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.
By John Owens
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
By Lindsay Barrett-Adler
Before directing Servant Year, I was a social worker in South Philadelphia. First as a case manager and after school program leader for teenagers, then as a truancy case manager, I was told again and again an old social work mantra, “Lean into the discomfort.”
I remember talking with co-workers about homes with odd smells, teenagers using words completely unfamiliar to me (everything in Philly is a "jawn"), and any number of other experiences that made me squirm. Patiently and lovingly they would listen to my stories and then, usually, say, “Lean into the discomfort.” This is not to say that I ignored dangerous situations or did not report significant safety threats to local authorities, but I began to meet people where they were- even if it wasn’t where I was most comfortable.
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.
By David Kilp
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.