St. John’s youth Isabel Baynum and the Reverend Whitney Burton traveled to England this summer on the diocesan youth exchange. Here is Isabel’s reflection on that pilgrimage.
As we approached the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, my mouth dropped. The stone columns gave us an idea of where the ancient abbey and monastery used to stand. This was the most incredible place we traveled to, and the history of the building was fascinating. I climbed the old stones to overlook the ruins and stared off into the lovely green hills of the North York Moors. Sitting upon the stone remains and taking in the history and beauty, I never wanted to leave.
The British Youth Exchange provided an exceptional opportunity to explore England and discover more about ourselves while surrounded by supportive, amazing people. Setting forth on an adventure with eight girls from across our Episcopal diocese generated initial feelings of excitement as well as trepidation. As a group, we entered the British Youth Exchange program with different interests, families and lives, but after nearly three weeks together we left with a greater appreciation for each other, our faith and the world. This immersion into a culture with such quirks in comparison to ours made for many interesting interactions, like ordering chips and getting French fries at a restaurant. We experienced a slight culture shock but it made the exchange all the better.
Over the course of our first few days I enjoyed the pace of life in London and the historical and tourist sites we visited. The cities we explored beyond London were glamorous, and the towns and villages were cozy and quaint. As we entered these small communities I felt incredibly welcomed by the local villagers as they showed us their cultures and lives. The spirit in these rural areas uplifted our group and guided us to build a bridge between our countries, beyond the politics and hatefulness of the world, unite in our travels and share our experiences.
Traveling through the Yorkshire Moors and Dales, I felt as though I was looking into a painting. The scenery was dappled with sheep and cattle, divided by old stone walls that were as historic as the castles themselves. Some of the most stunning historical and spiritual places we visited were the cathedrals, abbeys and minsters, which ranged from hundreds to thousands of years old. While some of these historic landmarks were intact with breathtaking stained glass, others were in complete ruin with only the foundations remaining after centuries of use and the effects of war. These buildings had a peaceful energy, a serenity of prayer and sacredness which left much of the group speechless.
I will take the memories from this trip with me as I continue to travel and hold them close to my heart. I feel so thankful to my home church, St. John’s Roanoke, for helping me go on this journey, to the dioceses of Southwest Virginia and Leeds for their companionship in making this happen, and to all of the people who dropped everything to adventure with eight American girls for 17 days.