THE RIGHT PLACE, AT THE RIGHT TIME
On the first Servant Year retreat, I accomplished one of my life goals: seeing a bald eagle. It may sound ridiculous but it really was something I held as an experience akin to spotting a phoenix or unicorn. Bald eagles are symbols of the majestic and serene natural world and of this great nation. I had just vocalized to the people around me that I had never seen one when I was told to look over and up towards the bay and when I did, I saw the most beautiful bald eagle soaring above the water. I recognized God’s beauty and timing in that moment. It was like hearing God say to me, “You are in the right place and I am with you.”
Another of my life goals is to help people. While the environment that I work in is not as picturesque, serene, and beautiful as the retreat house that I stayed at, there are just as many small examples of God reminding me that I am where I am supposed to be at the right time. Today I learned that my supervisor at the day shelter where I work two days a week, the Norristown Ministries Hospitality Center, does not have more than a few years to live. I knew that he had a disease called ALS that has limited his physical capabilities drastically but I did not know that the disease moved so quickly. I feel that I have a lot to learn from him and I am thankful that I am here to learn from him at this time.
At the retreat, I was able to reflect on the work that I do with the homeless by stepping back from it and realizing the strengths that I bring to my workplace. In day-to-day work it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger meaning of the work because of all of the small tasks that must be done, which require our compete attention. When those tasks are difficult or when they do not appear to have an important and immediate impact, it is even easier to forget what it means to be called to service.
For me, Servant Year is about growth and becoming more comfortable with myself and whatever God has planned for me. At the retreat we discussed the different types of strengths that each person brings to the table. We each took a survey to determine our most apparent strengths. Some things that I had felt were weak traits in myself were redefined as my strengths and I realized that it is not about moving past those parts that are inherent to our unique personalities but learning to view and use them in the light of their potential strength. This is a powerful and freeing realization. I look forward to learning more about myself and God as this year progresses. There are endless lessons to learn and I am thankful to be in the perfect place to keep learning.
Karitsa’s Agency Placement is at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Norristown.
REALLY LOVE GOD, BY SERIOUSLY LOVING OTHER PEOPLE
By Lindsay Barrett-Adler
I opened my Book of Common Prayer to find today’s Gospel and happily came upon the following verses from Matthew 22, translated by Eugene Peterson. Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself.”
Scripture can be fraught with some pretty confusing and offensive texts, but here we find an apparently simple directive: love on people. By loving on people, you’re loving on God. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Jesus is being a bit of a Captain Obvious here. Of course we should love everyone, would anyone seriously argue that it’s virtuous to hate others or that doing so would bring us any closer to God? Thanks for the advice Jesus, I’ll be sure to remember that it’s always preferable to be nice to other people.
But, as usual, a quick and simple reading of this verse doesn’t get to the heart of Christ’s message. Advent is a time for us to wake up, to get ready, to prepare for a baby to break down all of our presumptions and self delusions. If I’m honest this Advent, there are some changes I need to make in order to really love God, by seriously loving other people. I can hold a grudge and let that most cancerous form of hate, resentment, fester in my soul. I can also be impatient with others and ready to jump to unfair conclusions. I am great at building walls to protect myself, even when they close me off from those outside.
Maybe I’m not as great at loving people as I thought.
When I discovered that two antonyms to the word “love” are “indifference” and “neglect”, Christ’s words became even more challenging. Advent seems like the perfect time for us to beat our chests in front of the temple and cry out, “Indifferent? Me?! But I gave that Salvation Army ringer $5 and donated 2 brand new toys to our office Christmas drive.” While charity for the one month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is wonderful, it is not enough. Not when, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1in 5 children live below the poverty line. Not when, according to the NCAAP, the U.S prison population quadrupled from roughly 500,000 in 1980 to 2.3 million people in 2008 and a disproportionate number of prisoners are people of color. Not when our neighbors in the City of Brotherly Love will die this winter from exposure, unable to find shelter in freezing temperatures.
Indifference and neglect are tempting, and easy, ways to live in today’s painful and broken world. I find myself thinking that it would be easier to lock my door, close the blinds, and keep the outside world at bay. This is seductive, but also completely different from the way God tells us to be in the world. We are Advent people. We are called to run out into the world and shout, “Wake up! Get ready! The world is about to change forever!” We are called to stir the pot, to disrupt complacency, and fight for justice. Christ’s call to love others is dangerous, radical, and absolute. We love others by allowing ourselves to be as vulnerable as a lamb, but as fiercely defensive of our neighbors as the lion laying beside him.
