Connecting Church and Community
St. John’s struggles with a problem familiar to many churches. The congregation at St. John’s has dwindled and aged while the community that the church exists in has changed dramatically in completely new ways. Once more affluent and predominately Caucasian, Norristown is increasingly multicultural and has a higher poverty rate than neighboring areas. While I am not an expert on the ins and outs of religious affiliation, these facts point out that St. John’s lost its relevance within the community. Once the community began to change, St. John’s stopped seeing as many new families join the church and as time went on, the already established families within the church grew older and the kids went off to college or moved away from home. Fewer and fewer children were among the congregation until we reach present day, in which St. John’s has almost no youth and no youth programs.
I realized this fact as soon as I began my year here in Norristown and I wanted to do something that would change this reality. In a situation like this, however, a slow start is not an option. Many churches have Sunday school or a youth group for children but starting a program of that type would never get off the ground. Any new program at St. John’s must be big enough and exciting enough to draw the attention of parents in the community. It must appeal to the children, but also fulfill a need for the parents.
As a member of Servant Year, a program run by the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, I find out about the Diocesan programs and events that are the benefit of existing not in isolation but in a supportive network of churches that work together under the Diocese. When I heard about the City Camp program, I knew it was my ticket to reaching the youth of Norristown.
My hope for Camp St. John is just that. My hope is that the community will be open to our invitation and send children to the enriching, safe, loving environment that we cannot wait to provide. It seems strange to me that a desire to help the community like St. John’s has can go unfulfilled because of a disconnect between the church and the community. However, this is the case. The community has changed and the church has to reintroduce itself in a relevant way in order to reconnect. This camp is our opportunity to do that.
Karitsa's Ministry Placement is as Outreach Coordinator at St. John's Episcopal Church in Norristown.
One More Year?
After a year of service in Philadelphia, I find myself preparing for another year of service – only this time it will be in Thailand. I guess some might call me a glutton for punishment, others might call me an adventurer, and still others might call me a servant. I would say that I am a woman who has a sense of what she wants to do with her life, but feels she needs a few more life experiences before she gets on with the ultimate goal and calling. After all, God doesn’t call the equipped, but He equips the called, right?
I am going to Thailand through an organization called “Good Shepherd Volunteers.” I stumbled upon their website one day when I was filling out my hours for AmeriCorps. I accidentally clicked on a link that led me to Catholic Volunteers Network inquiry page that featured a form that matches service programs to your skills and preferred living situation. After filling out all of the necessary information, Good Shepherd Volunteers international program was one of two programs that matched my desires. They advertised a position working in Malaysia working in a residential facility for young women who have faced trauma. It has been my dream since I was 15 years old to become an aftercare counselor for girls who have faced sexual trauma, so it seemed like the exact kind of experience I was looking to get before going back to school. I immediately began the application process, and over the next few weeks poured myself into 16 pages of essays. Good Shepherd does not mess around with it’s application process!
About three weeks later, Good Shepherd contacted me about an interview. I was a mess of excitement and nerves when the interview rolled around, but it went well. We made good connections and left off on a very positive note. I was almost certain I was going to get it. About two weeks later, I received a call in which Good Shepherd informed me they would no longer be offering positions in Malaysia, but that I was still a very good international candidate. They told me that they thought I might do well in their Thailand placement, but that they couldn’t tell me too much about it for another few weeks. At this point, I was feeling like Good Shepherd was not going to work out. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, so I told myself not to worry about it and to think about what other options I have for the coming year.
Servant Year previously offered me a different position for the coming year, so this seemed like a viable option. I would be able to stay in this city which I have grown to love and call home, I would be near family and friends, and to top it all off, I would have a really cool job working as a church outreach coordinator in a difficult part of the city. It seemed like a great option and with Malaysia out, I began to get excited about what the coming year would hold.
That is, until I spoke to Good Shepherd again. They were able to tell me more specifically about what the job would hold in Thailand to work with the Hands of Hope Project. This is an income-generating project that began in 2005 for those living with HIV/AIDS. Due to their illness, the workers at Hands of Hope find it very difficult to find work and have often faced discrimination in their village communities. Hands of Hope provides a place for these people to work together to produce beautiful handmade crafts. These fair trade crafts are sold locally and to international partners in Australia, Europe, and the United States. They said it would be my job to connect these producers with companies that will buy their products. More than anything though, they said my job would be about making relationships and being present with those who have been disdained by so many before. This is not at all what I was looking for, but exactly what I’ve wanted all along. I didn’t know that right then and there though. The opportunity made me giddy, but terrified me at the same time.
It seemed too big a decision to just say yes, so I worried. I worried some more and whined a lot. I wrote a pros and cons list. I prayed. I talked to everyone about it. And then something flipped in me, I didn’t really think it, I just spoke it out loud. I was sitting at my desk at work and I simply said, “I’m going to Thailand? I’m… going to… Thailand. I’m GOING TO THAILAND.” As soon as I just exhaled and said it out loud, I felt an incredible sense of peace.
So, as of now, the plan is that I will finish Servant Year at the end of July and then just two weeks later head off for ten days of orientation before I fly to my new home in Thailand. Again, I am a mess of excitement and nerves, but I feel at peace about this decision... Who knows what adventures this coming year will hold?!
Tamarah's Ministry Placement is as Case Manager at Diversified Community Services.