By Virginia Wilhoff
I work as a case manager with Bethesda Project, an organization which strives to be family to those who have none, namely the homeless of Philadelphia. To be more specific, I work at Bainbridge, a supportive housing facility for formerly homeless men who have a mental health diagnosis and/or have experienced addiction. Each man has his own room and is provided support through medication monitoring, case management, and a staff member present at the house at all times. Some of the men may eventually move out while others might stay there indefinitely. In either case, Bainbridge provides the men a stable home where they can grow and thrive.
All of the cases on my caseload are unique because all of the men are unique individuals. Case work is largely about building relationships and that can only be done if you treat each case as a separate person. Vulnerable populations may have many things in common. Those who have experienced mental illness or addiction may face similar obstacles. Studies are helpful because they provide insight on the macro level into what these groups of people face in the city every day. Yet, when someone is standing in front of you, he is Joe Smith and not just a number in a study. Even if much of my time is spent looking up benefits, making phone calls regarding housing, trying to figure out what insurance does and does not pay for, a key part of my time is learning about a resident's favourite food, the significant relationships in his life, or something he is proud of from his past. In order for me to help the residents with anything, I have to know them first as individuals.
Through the relationships I am building, I am doing ministry. Though I am not there to spread God's Word through actual words, presence is a form of ministry. Many of the people at Bethesda have complicated and sometimes non-existent relationships with family members. Sometimes, this situation, though not ideal, is for the best; at other times, it can be very sad for the individual. In both cases, though, it means that they do not have the support systems in place to help them through tough times. Dealing with frustrating governmental systems, their own mental health crises, or frightening medical diagnoses can be difficult to face alone. When residents stand beside each other and when staff stand beside residents through these tough moments, we are all allowing God's light to shine through us onto others.
It is not all doom and gloom, though. Being family to those who have none is also about enjoying life together. When the residents joke with staff or when they play bingo with volunteers, we enjoy each other's company and the time we are spending together. Recently, we celebrated birthdays at Bainbridge, and we were truly sharing in God's joy at the existence of these individuals. Through my work as a case manager, I have learned what the ministry of presence means, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.
Ginny's ministry placement is as a Case Manager at Bethesda Project.
By Lindsay Barrett-Adler
Last week I joined leaders from the other 215 volunteer and lay mission programs of The Catholic Volunteer Network (CVN) for our national conference in Maryland. Our work spans across mission fields and around the globe, with more than 19,000 volunteers and lay missioners in 112 different countries. Not only was I excited to be attending my first CVN gathering, we were also celebrating the organization's 50th anniversary.
Throughout the worship services, one hymn was consistently used as a thread to weave all of our time together. I had never heard Barbara Bridge's "We Walk By Faith" before, but instantly fell in love with its message and was especially moved that we sang the conference's theme (Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow) as a refrain. Here is what we sang:
We walk by faith and not by sight, through woe and joy, through dark and light.
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
We journey not alone, forsaken. You walk with us, our God and friend.
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
I have to confess that I have a slight bias against talking about faith as "a journey". To be more specific, inspirational posters with a peaceful wooded path or a sunset on the beach and some quote about journeys make me kind of sick. This isn't my experience of faith. Faith, for me, has not always been a relaxing stroll down God Avenue and I think it's dangerous to set this as an implied standard for other people of faith. Moses and some other Biblical figures might agree.
Bridget's image of a journey through the dark, tripping over roots, and sometimes feeling totally alone feels more honest to me. Sometimes my faith life is down a beautiful path and I thank God for that season of grace and assurance. Other times, I feel like I need a machete to cut though all of the obstacles and dilemmas ahead. Much like members of our volunteer programs, I find myself praying, "What am I doing here? What's next in this day, in this year, for my life? Where are you calling me to go and who are you calling me to be?"
During a particularly confusing time, I remember talking though some of these questions with my pastor. His response remains one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me. He said, "Everyone thinks that you start life and the path you're supposed to go down is crystal clear. You walk from post to post, checking off boxes and collecting honors, raises and professional success. I don't think it works like that. I think we're mostly moving from lantern to lantern. Sometimes you can barely see the next one and a soft glow tells you roughly the right direction you should move, but you could still lose your way. You could still get lost. God puts these lanterns, people and places, in your life to illuminate the night."
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow countless people and places have been lanterns in my life. The Church recently celebrated All Saints' Day, a time for us to remember not only family and friends who shaped us, but also people who inspired us with words like, "I have a dream" or "Make me an instrument of your peace".
Walking by faith today, completely clueless as to where the next step is taking me, is not easy. The control freak in me wants a map, or at the very least a packing list or trip itinerary (even an outline would do). These don't usually come floating down like manna and I'm left with God reassuring me, "I'm here. I'll always be here. Even to the end of the age. But part of following me is doing just that. You can't follow and lead at the same time, kid."
And so we move along, lantern to lantern. Yesterday, today, tomorrow.
Lindsay Serves as Program Director and Associate for Young Adult Ministries.
By Don Hopkins