By Mary Strand
I spent the first couple years of my life in a very small, town in the middle-of-no-where Upstate New York. My days were filled by giggling with my older siblings, jumping in piles of Fall leaves, and swinging from the tire swing on the apple tree in the back yard. My life in my tiny town was all I knew.
My small world was suddenly turned upside down when my family moved to Costa Rica just after I turned three years old. I began preschool in a place where I was the only English speaker. I lay with my eyes wide open during naptime listening to the whispers of my classmates in language that I did not know.
It was not long before I began to pick up the Spanish language. As I was immersed in the culture, my ears constantly being filled with the lush sounds of the language rolling off my neighbors’ tongues, I learned a new way of communicating with others, a new way of expressing myself, and a new world to dream in. I learned a new language.
The first time I attended a mass at St. Mark’s Church, I stood, sat, and knelt with incredulous, wide eyes. My Wesleyan and Mennonite church background had not prepared me, it seemed, for the high Anglo-Catholic style of worship that takes place at St. Mark’s Parish. The procession of robed altar servers and ornately vested priests through the bronze gates at the front of the church and up the tiled steps to the high altar was intimidating, foreign.
I had never before attended a church in which it was common place to bow at the name of Jesus, genuflect before the altar, or cross myself—let alone the use of incense, bells, and chanting. I had never before come across words like “chasuble,” “thurifer,” “vexillifer,” or “monstrance” – especially not in every day conversation.
Working at St. Mark’s Church, I have often felt out of place. Though we worship the same God, it has felt new, different—at times, inaccessible. The style of worship at St. Mark’s Church has required that I learn a new way of approaching the altar, a new way of relating to the Eucharist, a new way of approaching God. In a way, living and working here at St. Mark’s has required that I learn a new language for engaging with the triune God.
Admittedly, much of this was not what I expected to find in my experience here. I did not expect to feel lost as I knelt in the presence of the Almighty God. I did not expect to be working in a place where I was continually confronted with perspectives on faith and service that differed from my own. At times, these differences have seemed to be in conflict. Something deep inside of me has rubbed up against many of the perspectives and practices that I’m surrounded by – there’s friction.
But I’m learning the language.
I’m learning how to do the everyday tasks of ministry here at St. Mark’s. I now not only know what vestments are, but also know how to set them out properly before a mass. I know when to bow my head and when to bow “profoundly”. I know when to ring the bells during a mass and the right words to say.
More importantly, I am in a place where I am continually asked to challenge my own understandings of who God is and what Christian life looks like. As a result, I am learning more about God – experiencing new aspects of Godself. I’m learning a new appreciation for the Eucharist, delving deeper into the theology surrounding it as I am asked to relate to it differently than I had previously. I’m learning that the liturgy used here that has, at times, felt inaccessible, is an incredibly beautiful way to worship and experience God.
I will not claim that all of my work here at St. Mark’s has, as a result of these learnings, always felt valuable and worthwhile. It’s a daily struggle to remember that good is and will continue to come of my work here. But what remains clear is that, as I do my best to serve here in this place, it is my responsibility to engage with those whom I find myself surrounded by—regardless of the differences between us. By listening to their stories and being open to taking on their perspective, my personal ideology is humbled, and the outlook I have of myself, of others, of the world, and of God expands. It has only been by stepping outside of my tiny and rather homogenous world, rupturing personal boundaries, that I’ve been able to even begin thinking about serving the needs of others.
Mary serves as the ministry resident for children and families at Saint Mark's Church.
By Trish Johnston
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what silence is, how we experience it and what it means in our lives. We live in a world in which silence is often valued. Most of the time, it's not socially acceptable to talk about, for example, which political candidate we support, or our personal faith, or any current event that’s particularly touchy. Often times, we’re scared to be anything but silent about things like our emotions, our need and our wants. By revealing these to other human beings we show our true selves, and are left vulnerable and exposed, a feeling that we as a culture have come to dread.
