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.
By The Rev. Sarah Hedgis
Life with God involves service.
“But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant … for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve…” (Mark 10:43-44).
What a good and important reading for us today, as you begin this journey with Servant Year. It’s a reading that emphasizes a word we’ve been thinking about all week and that we are focusing on as our theme for today: service.
“I didn’t come to be served but rather to serve” (Mark 10:44).
But it’s also about being surprised.
But there’s another word I want you to think about: And that word is surprise.
Throughout this retreat—during all of our engaging, discussing, and embodying— we’ve talked a lot about life with God and one another. We talked about how life together has to include formation, community, and–yes—service.
But I want to talk for a few minutes about how life with God and one another also has a lot to do with surprise.
Look at the surprising ways God acts in the Bible.
Remember our readings for today and consider the surprising ways God acts in the Bible:
The psalmist, whose suffering had him down and out, now stands in the very center of the “great congregation” praising and teaching (Ps. 22:25).
In 1 Peter, it is when “the end of everything has come” that the community of early Christians are surprised to learn they must begin living out the Gospel.
In the OT reading, the Prophet of Zechariah speaks to the few and broken Israelites who have remained in Judah during the exile. Unlike the exiles, these people were able to stay in their homes. Yes, they are still in Zion, but Zion is empty. Their temple is gone. Their families are gone. It seems even God is gone.
And then God says, “I have returned to Zion; I will settle in Jerusalem” (Zech. 8:3). God will come back. And so will their families. And there will even be new families: “Old men and old women will again dwell in the plazas of Jerusalem. Each of them will have a staff in their hand because of their great age. The city will be full of boys and girls playing in its plazas” (Zech. 8:4-5).
Where it seems there is nothing, God declares there will be something. And not just something, but everything: “The seed is healthy:/the vine will give its fruit./The land will produce;/the heavens will give its dew./I will give the remnant of this people all these things” (Zech. 8:12)
That same unexpected healing is present in the Gospel reading. Jesus has just told the disciples his extreme, confusing, and even disappointing teaching that the Messiah has come not to rule but to serve. He’s walking with his disciples, perhaps continuing this conversation, and there’s a “sizeable crowd” around him. With all of this going on, Jesus still hears Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, calling his name. The crowd doesn’t expect Jesus to respond, so they shush the man. Maybe even Bartimaeus doesn’t expect Jesus to respond because the crowd has to interrupt his shouting to say, “He’s heard you—go!”
No expects this man to be heard. But Jesus hears him. Against the odds of busy crowds, social stigmas, and Jesus’ own weighty march to Jerusalem, the Son of God surprises everyone. And while it is indeed amazing that Jesus heals this man, thesurprise is that Jesus chooses to see a person to whom the world has become blind. Jesus’ healing is surprising not because Bartimaeus cannot see the world, but because the world chooses not to see Bartimaeus. But this is who Jesus sees, speaks to, and heals. This is the one Jesus, the Son of God, serves.
Think about God’s surprising ways in your own life.
Think about when you’ve experienced God’s surprising ways in your own life:
· When has something turned out differently than you thought?
· When have your assumptions been overturned? Your horizons widened?
· When has a surprise challenged you?
· When has a surprise made something new and better than you ever imagined?
Being open to surprise is how we live in service
Each of you have bravely and willingly committed to a life of service over this next year.
But along with service, what I hope you will take with you for the year ahead is this:be open to a surprising life with God. Because these surprises are essential to service. They show us how to live out this life of service. They open us up to God’s presence; help us understand Jesus’ call to serve; teach us how to enact God’s love in the world. God surprising visions imagine—and maybe even rely on—us taking part in them.
Going back to Zechariah, God declares the surprising things God will do for those in Judah and then says, “These are the things you should do: Speak the truth to each other; make truthful, just, and peaceable decisions within your gates” (Zech. 8:16, emphasis mine).
God gives surprising help to the psalmist and the psalmist’s whole life becomes about showing that help to others: “Let all those who are suffering eat and be full!/Let all who seek the Lord praise him!/I pray your hearts live forever!” (Ps. 22:26)
The writer of 1 Peter declares our salvation has been made complete through Jesus Christ by writing, “The end of everything has come.” But that is precisely when we are called to love and serve one another most fiercely.
Jesus heals Bartimaeus. And then what does Bartimaeus do? He follows Jesus.
