Youth Pilgrimage Reflections: Ben Jennings

It all began in 2007, when my headteacher asked a fellow pupil if he would like to sing in the church choir. For some unknown reason I decided to tell my mum that the headteacher asked me to sing in the choir, my mum looked very confused, as at that time no one in the family really went to church unless it was for a baptism, funeral, wedding or with the school. She decided to speak to the headteacher about the matter, which as you can imagine made me quite red in the face and embarrassed. The headteacher explained to my mum how I overheard the conversation but he would be more than welcome to go if he would like too. It was from that very moment I began to explore the Christian faith and begin the journey of becoming a follower of Jesus Christ.

A few years later in 2009, after attending church regularly by going to Mass and being involved in the youth clubs, I was asked by my parish priest if I would like to be baptised and confirmed, which without any hesitation I said ‘YES’ as I wanted to become a full member of God’s family and deepen my faith further. In 2011, I remember being asked if I had ever heard of a place called Walsingham? Being from Salford in Manchester, I had never heard or let alone been before. I was then invited by my parish priest if I would like to go and explore the Youth pilgrimage, where there would be fellow young Christians like me from across the country. After much persuading, my mum and dad allowed me to go, thankfully I was just old enough.

It was the most memorable week of my life, not only did I make friends with other young people, I didn’t stop talking about the experience until the following year. Another reason why it was an unforgettable week is because I had really bad toothache due to a wisdom tooth growing which as you can imagine caused me great pain but no matter how bad the pain was, I still loved every single moment. As I felt God knew where I needed to be in life and that was being at the Youth Pilgrimage!

I continued to attend the Youth Pilgrimage for many years, each year there were more and more young pilgrims and the themes became more inspiring and thought provoking. Unfortunately, due to full time employment I was unable to attended the Youth Pilgrimage for a few years. I was asked to join the pilgrimage as a leader for the group from the Diocese of Manchester in 2019. This pilgrimage proved to be a life changing experience for me as it was on that camp site where I felt a sense of calling to ordained ministry, so clearly in my life. Throughout the week, several people questioned whether I had thought of becoming a priest. In response I did, but it was always a dream. How could a lad from Salford without many qualifications nor the wisdom become a priest?

After the pilgrimage I prayed and reflected on the conversations I had throughout the past week. I remember praying to God and asking him that if it is his will for me to be a priest then I will do his will without questioning it. It also reminded me of when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and without any hesitation Mary said ‘YES’ to God’s will. From that moment on I explored my vocation further and in 2020 I was recommended for training in the Church of England for ordained ministry. In between training and formation, I had the wonderful opportunity to be involved in the Youth Pilgrimage as part of the Ministry Team. For those who don’t know, the role of the Ministry Team is a group of lay and ordained people who gather a week before the pilgrimage in order to plan and prepare the different liturgies and activities.

Being part of the Ministry Team for the last 2 years has been a privilege as I got to see so many young Christians encounter God like never before, it reminded me of my own experiences as a young pilgrim. The opportunity to share my Christian faith and journey with so many young people was so rewarding and I pray that it has inspired them to begin their own journey of faith in following Jesus Christ and pointing others to him. From my own visits as a young pilgrim to the Shrine, I have felt it has always been my spiritual home. I pray that those who have been on the Youth Pilgrimage can also make Walsingham their spiritual home, where they can be themselves without worrying what others may say.

The Youth Pilgrimage has been and will always be a life changing experience. If you have never been before, what is stopping you? Just like Mary’s ‘YES’ to God, why don’t you say ‘YES’ to exploring and being part of the Youth Pilgrimage next year? Give it a go as I promise you, you will have nothing to lose but so much more to gain. Let’s begin this journey together today.

Ben Jennings

Ordinand – Emmanuel Theological College (Diocese of Manchester)