I want to tell you about my housemates. We all live together in a big old house in the middle of center city. But we’re more than just housemates. We are attempting to live in “intentional christian community,” which is often hard to explain to people when they ask what that means. Some days I say, “When we moved in together we wrote a covenant of how we committed to live with one another.” or I say, “We’re more like a family than a group of roommates,” But today, I’m going to explain it to you like this: we’ve made a commitment to never be silent with each other.
We’ve promised to never let conflicts fly under the radar. When we have a horrible day, we’ve promised to never answer ‘How Are You?’ with, ‘Good!’. We’ve agreed to little by little, day by day, share our souls, to share what’s being said in our hearts, to speak our own personal truths, at all times.
And let me be the first to say, it is HARD. It's often overwhelming to be consistently aware of what is actually going on inside of you instead of glossing over it all like we are accustomed to doing. It can be exhausting to take on the burden of another human being. It can be scary to expose some of the inner parts of your being that haven’t seen the light of day in a very long time.
But being loud can also be, in a way, freeing. To be able to leave behind the facade you’ve had for so many years, to let it all go, is liberating. We each were fearfully made by God in his image. God made us to be the exact human she intended us to be. And when we can get back to that, or closer to it, we truly let God in.
I’ve found that purposefully and intentionally letting God in, letting her be present as we strip down our walls yields some of the most abundant love I have ever experienced. It’s a love that in the everyday feels ordinary, but when I stop and stare at it for a minute I realize its power. I hear the sound waves it is making in my life.
I’m so grateful. For that love. For this year. For the 6 humans I’m sharing it with.
For the noise.
Trish serves as director of communications for the Seamen's Church Institute.
By Shontae Walker
This year I am learning to enjoy every single moment and simply do what I love to do, which is dancing, getting to know God more and deepening my relationship with Him and step by step becoming a better version of myself. I have realized that focusing on enjoying each moment and deepening my relationship with God are things that will help me maintain a sense of thankfulness and gratitude in the midst of the twist and turns and surprises in life. These things are foundational for me no matter where life takes me, which is what I am learning.
On a more practical note, I am currently in the process of applying to business school. My hopes is to work towards developing the necessary skills to create a business that functions as a non-profit, but is sustained by earned revenue. I want this business to help not only children and youth, but other organizations that are doing great work, but do not have the funds nor the resources to outwork their vision.
I hope to create a platform and safe space for communities of children, youth, and adults to learn the importance and significance of building strong and healthy relationships with one another, organizations, and their own communities. I envision a community revived with hope and refreshed with new possibilities while living beyond limitations put on them. A place where children are supported, young adults are empowered and adults are equipped, so that families are strengthened. Ultimately an organization that creates a home away from home for families everywhere. My knowledge of any type of business is very minimal, which is why I hope to learn more about the creative side of strategic business management in a masters program. My top choices at the moment are University of Pennsylvania-Wharton; Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA; and Philadelphia University.
While business school is what I am pursuing after I finish the program, I have realized that life is not as predictable as I would like it to be, so I am open to discovering a more scenic route to building this business. As some people say, it’s not about the destination, but the journey. Through it all, what I have discovered is my great need for my Father, Jesus Christ. In Him is where all the hope, vision, strength, joy, wisdom, direction, and so much more I will ever need on this journey. I have truly discovered the blessing in detours and wholehearted surrender.
“Genuine total surrender is a personal sovereign preference for Jesus Christ Himself.” -Oswald Chambers
Shontae serves as a case manager at Besthesda Project.
By Jill Disbro
My name is Jill and I am a church girl. Short and sweet. I am a church girl. While this may not be the first thing I say to every person I meet on the street, I find that when I am asked to describe who I am and where I come from, one of the first things that I must explain is that I am one of those people who “grew up in the church.” I went to church every Sunday, I always went to Sunday school, participated in every youth outing and volunteer opportunity, and as I got older volunteered in Vacation Bible School. My formation as a child, teenager, and now as a young adult has been defined by my experience at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Columbus, Ohio. While this may sound like the description of an angelic, Christian child, I assure you it is not- my parents could give you a much more accurate description. But what I’m getting at is that my whole life the service I do has been assumed; this call to give of myself for others has been a natural product of my identity as a church girl. But why is that? What about my faith makes service to others so fundamental and necessary?
These questions and desire to explore the intersection between faith and service has shaped my spiritual growth through college and after graduation as I explore what it means to be the hands and feet of God in this world. After “growing up in the church” in Columbus, Ohio, I went on to attend Roanoke College in Virginia where growing in the church took on a new meaning. I got heavily involved in Campus Ministry life where I began to encounter people from different faith backgrounds and define my faith on a deeper level. I encountered people who, although they also “grew up in the church,” found their experience stifling and left for college disenchanted by religion as a whole. So, I continued to question what kept me connected to church and what about my faith made service to others so essential.
After college, I continued to grow in my faith as I went on to serve as a Young Adult in Global Mission through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Throughout this year-long program I lived in the community of Tepoztlán, México, learning what it means to serve through accompaniment and working with a non-profit organization that promotes the rights of children and youth to participate in their communities. I spent the year forming relationships with people and loved getting to know the insights and capabilities of children and teenagers. This experience working with youth, exploring what it means to grow in faith and service, brought me to the Diocese of Pennsylvania’s Servant Year program to serve as the Program Coordinator for the Episcopal Mission Center. I can’t wait to continue to grow in faith and help young people have positive experiences with religion and “grow up in the Church” the way I did. Youth ministry really excites me because it unites two things I am really passionate about: the formation of youth to be free-thinking, caring, outwardly focused individuals and the exploration of faith, and praising God. I am excited to grow with young people and to be involved in an environment that is supportive and simply a lot of fun. I can’t wait to share this coming year with my fellow Servant Year members and the Episcopal Mission Center while learning, growing, and discerning God’s call for my life.
Jill serves as the program coordinator for the Episcopal Mission Center.
By Cory Brautigam
Don’t waste your life never allowing yourself to be interrupted. I continually find it true that it is better to be a person who is easily interrupted than a person who never allows interruptions to affect them. Maybe I’m just putting in a good word for spontaneity, but I think there is something more to being a person who is attentive to interruption than just being spontaneous.
Interruption is the breaking of continuity. Whether it is the continuity of a conversation, the continuity of a walk in the park, or the continuity of life, interruptions interfere. They come in all shapes and sizes. When you’re walking down the street and a homeless person tries to engage you in conversation: interruption. When you’re writing a blog post and your housemate strikes up a conversation: interruption.
We generally consider interruptions bad. The reason for this, I believe, is two-fold. First, interruptions get in the way of what we expect to happen or what we are planning. When this happens, we are rendered somewhat helpless. We like to be in control. We like to have a plan. We feel a sense of entitlement — this is our time, and we can do with it what we want. Interruption takes this from us. Second, we are more attuned to the negative interruptions. While we notice the baby crying when we’re trying to talk on the phone, we miss the flute-like call of the Oriole as we run through the park. “Please do not interrupt” has been overdone. Surely there is a time (in fact, many a time) not to interrupt, but because we are always being told that we should not, we learn to react as if we have been wronged when we are interrupted.
My brother once found a fly cooked into his french toast at a diner, this was an unwelcome interruption to his mealtime. Bad interruptions do exist, and they take away from whatever it is they are disrupting. Negative interruptions are quite common in this age – an age of technology and consumerism. Facebook and advertisements bombard us daily, but these “fly in the french toast” moments are not the only kind of interruptions. There are times when the welcoming of an interruption will allow us to better enjoy the very continuity being interrupted.
I am very aware of interruptions as I spend most of my time in a classroom with between 14 and 18 interrupters (aka students). In this setting we often discourage interruption because it takes away from the class. However, I must admit, I sometimes wonder if the classroom should be brimming with interruption. Indeed it would take a very skilled educator to cultivate a classroom environment where this could lead to healthy growth and formation, but reimagining a classroom with formative disturbances might prove a worthwhile task. It is very important for the learner to have the “virtue of interruptability.” Yes, it is important to seek, but it is also necessary to receive, and sometimes we deny ourselves this by disallowing interruption. We must be open to receiving beauty and truth – even when it comes in the unexpected moment or form.