Life with God is call and response. Surprise and service.
So be prepared to be surprised!
So be open to a surprising life with God. Be open to a God who chooses to act through suffering and exiled people; through people like Bartimaeus who the world does not see; and through servants like Jesus. A God who says the greatest people are those who joyfully become the least.
If you’re open to this life with God, I can’t tell you exactly where God will take you, but I believe it will include incredible places marked by God’s faithfulness, justice, and love. I believe it will form you into your truest self. I believe it will include loving community. And, yes, service. I believe it will be an amazing way to live your life.
So, when you leave here to go in peace to love and serve the Lord, be prepared to be surprised.
Preached by The Reverend Sarah Hedgis, Servant Year Chaplain, at Opening Retreat Eucharist on 8/21/15.
By Trish Johnston
“Here’s the truth: Life sucks sometimes.
When it hurts so bad that you can’t go on,
Life keeps moving on.
When you feel that you've been done wrong,
When you're sure your world is coming down around you,
Life keeps moving on”
As Servant Year round 1 comes to a close for me, I can’t help but think of this song by one of my favorite artists, Ben Rector. This year hasn’t always been easy, and the words of this song were a comfort during those tough times. The idea that ‘life keeps moving on’ reminded me that time was out my control, that no matter what I was going through, or how long the weeks seemed, time was still passing. Even if it didn’t look like things were changing, they were. And life did move on, I made it through those challenging times.
“When it's good
When you're flying higher
When your feet float up above the ground around you
Life keeps moving on
When you're glad,
When you're fat and happy,
When you don't need for anything,
Life keeps moving on”
As I head into this next chapter of my time with Servant Year, these words call me to remember that the good times, too, are only temporary. I am prepared to be grateful for each and every moment of this coming year; to relish in all that is going on around me and within me. I want to remember that though a year seems like a long time at the start, it goes by quickly, and it is time that I’ll never get back. I want to take hold of my next year, and make it all that it can be.
“We're better off the sooner that we find
That life is mostly what we choose to see”
And lastly, these words encompass the most important thing I’ve learned this year: I can’t control what's happening around me, but I sure can control how I look at it. Walking away from Servant Year #1, I’m going to be very intentional about which things that I’ve experienced this year are coming with me into the next. The moments when I was sure my world was coming down around me, those are getting left behind. But the moments when I was flying high, those are coming with me. And I’m certain there will be more of each in the next 12 months. But after year #1, I’m prepared, I’m grounded, and I’m determined to never let life move past me.
“At this pace
We're gonna get somewhere
If it's good or bad, if it's slow or fast
Life keeps moving on”
You can listen to the whole song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1NKlW0t-wY
(Its highly recommended)
Trish Serves as Director of Communications at Seamen's Church Institute (SCI).
By Michael Debaets
If my Servant Year has had a theme, it's been the theme of charity.
In itself, signing up for Servant Year Philadelphia is a charitable action -- it's donating a year of time and energy to the program. And, during the following months, as I worked at Covenant House PA, lived at House of Prayer, and completed the requirements of the Servant Year program, when my motivation would sometimes fail, I got the strength to continue by recalling and recommitting to my initial charitable decision.
By continually renewing that original charitable commitment, I have learned that the best way to put charity into action is to commit to doing a little bit over a long period of time.
At the beginning of the year, I was trying to do too much. I would be looking for extra charitable things that I could do for other people. I wanted to see that I had made a positive impact.
Covenant House seemed, at first, like the perfect place to do "extra charitable things," because there were so many opportunities for "going the extra mile." I wanted to really help these young men, to go above and beyond.
But whenever I got caught up in "doing extra charity" for any one of the residents in particular, I lost track of the big picture, my professional responsibilities, the reason why I was there. And the reason why I was there was to administer the charity of Covenant House. There's no charity called Michael DeBaets House. These men didn't come to Covenant House PA to get my help. They came to get Covenant House's help.
And Covenant House's help is nothing to scoff at. Covenant House -- the nation-wide organization -- is the largest provider of housing to homeless teens in the United States, and perhaps in the world.
When I began to realize that Covenant House was so good, I became free from a feeling of over-obligation to the residents. These days, whenever I start to wish I could do something extra to help them, I remind myself that I have already done a lot of good for them by working for the organization that shelters them. And I recommit to the structure of Covenant House, which keeps me from falling into sympathy too easily.