This Advent, I pray for the strength and courage to really love God, by seriously loving on people; It’s not as easy as you’d think.
Lindsay serves as Program Director and Associate for Young Adult Ministries.
I never have lived in a place where public transportation was an accessible and reasonable option for travel. Where I grew up, we didn’t have sidewalks either. The only methods of transportation I knew were my family’s mini-van or my trek 820 mountain bike which I only used to ride down the hill I lived on to visit friends (I never was physically blessed with the ability to ride bikes successfully up hills).
I’ve always thought about this freedom and surrender like the freedom we have in our relationship with God. We submit to God’s commandments in order to experience the freedom Jesus proclaims in Luke 4 and what Paul touches on in Roman’s 8 as we live out our identity as children of God. True freedom doesn’t come from the absence of rules and isn’t fully experienced without surrender. Does using public transportation help us understand the surrender God asks of us and the freedom Jesus was talking about? Can you really see the connection of submission and freedom from the backseat of SEPTA Bus? Don’t take my word for it. Just buy a token a take a ride.
Nate’s Agency Placement is with The Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative.
Last week I joined leaders from the other 215 volunteer and lay mission programs of The Catholic Volunteer Network (CVN) for our national conference in Maryland. Our work spans across mission fields and around the globe, with more than 19,000 volunteers and lay missioners in 112 different countries. Not only was I excited to be attending my first CVN gathering, we were also celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary.Throughout the worship services, one hymn was consistently used as a thread to weave all of our time together. I had never heard Barbara Bridge’s “We Walk By Faith” before, but instantly fell in love with its message and was especially moved that we sang the conference’s theme (Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow) as a refrain. Here is what we sang:
We walk by faith and not by sight, through woe and joy, through dark and light.
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
We journey not alone, forsaken. You walk with us, our God and friend.
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
I have to confess that I have a slight bias against talking about faith as “a journey”. To be more specific, inspirational posters with a peaceful wooded path or a sunset on the beach and some quote about journeys make me kind of sick. This isn’t my experience of faith. Faith, for me, has not always been a relaxing stroll down God Avenue and I think it’s dangerous to set this as an implied standard for other people of faith. Moses and some other Biblical figures might agree.
Bridget’s image of a journey through the dark, tripping over roots, and sometimes feeling totally alone feels more honest to me. Sometimes my faith life is down a beautiful path and I thank God for that season of grace and assurance. Other times, I feel like I need a machete to cut though all of the obstacles and dilemmas ahead. Much like members of our volunteer programs, I find myself praying, “What am I doing here? What’s next in this day, in this year, for my life? Where are you calling me to go and who are you calling me to be?”
During a particularly confusing time, I remember talking though some of these questions with my pastor. His response remains one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me. He said, “Everyone thinks that you start life and the path you’re supposed to go down is crystal clear. You walk from post to post, checking off boxes and collecting honors, raises and professional success. I don’t think it works like that. I think we’re mostly moving from lantern to lantern. Sometimes you can barely see the next one and a soft glow tells you roughly the right direction you should move, but you could still lose your way. You could still get lost. God puts these lanterns, people and places, in your life to illuminate the night.”
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow countless people and places have been lanterns in my life. The Church recently celebrated All Saints’ Day, a time for us to remember not only family and friends who shaped us, but also people who inspired us with words like, “I have a dream” or “Make me an instrument of your peace”.
Walking by faith today, completely clueless as to where the next step is taking me, is not easy. The control freak in me wants a map, or at the very least a packing list or trip itinerary (even an outline would do). These don’t usually come floating down like manna and I’m left with God reassuring me, “I’m here. I’ll always be here. Even to the end of the age. But part of following me is doing just that. You can’t follow and lead at the same time, kid.”
And so we move along, lantern to lantern. Yesterday, today, tomorrow.
Lindsay Serves as Program Director and Associate for Young Adult Ministries.
By Don Hopkins
The program I work under, Servant Year, is a structured year of service to those in need, lessons in Christian formation, and a chance to live with an intentional Christian community with other who also work in various social service capacities. The work can be trying, the stipend we receive can seem a little too small at times, and there are definitely challenges in living within an intentional prayer community as opposed to simply having roommates. However, it has all been worth it if I have truly learned, from this experience, what to be servant means. When I tell people about the program I work under, people often make a face at the word “servant.” As a servant, I am told, is someone who’s subservient, less important, not a leader, not glamorous. Working for Saint Mark’s and within the program for two months has given me a chance to experience the perspective of someone who is a servant and has shown me the real value of what it means to serve other and God.