I would argue that the greatest interruption of all time was the incarnation of Jesus Christ, who is the very foundation of the Christian faith. If you confess faith in this person, you are called to be attentive to interruptions, even to build your life upon the interruptions of Christ.
The usefulness of interruption is evident in various ways. It can humble us. It can remind us that we are not the only person with an agenda, and that other people and their cares are worth our attention. It can teach us about the world around us, about things we are not even aware are there for us to be taught about. It can guide us into new places, places we would not have imagined we would be. It is in being aware of the interruptions in our life that we are transformed – for this is often the mysterious way in which God moves. Of course, there are still interruptions that we should disregard, but if we pay attention we might be surprised by what goodness we find interrupting our lives.
Cory serves as a co-teacher at St. James School.
By Donnecia Brown
Recently, I attended The Episcopal Young Adult Pilgrimage to Ferguson, MO. It was intensely emotional in the most beautiful way possible. In Ferguson, I met a tangible God and encountered resurrection power.
I stood at Michael Brown’s memorial in the presence of God. I stood in solidarity with all the black lives that have been unjustly taken. I stood with Tamir Rice (Ohio), Sandra Bland (Texas), Eric Garner (New York), Trayvon Martin (Florida), John Crawford (Ohio), Ezell Ford (California), Yvette Smith (Texas), Jonathan Ferrell (North Carolina), Freddie Gray(Maryland), Walter Scott (South Carolina), Dontre Hamilton (Milwakee), Tanisha Anderson (Ohio), and hundreds of other victims. I grew weary thinking about these black and brown people who did not get the benefit of the doubt. I sobbed for lost childhoods, unachieved goals, victim blaming, and mourning communities. I petitioned God about the communal trauma people of color continue to experience. We are not safe. We are targeted. We are tired. We are hurting.
I sat on the side walk across from where Michael Brown’s body lay in the street for approximately four hours, and thought “Lord, how long will we suffer?” Then, I received a gentle reminder- “He is risen.” Affirming the sacred and countering the profane. Michael Brown’s memorial was a gentle reminder of the resurrection power of God. There are many things being resurrected around and within me. I am still processing my experience in Ferguson as it was indescribable in may ways.
Lord, protect my process. Help me to affirm the sacred amid the profane. With your help, I can stand in solidarity against injustice of any kind. Help me to stand firm. Amen.
Donnecia serves at the Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project.
By Leanna Browne
I feel like this year has me questioning a lot of things so far - What am I really doing (in the fight for liberation)? Is Servant Year actually making an impact? How is the work I am doing really contributing to liberation? More importantly, what is the goal of our work? I could go on and on with questions, but I'll pause here. I guess my inquisitive nature as a child is revealing itself (perhaps because it never left). As Servant Year members, though we earn modest stipends, we are provided with comforts. For example, we are all given places to live, placements to provide us with an enriching experience, mentors to help support us in our professional and/or spiritual journeys, small group meetings to help create communities outside of our houses, monthly speaker series to engage us in discussions around relevant topics, formation opportunities to develop spiritually, etc. I'd say we are pretty protected by all these benefits. I think to an extent it can become easy (and safe) to become insulated by these comforts and become complacent. To bask in the privileges we have been afforded. But, if we say we care about issues that affect marginalized populations, shouldn’t we be questioning and re-examining how our lives reflect that on a daily basis? Asking ourselves – Are we really about that life? The life I’m talking about is really pursuing liberation, like Jesus did. I think this is where humility is vital.