I don't have to do extra charity. I am already doing charity.
Covenant House was a great place to learn this, but I have also learned this by living with my housemates and by living within the structure of Servant Year. The explicit agreements that we make -- those are our primary obligations. And we keep those primary obligations, and they sustain our community.
For instance, my house wrote in our house rule that we meet every Wednesday to share dinner, and we meet every Sunday to plan the week. Rules like that are our long-term plan for house happiness. It's a little bit of charity spread out over a year. And that's our obligation to each other.
I've learned that, when I have these structures in place, I can relax a bit. I can trust.
And maybe that's God's little gift of charity to me.
Michael serves as Youth Advisor at Covenant House.
By Catherine Shaw
I’ve spent a lot of time ruminating on that crucial question: who am I? I haven’t yet managed to answer it to my satisfaction, nor do I think I ever will, but, like most people, I’ve formed a basic sense of self from my likes and dislikes, the things I’m good at and those I’m not, my background, blah-de-blah-de-blah. (I know I’m not saying anything new or revolutionary here.) Of course, life always gets interesting when something in my life forces me to redefine the way I think of myself. College was responsible for several identity crises (maybe that’s why it’s so expensive…), many of which involved realizing I really wasn’t as good at something as I thought I was.
Oddly enough, it’s much easier for me admit and adjust to being worse at something than I thought I was than it is for me to integrate something new into my idea of myself. At least, I find it odd, since why wouldn’t I find it easy to claim a new skill or ability as something at which I excel?
If you’re wondering why you’re drowning in this morass of self-examination, you should blame Servant Year. More specifically, you should blame Servant Year’s mid-year retreat. Most specifically, you should blame the Clifton StrengthsFinder test we took prior to the retreat and which we discussed at retreat. (Yes, I had fun with that little progression. Probably more than I should have.)
Donald Clifton, a psychologist, created the StrengthsFinder test after many, many years of research. He identified thirty-four “themes of talent” and the test determines which of these are your top five strengths. Mine were:
5. Developer (my first reaction to this one: what does this even mean?)
While I generally take this kind of thing with a grain of salt, I was still pretty surprised to find empathy and developer made it on the list. Not that I think I’m unempathetic, exactly, but I’ve never considered myself particularly skilled at figuring out other people’s emotions without some sort of verbalization on their part. I definitely don’t “hear the unvoiced questions…anticipate the need…find the right words and right tone [where others grapple for words]” (Rath, 97). I’m good at listening, but I always struggle to find the right words to say. Usually all I’ve got is something along the lines of “I hear you, and I understand where you’re coming from. I’m here.” Yes, there is a degree of empathy there, but I don’t think I’ll ever number it among my greatest strengths.
According to the StrengthsFinder book we received to help us interpret our results, being a “developer” means that I “see potential in others. Very often, in fact, this is all [I] see…when [I] interact with others, [my] goal is to help them experience success. [I] look for ways to challenge them. [I] devise interesting experiences that can stretch them and help them grow. All the while [I am] on the lookout for the signs of growth…[that] are [my] fuel. They bring [me] strength and satisfaction” (Rath, 89). Umm, no. Yes, I like helping people get things done or figure things out, but I don’t do that because of the potential I see in them or because I want to help them along their journey of self-discovery/self-actualization – I have never thought of it that way. I just do it because I like to. So I disagree pretty strongly with this particular theme’s presence in the list of my top five strengths.
My StrengthsFinder results spurred a lot of introspection (hence the beginning of this blog post). While I disagreed with some of my results, it made me examine my thoughts and actions more closely in certain areas to see if I had missed some indication of my abilities in those areas. A few months later, I still disagree with the empathy and developer strengths, so the StrengthsFinder test didn’t cause a life epiphany that helped me figure everything out, sigh. But I do think it was a valuable exercise in that it prompted me to question my sense of identity and to pay more attention to why conceive of myself the way I do.
So there you go. No mind-blowing revelation of life-changing proportions, but more of a small challenge to my equilibrium with positive consequences. Not bad.
Catherine Serves as Director of Christian Education at St. Luke's Church.
