By Virginia Wilmhoff
I work as a case manager with Bethesda Project. I serve 20 men living at Bainbridge, a permanent supportive housing facility. Each resident is formerly homeless with addiction and/or mental health diagnoses.
Since I started my position, I have learned more about hope. Over the years, many of the Bainbridge residents have struggled with addiction, mental illness, intellectual disabilities, or health problems, all of which can be extremely frustrating or even debilitating. Now, when they are faced with filling out complicated forms, navigating systems, managing money, or performing daily living tasks, they can be overwhelmed by the skills they lack to face these situations.
The residents, though, are all capable of accomplishing their goals. They got themselves off the streets, conquered drug and/or alcohol addictions, and have obtained treatment for health and/or mental illness diagnoses. Still, dealing with forms, systems, finances, and daily living can be difficult and, therefore, can take huge leaps of faith to accomplish. I have witnessed them take those leaps, and through the process, I have seen them gain greater independence.
The residents may gain confidence in themselves, but by sharing a house, they continually are confronted by the shortcomings of others. Many of the residents are struggling in a variety of ways, and when they encounter others who are also struggling, conflicts can arise. At the same time, the residents still enjoy each others' company. When they are together even when they don't always like each other, they are demonstrating hope.
Hoping in a broken world may be harder still. The residents can be overwhelmed by larger problems that seem like they are never going to change. Whether it's high prices, not enough low income housing, or confusing health care and benefits systems, it often seems like the world will never be on the residents' side. Yet, despite the fact that the world isn't perfect, they have all overcome challenges to find a safe, stable place to live. They are all seeing the beauty in a broken world, envisioning the good in the struggle.
Witnessing hope at Bainbridge has challenged me to be more hopeful. I can be negative about my own life and where it is going. I get discouraged when I consider what I do not have and where I am not. Since the new year, I have challenged myself to be more positive, and I am trying to be grateful more often. Instead of being negative about what I don't have, I have been trying to focus on what I do have. This discipline has helped me be more hopeful about my present and future.
I love taking photographs, and one of my favourites is of crocuses, stretching up to the sunlight. I wish the sun beamed like that all the time, but it doesn't. It's often hidden behind clouds of various kinds. In Thomas Hardy's poem, 'The Darkling Thrush', a man watches a thrush sing 'of joy illimited' as dusk overtakes a cold winter's day. As a case manager, I'm learning how to sing 'of joy illimited' even when there are clouds overhead. Because of the gleams of light already shining through the men at Bainbridge, I am inspired to continue singing.
Ginny's ministry placement is as a Case Manager at Bethesda Project.
By Noah Stansbury
Before 2013 had quite come to an end, I had 2014 all worked out. I had just finished pulling together my application to Episcopal Service Corps and clicked “submit”. It was out of my hands, off into the world. I’d wait to see who offered interviews and before long I’d have a plan in place for August. After a few years of working in customer service, I was ready to move on with my life and put in some time figuring out my ministry.
A few interviews were scheduled, Servant Year among them, but I didn’t know that much about the program and my sights were set elsewhere. On top of it, I didn’t feel like my first interview with Servant Year went that well, so I prepared to write it off and narrow the field down. I was taken aback when at the end of the call, Lindsay suggested I talk to the director of St. James School about an immediate opening they had. It was unexpected, and I had never envisioned myself working in a school, but why not? In any discernment process, it seems foolish to say no when you can say yes. Less than a week later I was accepting the job and preparing to uproot my life and move to Philadelphia, sight unseen. I didn’t know what had just happened, but I had boarded the train and was along for the ride.
I don’t put a lot of stock in making big choices based on gut feeling. Approaching things with calm and rationally is the preferred method of doing these things, right? Keep everything in order, logical, and sanitized and you’ll arrive at the right conclusion. It’s science. But the way God comes to us unbidden, that thing we call “grace,” is messy, often ill-timed, invasive, and above all hard to ignore. It rarely shows up in ways we expect or prefer, but if you’re paying attention, you know it when you hear it. And if you heed that call -- like Abraham and Sarah, like David, like Mary and Joseph and Peter and Matthew, like Martin Luther and Martin Luther King -- it will change everything and it’s going to be uncomfortable.
As I talked with the head of school, I had an unmistakable sense of the school’s role as an oasis in a desert of poverty, crime, and violence; an inbreaking of the reign of God in a place that desperately needed it. After that phone call, I found myself giving serious consideration to a job in a field in which I had no pre-existing interest, at a place I had never heard of, in a city I had never visited. It was weird. I kept vacillating between, “Oh my god, this is incredible and exactly what I’ve been looking for,” and, “Oh my god, this is insane; what are you doing?”
“God, make me good, but not yet,” goes the saying. Transform me, but wait until I say I’m ready. We look for God to show up, and then we’re surprised when it happens. This is, in itself, entirely unsurprising. God’s work in the world involves human effort, but it can’t be predicated on it. I’ve been thinking about doing a service year for a long time, but in those periods after I found an excuse to put it off again, I can see the ways in which I was being prepared, even when I didn’t realize it. And then wham. “You don’t feel ready, but this is it. It’s time. Go.” That’s the beauty of grace: sometimes it’s quiet and mundane and hard to grasp, and sometimes it really does arrive in your world with all the subtlety of a train.
Noah’s ministry placement is at St. James School as Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator.
By David Kilp
"Mission: the vocation or calling of a religious organization, especially a Christian one, to go out into the world and spread its faith."
The above definition is what came up when I typed the word “mission” into Google. I think we can all agree that it is not really the idea we had in our heads...at least it wasn't for me. When I think of "mission," I think of going somewhere in South America or Africa to help poor people in need, but not going out to spread faith.
While mission work that involves helping people is not wrong, it is much more meaningful when you are building relationships with those you are helping. Mission has lost a lot of its meaning in the past years. Mission should not be looked at as a mandatory “if you don't do this you're a bad person,” or, “if I do this it will look good on my college application” type of work. It should be looked at as an intentional decision to help others and form new believers in Christ.
I know that the Five Marks of Mission are used fairly often in the Episcopal Church but there is a reason behind it: they hit the nail on the head.
Here are the Five Marks of Mission:
Most people look at these marks the way they are numbered: 1,2,3,4, and 5. I like to look at them in a little bit of a different way. We as Christians are called to respond to human need by loving service, safeguarding the integrity of creation, transforming unjust structures of society and pursue peace and reconciliation. Through these things we can proclaim the good news of the Kingdom and teach, baptize and nurture new believers. When we look at the Marks of Mission as one being we are unlocking the door to a real and true mission experience. The marks are not for picking and choosing what you want to do; the Marks stand together and when you are doing one you should be doing them all.
Integrating community, mission and teaching into one experience will change the way we look at mission. It will change the way people act towards it. We will not longer expect praise. We will no longer be serving inauthentically. We will be serving God and his church through a meaningful and authentic way.
David's ministry placement is with the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania as the Youth Ministry Assistant for the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE).