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.
On the first Servant Year retreat, I accomplished one of my life goals: seeing a bald eagle. It may sound ridiculous but it really was something I held as an experience akin to spotting a phoenix or unicorn. Bald eagles are symbols of the majestic and serene natural world and of this great nation. I had just vocalized to the people around me that I had never seen one when I was told to look over and up towards the bay and when I did, I saw the most beautiful bald eagle soaring above the water. I recognized God’s beauty and timing in that moment. It was like hearing God say to me, “You are in the right place and I am with you.”
Another of my life goals is to help people. While the environment that I work in is not as picturesque, serene, and beautiful as the retreat house that I stayed at, there are just as many small examples of God reminding me that I am where I am supposed to be at the right time. Today I learned that my supervisor at the day shelter where I work two days a week, the Norristown Ministries Hospitality Center, does not have more than a few years to live. I knew that he had a disease called ALS that has limited his physical capabilities drastically but I did not know that the disease moved so quickly. I feel that I have a lot to learn from him and I am thankful that I am here to learn from him at this time.
At the retreat, I was able to reflect on the work that I do with the homeless by stepping back from it and realizing the strengths that I bring to my workplace. In day-to-day work it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger meaning of the work because of all of the small tasks that must be done, which require our compete attention. When those tasks are difficult or when they do not appear to have an important and immediate impact, it is even easier to forget what it means to be called to service.
For me, Servant Year is about growth and becoming more comfortable with myself and whatever God has planned for me. At the retreat we discussed the different types of strengths that each person brings to the table. We each took a survey to determine our most apparent strengths. Some things that I had felt were weak traits in myself were redefined as my strengths and I realized that it is not about moving past those parts that are inherent to our unique personalities but learning to view and use them in the light of their potential strength. This is a powerful and freeing realization. I look forward to learning more about myself and God as this year progresses. There are endless lessons to learn and I am thankful to be in the perfect place to keep learning.
Karitsa's Agency Placement is at St. John's Episcopal Church in Norristown.