and wonder of place and the strong connections of family.

While we are gone, our Washington grandchildren are continuing to grow. They are finishing their summer workbooks and preparing to return to public school in the fall. They are becoming stronger from the good food and meaningful work of the farm. And while we travel, we too are changed. But the changes will not overwhelm us when we return to Washington. We will still recognize and know and love each other. And though we will miss our South Carolina family when we are gone from here, we trust that the love that binds us together is much stronger than the distance that keeps us apart.

So we accept the gift of this pilgrimage. As we travel, we also prepare for return. We embrace the change and transformation that we are given and look forward to the opportunity to share our new selves when we return.

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