On Saturday mornings I have to wake up at 5 AM. I do not want to wake up this early, especially not being a morning person, but the Saint Mark Soup Bowl operates from 7-9 and we need to set up around six. So I wake up, throw my still half-asleep self in the shower, get dressed, and trudge my way to the parish hall where we serve soup. Upon my arrival I am greeted with the task of moving heavy furniture and preparing for the imminent arrival of our guests. At 7, the doors open and suddenly we have crowds of hungry people barge in upon us.
Bringing them food and attempting to meet their needs is challenging, tiring, and sometimes a little heart-breaking. In this line of work you often don’t get thanked (although when you do it is truly heart-warming), you often have people trying to get everything they possibly can out of you, and the people you are trying to help are often in a fragile emotional state which can lead to hostility or rudeness. So, to make a long story short, sometimes after three hours of serving soup, one can feel a little down and a little haggard.
However, every once and awhile I find myself leaving the parish hall, slowly but surely making my way back to my room to nap a good portion of my Saturday away, and a guest of ours will come up to and thank me. He or she will tell me that they are living at a shelter right now and don’t have a kitchen or that they just got fired and having trouble coming up with the cash for a good meal or that their food stamps just got reduced and they’ve needed help making it through the week. They’ll tell me they love the soup and the bread pudding and all week they look forward to coming to Saint Mark’s where they feel welcomed and loved, which for many of our clients, unfortunately, is a rare occurrence.
Sometimes, I’ll have a guest come to the soup bowl for weeks, someone who has had bad experience with strangers and sits alone and week after week they’ll eat by themselves. Then one day they’ll just come in and sit down next to other guests for a good bowl of soup and talk and feel safe, wanted, and loved; a little miracle occurs and all we needed to make it happen was some hot soup, willing hands, and a dependable alarm clock.
The label Christian, much like the word servant, is a word that often gets bad press. Sometimes, in America, when we think of Christians we think of condemnation, we think of the morality police, and a list of religious beliefs and practices that sometimes seems so disconnected from every day life. But to be a Christian really, at its core, is to know that God loves us all and that this love is unfathomable and requires no qualifications. To be a Christian servant is to serve others in making it known to them how much God loves them and wants them. It will all be worth if I can just learn to serve and that’s what I’m doing; one hot bowl of soup at a time.
Don’s ministry placement is at Saint Mark’s Church as the Outreach Coordinator.
A WELCOME RETREAT
By Pauline Samuel
A month ago, Servant Year had its first of four retreats. The entire community traveled to Maryland. I was not sure quite what to expect, but I was definitely excited. The drive there was great as everyone in the car I was traveling in spent time conversing and getting to know one another a bit better. We discussed our placement sites and personal backgrounds. We were all even more excited to make a quick pit stop at Dunkin Donuts for some much needed coffee and snack!
I was impressed when we pulled up to our campsite. The grounds were expansive and the lodging was modern, cozy, warm and inviting. I knew I was in for a great weekend! To say I felt at peace is an understatement. My experience of retreats has usually been that of working retreats in particular, vestry retreats. While I enjoyed the vestry retreats that I went on, I always felt they were more business with not enough time for personal space, spiritual formation and quiet reflection. Our first Servant Year retreat did not lack in any of these areas.
One of the first spaces I encountered was the chapel. When I first entered the chapel, I was in awe of the beauty of the altar which consisted of a large cross, numerous candles, small stones, a vase of water and simple fabric. It was simple and strikingly beautiful. I immediately felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. My favorite place to be that weekend was the chapel. Not only did I feel God’s presence in that beautiful space, I saw the light of God in each person that was in the room.
Being a person who is organized and likes to know what is going to happen next, (probably from my time as serving as Clerk of the Vestry), I liked that none of us knew what was on the agenda for the weekend. We had to go with the flow and be surprised. I also liked that we were not confined to any particular space or area for any session. It was an amazing experience to say Morning Prayer outside in nature and be a part of God’s creation offering up our thanks and praise. I felt humbled and privileged to be able to stand with my fellow Servant Year brothers and sisters and leaders in prayer and serenity experiencing God’s grace in such an amazing way.
