HPU Students Explore Faith and Service During Spring Pilgrimages

Mar 11th, 2022

HPU Students Explore Faith and Service During Spring Pilgrimages

A group of High Point University students explored faith and service during the annual Spring Pilgrimage. HPU students attended worship on Feb. 27 at Providence Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Pictured left to right are Rev. Oliver Thomas; junior Mackenzie Wiles; sophomore Georgia Kyrillos; HPU graduate Gabrielle Banks, now a student at Wake Forest Divinity School; junior Olivia Lender; senior Aleah Hayes; senior Alon Parker; freshman Anthony Guevara; and Rev. Dr. Darryl Aaron.


HIGH POINT, N.C., March 11, 2022 – Two groups of High Point University students saw up-close how different communities worship and how faith-based organizations and religious leaders work to make North Carolina a more inclusive place to live during the university’s annual Spring Pilgrimages.

During their spring break, students discovered the importance of faith in the lives of others –– as well as their own. Last week, students visited various people and places in Asheville, Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Everywhere they went, they saw how people live their faith every day.

“This is one of the best life skills I’ve ever gotten in my life, and it happened right here on our pilgrimage,” said Alon Parker, a senior professional sales major from Concord, North Carolina. “It’s prepared me even more for the real world in who I am and who I want to be.”

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HPU students visited Greensboro’s Temple Emanuel where they heard about the Torah, which is the most important document in Judaism. They learned the role it plays in modern Jewish life.

Since 2014, during every fall and spring break, HPU has taken students on pilgrimages to Haiti, New York City, Spain, Houston and Charleston, South Carolina. These trips have helped students grow deeper in their faith, expanding their understanding of leadership and awareness of how faith communities make an impact in our cities.

The students met people who lead affirming, welcoming houses of worship for those who feel forgotten. They also met people who address injustice, help adults with developmental disabilities, use art as a spiritual tool to heal and feed a community for those struggling.

At Asheville’s Haywood Street United Methodist Church, students became waiters and served people who didn’t have a home. At the Greensboro Urban Ministry, the nonprofit that helps shelter and feed people experiencing homelessness, students circled to pray when a man rolled up on a scooter.

“Are y’all praying?” he asked. “I need some help, man. I just lost my home. I got nowhere to go.”

Students invited them into their circle. They prayed together.

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A different group of students led by Rev. Dr. Preston Davis, minister to HPU, traveled to Asheville for a different pilgrimage where they helped prepare a meal at Haywood Street UMC as a part of the trip.

“The pilgrimages we take every year help deepen the faith of our students,” said Rev. Dr. Preston Davis, the minister of the university who helped lead the Asheville pilgrimage along with Dr. Chris Franks, chair of the Religion and Philosophy Department. “They see for themselves the importance of what Jesus said, ‘Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.’ They get to see the face of Jesus right here and now.”

What the students discovered sparked deep conversations. Those moments resonated with the students.

“It was so inspiring to hear their ideas,” said Olivia Lender, a junior human relations major from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, about the other students on the pilgrimage. “You hear how we can make change, and how our generation can make a difference.”

That, said Rev. Andria Williamson, is what the pilgrimage is all about –– helping students see themselves and others deeply, and understand that everyone is a powerful gift.

“College students are at an age of transition, and they may have that sense of discomfort from within,” said Williamson, HPU’s manager for chapel programs who has organized pilgrimages since 2017. “We want to be there to listen, walk with, challenge, nurture and connect them with people and resources that can help them succeed. As we journey together, students begin to see a fuller picture of the world and who they are, all while being in a compassionate space to ask tough questions.”

The students do. And they grow in more ways than one, especially after a global pandemic.

“They want to learn, they want to grow and they want to love each other,” adds Williamson. “You can feel that on these trips. They have the courage to ask, ‘How do I do that?’”