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.
By Deanna Pflieger
My spiritual journey and relationship with God has always been very personal to me. I grew up attending church and Sunday school every Sunday morning at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Albuquerque, NM until I moved to Fort Worth, TX for college. In Fort Worth, not two weeks into the new chapter in my journey, I found a church home at St. Paul Lutheran. Church was my time to talk to God and revel in His wonder. I had developed this personal time with God, and my time to reflect with God about my week was well-defined to Sunday morning services. I would interact with my fellow congregation, but this was a spiritual personal time for me. The time experiencing the service and worshipping had become very personal and apparently also very important to my weekly routine.
Working at Trinity Church Gulph Mills with the children and youth on Sunday morning has completely changed that dynamic of my Sunday morning ritual. Sunday mornings are no longer reserved for just my conversations with God. I have to be present mentally and physically at the Children’s service and Sunday school to nurture the children’s spiritual journey. I do not have any personal time to reflect on my week with God because I feel accountable for the spiritual well-being of the children and youth at Trinity Church. I need to be present for them and serve them on Sunday. Since starting at Trinity, I was not setting aside this time to be with God as I have been doing for the past 22 years of my life. I felt displaced.
I did not notice how much I was missing my time with God until a few weeks of Sunday mornings spent serving the spiritual journey of others. I realized that my ideals for how I would be spiritually fed would have to change. I believe I have a heart for service, therefore one of my reasons for joining Servant Year, but I had never let my personal spiritual journey and service for others fuse together as a personal time with God. Serving others was a time for community while my Sunday morning was time for personal reflection. Of course, I know God can be found anywhere and anytime. I had never considered that my spiritual journey could be impacted so greatly by this little tweak in my routine. That time I used to set aside has become to mean something different in my spiritual journey.
Even though much of my time is spent at a church and in the presence of God, I find Him urging me to find that personal time we shared before I began working at a church. I have begun to define my spiritual journey differently as I believe this is a year for service. Throughout this year of service, I hope my relationship with God will deepen as I find a new way to have my personal reflection time with God. I have not quite found a solution, but that is what makes it a journey, spiritual journey with lefts and rights that can leave me in my comfort zone or completely displace me.
Deanna serves as Coordinator for Children and Youth Ministry at Trinity Church Gulph Mills.
By Trish Johnston
Ship visiting is something that gets easier as you get into a routine of it: you stop forgetting your TWIC card at the office, you have more confidence driving in a terminal you’ve been at every day this week, you are constantly in the mindset it takes to do your best when you get on board. Some days I struggle with ship visiting for just an afternoon, especially if I haven’t been out on the port in months. Today was one of those days.
We are missing some of our key ship visiting manpower who are attending NAMMA conference happening in Montreal, so I have been on call for ship visiting this week. Mesfin was alone ship visiting today, and is a saint for bearing the brunt of the work. I was assigned only one ship, an extremely light load. Still, coming off two late nights writing a paper for school and with torrential rain in the forecast, I had to psych myself up to get ready to go out. Soon enough though, I knew God had his hand on my day.
I gathered everything I needed to go ship visiting: hard hat, TWIC, safety vest, phone cards, paperwork, pen, lunchbox; and then triple checked that I had the essentials. I headed down Columbus Boulevard, thinking over everything I had to do: both on board and when I got back to the office. It was all a little overwhelming.
No visitor vehicles are allowed to drive onto the pier at Packer Ave, instead we ride a van out to the ship. Most often, the ride is a fairly silent one, the driver focusing on getting where we need to go. Today, I stepped onto the van and the driver got a big smile on his face and said, ‘long time, no see!’ I grinned when I realized he remembered me – and we chatted the whole ride down the pier.
When I got on board I had wonderful conversations with the crew – I heard about a four year old son back in the Philippines, who loves cars. Every other word out his mouth when he skypes with his dad is ‘VROOM VROOM’. I got to see the joy on the face of a seafarer who is signing off in mid-October, he said he is very ready for three or four months at home. I witnessed to the worry of the crew of this ship who is headed from here down to Wilmington, NC, right alongside Hurricane Joaquin. I got to offer the promise that we would all be praying for them.
The visit was soon over and I headed down the gangway to wait for the van to come pick me up. After about 5 minutes, a safety checker in a pickup truck came over and said, ‘Hop in, there’s no reason for you to be waiting around out here,’ so I got a swift ride back to the gate to be on my way.
Despite my slow moving reluctance this morning, today was a holy day of ship visiting. I was reminded of the good nature of all the people that work on our piers. On board, I was reminded of the importance of our work and the ministry of presence we provide. And, it didn’t rain.
Trish serves as Volunteer Coordinator at the Seamen's Church Institute.