I had so many great moments on this first retreat. I enjoyed the camaraderie, the laughter, the games (I learned Trivial Pursuit is not my forte) the prayers, the discussions, learning some of my strengths and how to enhance them. And oh yes, the food!!! The food was absolutely amazing! Every meal was delectable and the best part…I had my first s’more!!! It was divine! I also did not realize how entertaining Boppit can be and I am sure it will resurface at the next retreat.
All in all, a welcomed three days away from the busyness of my day to day routine. Three days of connecting, communing, and awareness; awareness of God, of self and of neighbor. I welcome retreat number two!
Pauline’s placement is with Saint Mark’s Church as a Ministry Resident.
In the Hebrew Bible, several books recount the Hebrews being conquered and made laborers and slaves to the Babylonians. Their story is a compelling one of faith, tribulation, and zeal. And after exile, the Hebrews returned to the land of their forefathers in song and praise to the God who kept his covenant. These books, such as 2 Chronicles and Ezra, account of not only a culture and its people, but of us—specifically, individuals unknowingly displaced and forced to search for purpose and (or) opportunity while in despair.On a cloudy Sunday in May, I graduated from La Salle University, and five hours later I was on the road back home to Memphis, Tennessee. I left behind my friends, a blossoming relationship, my various networks, and all without giving Philadelphia a proper good-bye. I had become a victim of reality…I wanted to cry out to heavens yelling, “Don’t make me do this”. I was being forced into a “captivity” called post-grad life at home. Though similar to my peers, my “captivity” was returning home; looking for a job or an apartment; or maybe not doing anything. Thus I embarked on a new mundane existence longing to return to Philadelphia.
During my two months at home, I did your usual summer adventure, but I needed something more. At camp one day, reality hit me that in August I would be living at home with my parents instead of returning to school for the next semester. In the midst of “tweens” and other camp counselors, I franticly began sobbing. This reality shock was my first awakening in “captivity,” I couldn’t continue to work in that environment or live with my parents. I had gained a perspective while living in Philadelphia—a reason to serve and work around the poor, abandoned, etc. So I did what comes naturally in these situations—prayer. And I prayed that God would release me from my lackluster condition.
So that weekend, I began looking for an out in my “captivity” via the Internet. After applying to about twenty or twenty-five organizations, I found Servant Year. Servant Year seemed to be that last minute throw by Tom Brady during Superbowl that wins the game. Honestly, I had a phone interview and what seemed to be a thousand emails back and forth and finally a contract within four weeks.
Unlike the Hebrews during the Babylonian exile, I didn’t have prophets foretelling my deliverance. I had only a desire and prayer. And though I’m no wise elder, I am someone who felt lost while with God and, like with the Hebrews, God didn’t disappoint in keeping his covenant with his chosen people.
John serves with the Diocese of Pennsylvania as the Youth Ministry Assistant for Diocesan Programming
At first my tendency was to walk into someone else’s home and, rather chipperly, say, “I’m here to help you! I’m ready to change your life!” Much like Job, the families I worked with most often did not need to hear my grandiose thoughts on socioeconomic theories or quick fix bandaids. They needed me to sit with them in their realities. Just sit with me, Ms. Lindsay. Lean into the discomfort.
Since the Servant Year members started last month, many have come to me over dinner, after Friday Formation, or during our first retreat to say, “I am uncomfortable.” Very rarely is this said so directly, but the sentiment is real and meaningful. More frequently it sounds like, “I’m the only white person on the bus.” “Someone left their dirty dishes in the sink.” “Should I give people money or food if they ask me on the street?” “I noticed there’s no t.v. in the house…is one coming soon?”
What we ask our members, and members of other volunteer programs, to do is difficult and outside of their norms. Sharing a house with 4, 5, or even 7 other non-family members or self-selected roommates is uncomfortable- especially when there’s one shower. Working at our ministry placements can be uncomfortable, especially when they are building the relationships that we ask of them.
During one of the quarterly supervisions I have with our members and their agency supervisors, I ask what has been the most challenging moment of their first month’s service. Without hesitation, one of our members said, “Two weeks ago they found a man dead outside and I knew him. He visited us frequently and I thought he was okay. I thought he was doing better.” In only a month, she had begun to build a relationship with this man. Leaning into the discomfort allowed her to overcome all the barriers society had put between her and her neighbor, whom she now grieved.
Man, woman. Sheltered, homeless. Sober, addicted. Dirty, clean.