What does it mean to be humble? According to Google’s dictionary, it means having or showing a modest or low estimate of one's own importance. I don’t think being humble means thinking so lowly of one’s self to the point of self-deprecation. But, I think being humble means recognizing that you are but one person. You don’t have all the skills and knowledge to do everything and are willing to step back to listen and learn from others. As was brought to my attention in the first Wednesday morning devotion done in our office, John Neafsey writes in A SACRED VOICE IS CALLING: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience, “Whether we are a doctor or a minister, an artist or a taxi driver, a nanny or a teacher, our fundamental human vocation is to become just, loving, and humble persons during our short lives here on this earth” (5). Just, loving, and humble persons. Sounds a lot like Jesus, right?
1 Peter 5:6-7 (NLT) says, “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” I see this as saying that God calls us to humility. How can we work alongside those seen as subaltern, if we are up so high in our places of privilege? But, God also opens himself up to us because we can’t pursue humility (or life in general) alone. I realize that there will be moments when I am cynical about things going on in the world. There will be moments when I question what’s the point of fighting for liberation when it all feels like too much. But, I have to remember that the acts of ordinary people together can be monumental.
Leanna serves in the DIOPA Office of Family and Young Adult Ministry.
By Anisa Knox
In late August, I arrived at the Free Church of St. John of Kensington eager to begin my year of service and intentional community living. I honestly did not know know what to expect. My doubts about my placement soon dissipated as I was warmly welcomed by a team of individuals who were active community members. The vicar of Free Church, Padre Jose taught me step-by-step about the various community services Free Church provides, including the Food Pantry and the After-school program. Not only do I work directly with the community but also with local officials to obtain funding and help address some of the needs of the community.
Several communities in Northern Philadelphia, especially Kensington suffer from high crime rates, poverty, and hunger. My social responsibility is to partner with local organizations and churches to provide quality services in the areas of education, nutrition and sports that will motivate children, youth, adults and seniors. My overall purpose of working with other community stakeholders is to improve the overall well-being of my neighbors by providing resources and tools for our neighbors to improve their mental, social and physical attributes. As a privileged college graduate, I realized that I can not solve the problems the people in this neighborhood face everyday: homelessness, joblessness, hunger but I can contribute as an ally of this community in assisting the people. I carefully have to remind myself, my service is not about me but about the people. I provide the resources that allow them to empower themselves.
After personally speaking with community members about their vision of more accessible services and better outreach programs for the community, I have contacted three other churches and local organization for possible outreach initiatives. Some of my work included meeting with the Office of Councilman Maria Quinones to see how City Hall can provide grants for the after-school program, the food pantry and other service projects for this year. I was amazed to experience firsthand how the community can assess their own problems and seek government representatives to fortify the community. I envision my partnership with residents, the Councilman, and church advocates as a braid, constantly weaving different resources together to make the community stronger.
Last week, Padre Jose and I attended an Open House (Conocenos) at Taller Puertorriqueno, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping students deepen their understanding of Puerto Rican and Afro-Latino culture through art and educational experiences. I absolutely fell in love with this organization! The Open House included a bomba and plena dance class, students illustrations, photographs, artwork and performance. I gained inspiration from attending the various activities and am currently brainstorming different activities for students at the Free Church of St. John program. I have high prospects for this year and can’t wait to update you all with my progress!
Anisa serves at the Free Church of St. John.
By Danielle Brown
Working at St. James School has been tough, hectic and time consuming. On paper, the job description blatantly outlines the mandatory 12-hours days, but considering lesson planning, material checking, and Xeroxing, 12-hours days easily turn into 14-hours days with work on the weekends, too. The learning curb is incredibly steep; I must make three large mistakes daily. I am constantly asking my co-workers for advice or for quick grading, attendance checking, and other miscellaneous tutorials. There are days I am mentally exhausted, physically sick, and spiritually stretched to my limits. I am constantly treading water and sometimes I can only do enough to come up for air only every few minutes.
But I would not trade my placement for the world, and here are five reasons why.
One: I joined the Episcopal Service Corps to become closer to my faith, and to place Christianity at the forefront of my life. Although all Episcopal Service Corps programs incorporate high levels of faith formation and intentional community, the job placements do not always fall in line. However, St. James School begins each day with a prayer, each class with a prayer, every Thursday with a Mass, and hosts fieldtrips to weekly mass services at St. Marks. Furthermore, the school has an ordained priest who spiritually guides me, and a chaplain who helps me deeply understand different Christian rituals.
