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  • Rev. Helena Martin

Pilgrimage Debrief (Part 1)

This week's post comes from Hannah Cooper, who wrote the following testimony and shared it at worship on Sunday, September 19. The second and final part of this story, as told by Regan Plourde, will be posted next week.

Hello, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Hannah Cooper. I have been a

part of the youth program here at St. Paul’s since I was little, so I’ve been able to experience all that the program has to offer. Going through multiple famines and a mission trip, this summer I was lucky enough to travel to Grand Tetons, Wyoming for my pilgrimage.

All 11 pilgrims, including chaperones, sit smiling in a bus.


The first day was a big day. It was the first time we were flying without our parents and

for some the first time flying ever. First, getting there was a shock to my senses, having never been anywhere with that landscape: the size of the mountains and the haziness from the fires in Oregon and California was astounding. The evening was filled with introductions to our guides Pete and Bill and the numerous bear and animal safety warnings which did nothing to curb my worries. That first night we tried to adapt to our new surroundings, which did not go very well seeing as I freaked out for a solid 30 minutes before bed about a flying centipede in our yurt.


On Monday, we visited the Church of the Transfiguration set into the mountains, a landmark which we were constantly shown when curious of where we were going this summer.

The seven young pilgrims stand in front of a chapel, built in a log cabin style.

Preparations for the stone soup dinners were also made at the grocery store as we formed our two teams.

Finally, we all went on our first hike of the trip where we were promised an opportunity to go cliff jumping down by Phelps Lake. This hike probably didn't start as early as it should’ve so we rushed to get down to the lake about 1.5 miles away. We lost the chaperones for a bit during the hike which became a problem when debating if we should be jumping off a cliff with no phones and no idea how to get help if anything went wrong. Luckily, the chaperones magically appeared while we were debating, probably a moment of wonder to be honest.


Tuesday was our day of service with the National Park Service. Our job: maintaining a trail that had been overtaken with sage bushes and plants. Now at first, this task was fun. We each had a giant pair of clippers and got to throw the bushes down the mountain. The excitement soon started to fade though as time went on with the discovery that inhaling sage pollen for three hours was not great for some people’s allergies.

A pilgrim smiles on a hill, holding a large pair of clippers.


On Wednesday, we drove to Yellowstone National Park. This was also the day we formed the kids car where all seven of us plus Reverend Helena got to go in one car. The park was beautiful and even though it was still Wyoming, there was a different atmosphere. We got to watch Old Faithful erupt twice and ate lunch by a river.

On this night, it was our team’s turn to make our stone soup dinner which went pretty well except for dessert. The plantains, which we for some reason thought would be successful even though we had no clue how to make them, were inedible.

Final Reflections

Before I let Regan tell you all about the second half of our pilgrimage, I would like to

share how pilgrimage has changed me. Now although I wouldn’t say that I necessarily found God while on pilgrimage, I have found a greater appreciation for everything that has been created around me. Being that much more removed from the real world than usual, the impact of nature was very strong; the views of the mountains which looked different from every angle, the abundance of butterflies everywhere I looked, and the overall serenity of this place provided me with a stronger appreciation for life. Enjoying every moment and living in the moment, not focusing so much on the what-ifs or the future but what is in front of me right now.

A hazy view of the Grand Teton mountains.

Each night, our entire group would have a debrief reflecting on the events of that day,

performing a short night service, and sharing our God moment of the day. Seeing as we shared one each night, I had an array of God moments throughout the trip, but the one that still stands out to me is the view of the mountains which never got old. From each new location or angle, the mountains had a different impact. For instance, looking at them over Phelps Lake felt different than swimming next to them in Jackson Lake. The simplicity yet depth of nature in the Grand Tetons demonstrated to me the beauty of God’s work.

Lastly, I would like to thank the St. Paul’s parish, our chaperones, our guides, and the

other pilgrims for making this experience possible. Amen.

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