The most challenging part of my work, and what I think our program members wrestle with most day to day, is still leaning into the discomfort. And yet, our members are beginning to find, as I did in South Philly, that leaning into the discomfort can often be profoundly joyful moments to learn more about God, their community, and themselves.
As a Church, we often lose sight of the radical uncomfortable feeling involved in Kingdom work. And I think part of why it’s so hard for me to fully live into what the Gospel demands is because it’s awkward. Like, hair on the back of your neck standing up weird.
Thankfully, the often bewildered and uncomfortable disciples have gone before us to confirm that yes, Jesus really just said that. Yes, Jesus really just did that…and it’s not what you would have expected. Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And, just in case there’s any confusion, this also means you have to love your neighbor as yourself. Every day. Even when other people aren’t looking. Even on your day off. Even people who are rude or take forever ordering a pretentious drink at Starbucks. Even when they’re yelling things you don’t understand on street corners.
Especially when they’re yelling things you don’t understand on street corners.
Two of our communities are at Anglo-Catholic parishes where sacraments and liturgy take center stage, but more than that they lean into the discomfort. Sacraments and liturgy have got to exist for young adults, especially those I work with, in a place that is okay existing in the already, and not yet. Their church has to invite everyone through its front doors, no matter what they wear, who they love, or where they sleep. The church has to be messy and sometimes make people uncomfortable.
Of course this is easier said than done, but I have been encouraged by the passion for a more beloved community in our members’ hearts- especially as they lean into the discomfort.
Written and delivered by Lindsay Barrett-Adler at The Society of Catholic Priests on October 10, 2013.
It’s a feeling that cannot be put into words, but it comes very close: the moment you walk into a worship space and begin together in song with every voice raising up to God; your body is consumed by “gracebumps.” Not chills, not goosebumps, but gracebumps: an emotion or feeling you cannot control; not caused by fear, nervousness, or just being a little chilly, but an emotion or feeling that is proof of the Holy Spirit entering your body and soul and God’s presence coming alive.The Opening Eucharist at the Episcopal Youth Event two and a half years ago, with over fifteen hundred people gathered together in one space for worship was when I recognized my “gracebumps” first appearing. The moment every voice was lifted up to God in song was when my body was first consumed. It is a moment of unbelievable feeling and emotion.
I, being a cradle Episcopalian, have had many opportunities to attend many retreats, youth group activities, Vacation Bible Schools, and many, many, many meetings. All of these are very special in my heart, but for many different reasons. It wasn’t until I was in 8th grade that I started getting involved with my Diocesan youth program. I was always very involved with events inside of my parish, but never beyond that. It never occurred to me that I could experience worship in a different way or in a different place than in my home parish of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
I attended my first Diocesan event in the winter of 2008, and I am so thankful I did. It was there that I started on a new path into a deeper, more real faith. The theme was “Defeating Doubt” and the saying for the weekend was “sometimes the questions are as important as the answers.” This sums up what we as Episcopalians deal with every day: from questions starting with, “Episcopalian?!? What’s that?!?” to “Does God really exist?” we live our faith lives every day with unanswered questions. These questions can be studied, dissected, re-worded, but will we ever find the right answer? Does it really matter if we do? I live a life based around a belief in a God that has no “hard copy” proof of existence according to some people that deny that existence and others that just question the existence. So, what does it matter if I have all of the answers? That is what makes faith, faith. Believing but not seeing is what it is all about. It was then that I started to look at my life of faith as a never ending, unanswered, book of questions.
Because of that event I have had opportunities that not a lot of eighteen year olds can say they have had. I had the opportunity to go on pilgrimages to two different foreign countries, youth retreats in my Diocese and province, the Episcopal Youth Event and the opportunity to serve as a part of The General Convention Official Youth Presence. As a dorky eighth grader, did I see myself doing all of that? No!
Right now, I am working for the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania as an intern in the Family and Young Adult Ministries office. I am taking a year of discernment to figure out what it is I want to do with my life. By the end of this year will I have the answer to that question? Probably not, but does it matter? I have no idea what tomorrow brings, just like I have no idea what God’s plan for me is or just like there is no “hard copy” proof of God’s existence. Instead, I have “gracebumps” to prove to myself that my God exists. Would I still have gotten this proof if I never went to that retreat in eighth grade? That is yet another un-answered question. Why deny the fact that there is always room for stronger spiritual growth? Shouldn’t everybody have a chance to experience “gracebumps?”
David’s agency placement is with the Diocese of Pennsylvania as the Youth Ministry Assistant for EYE.