Two: In most Episcopal Service Corps programs, each member has different placements, but at the St. James School there are two volunteer Co-teachers from Servant Year, and this year it is Cory and me. Because of the job description, I do not always get to check with Cory daily, but as the other person in Servant Year who understands and is also coping with the demands of St. James School, he is an incredible support system. I without a doubt am lucky to have a placement with a guaranteed support system.
Three: I purposefully applied and chose to accept the Co-teaching placement at St. James School with the intention of discovering if teaching middle school students is truly my passion. Based on the time that I have spent as a teacher, I now know that I cannot get enough of teaching! The rush of leading students and watching them understand new and complicated material is thrilling and the actual instruction is the best part of my day. Additionally, I now have an understanding of all the nitty-gritty skills I need to have to effectively have my students focused, interested in class, and prepared for transitions, and moreover I have all year to perfect and add to those nitty-gritty skills. As an immeasurable bonus I am learning to think on my feet and am beginning to archive lessons and activities for my future students.
Four: No matter how difficult the job is, or how badly I mess up, being a positive, supportive and consistent role model for the students at St. James School is changing students' lives. St. James School is purposefully placed and services students in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia, by simply being present for these students and challenging them into academic rigor the students are stepping up and opening doors to competitive high schools, which in turn alters their long term success. At the end of the day my students are what matters most.
Five: No matter how difficult the students are each day, they are changing my life in unexpected and positive ways. Simply knowing the students at St. James School and their stories is incredibly humbling. The problems they face at such a young age are real, and recognizing how they cope and survive is mind blowing.
Danielle serves as a co-teacher at the St. James School.
By Ongachi Simuli
My Servant Year work placement is with the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Germantown. Here at St. Luke’s I wear many hats; I am the Director of Youth Ministry and Christian Education. I will also be taking over as Director of the Food Pantry. I am very excited and honored to be in this position. My vision for the church is to ignite a familiar enthusiasm towards Christian education in youth as well as adults. In addition, I seek to implement more art, music, trips into the curriculum. My first major goal this year is to establish a solid framework for Christian education classes. I look forward to exploring Christian education with the parishioners of St. Luke’s and am blessed to be working with such open minded people. Currently, I am in the process of starting new classes after Sunday mass this November. Youth ministry is taking off this year with our “House of Chaos” Halloween Party on October 25th. I will be hosting the event and hope to see some of you there!
St. Luke’s Food Pantry has been one of the places I have found solace. The staff creates a very relaxed, homely atmosphere where we can service the community with food. When we bag food on Thursday mornings it is truly a family event. We have staff members and their kids and even grandkids helping out; the room is full of stories and laughter. On Fridays, when we distribute the bags of food, it really makes my week. Yes, we hand out food, but we also pray with the patrons too. It is a great feeling to be a part of a good cause.
This year embarks a challenging, yet rewarding spiritual journey for me. Success in every area of my life centers on me simply being happy and healthy. So I am reorganizing my life from adding meditation, journaling, exercise, positive affirmations to praying with my imagination, hugging myself and laughing at nothing. One of the hardest things for me to do right now are activities that require me to sit still (my housemates would agree!) So, I have fashioned my worship to fit my personality. I am a hardcore daydreamer and visual/kinetic learner; when I pray using my imagination I like to envision what I am praying for and feelings of the joy, love, etc. that go along with it.
I accept that my spiritual journey is going to be lifelong; I am still learning to accept the unknown. It has been one month into the program and I have had hard tear-filled days, but it is okay. We all go through ups and downs in life and it is those moments that make us stronger. I figured out that sometimes God just wants to see what I will do with what I have—will she encourage myself and still sing high notes when her day ends on a low note? Yes, I will! I will try because that is all I can do and all God wants me to. If I can walk halfway, He will carry me the rest and you too.
Ongachi serves at St. Luke's Church.