By James Roll
In late August, a motley group of young adults embarked on a challenging year of intentionally living together while serving at various placements such as The Bethesda Project, St. James’ School, and the Office of Family and Young Adult Ministries for the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. I am proud to admit that my community initially bonded over the boy who lived, Harry Potter, as well as a mutual love of puzzles. Since then, we’ve somehow navigated situations such as the washing machine catching fire and the uncanny ability of Ozzie, the lovable yellow Labrador in residence at St Mark’s, to take a chunk out of any cake in the kitchen. I could certainly go on about the moments that our community has shared, but lately I have been pondering about what makes my current community intentional rather than just a bunch of individuals merely coexisting in the same place.
I think that Servant Year is intentional because we strive to take the time to share our joys, our stories, and our inevitable frustrations. Whether it is taking the time to prepare and enjoy a meal together, or going out for coffee, or simply listening to each other venting about life, or going for a late night walk with headphones in. I think that the members of a Servant Year community offer incredible support to each other, which has helped us to grow throughout the course of this year. Then again, Servant Year is about more than just service. Take for instance, my friendship with a fellow Servant Year member, Trish.
During the fall, Trish brilliantly proposed that a few Servant Year members join a volleyball league in pursuit of stardom. While there was some hope that we would get a good group together, in the end, only Trish and I ended up pursuing our dreams of volleyball glory. Instead of volleyball glory, we found an amazing group of people who we have built good and hopefully lasting relationships with in the throes of an eight game losing streak. While our team has finally discovered a winning formula of late, Trish has continued to soldier on with the wonderful work that she happens to be doing with the her Servant Year placement, Seamen's Church Institute, an organization that annually aids 30,000 seafarers, who form the backbone of the international shipping industry. I’m certainly jealous that Trish has had the opportunity to engage with individuals from a wide range of countries such as Latvia, Georgia, and the Philippines. I’m even more envious of the stories that she’s managed to be a part of during her time there. She has been enabled through her service to help a seafarer who needed to wire money home to pay for an operation for his daughter. Or there was the day that she managed to be a part of a reunion for family members who have not seen each other for over eleven years. Trish has the fortune to begin graduate school at Penn part time while continuing with Servant Year as a Second Year Fellow, serving at SCI next year. Servant Year has made it possible for us to share stories that inspire us to do more at our own placements; however, Servant Year is more than just service. Another one of my fellow Servant Year members, Catherine, is a prime example of this.
Catherine just so happens to have a sister who knows my sister as both engage in some capacity at Haverford College. Small world, huh? Catherine arrived this year as a complete newcomer to the Episcopal Church having grown up as a Methodist. She serves as the Youth Leader at St. Luke’s, Germantown--a church that I had the chance to explore as a counselor there for City Camp. Catherine recently remarked in a blog post that she once questioned how different the two protestant denominations could be. She quickly was struck by a bunch of differences that we perhaps take for granted. Why is there real wine? How are these Episcopalians eerily good at reading responsively? Do we really need to cross ourselves this often? Perhaps the biggest question was why don’t these hymns have titles? For some, like Catherine, Servant Year offers the opportunity to explore a church that is unfamiliar, and to see whether the shoe fits.
The shoe of the Episcopal Church definitely seems to fit for the members of Servant Year who just so happen to hail from Georgia. I’ve spent most of the year working alongside another person returning to the program next year as a Second Year Fellow- Ellen Doster, who engages with the families and children of St. Mark’s through the Boys and Girls Choir and Schola. While she may be a little bee crazy at the moment since the arrival of a hive or two of bees at St. Mark’s, Ellen, I think, has thrived in a place where she has been able to explore in more depth what her faith means, along with discovering more about various liturgies in the Episcopal Church. While I may not be overly excited to engage in a theological discussion, it has been evident that Ellen has the enthusiasm to indulge in a long conversation about why we do things in a particular way because she cares about the way we do things.
Servant Year arranged a road trip to Sewanee's School of Theology, and it was evident to me the excitement that Ellen had at returning to a place that she considers to be a home and it seems to me that Sewanee is a place where she can return to further her theological education. For some reason, various individuals at St. Mark’s love to ask me the question, “Is seminary in your future?” To which I often find myself replying, Not mine, but Ellen will probably be the one going down that path.
So then, where do I fit in? As a cradle Episcopalian, I grew up playing Satan’s on the Warpath, engaging with various communities on mission trips, serving as an acolyte, and going to four services in 12 hours beginning on Christmas Eve like every good little Episcopalian does. I went to college at Kenyon, a historically Episcopal school. I served for a youth leader for a local church. I was elected to the vestry at Harcourt Parish twice, I ran mission trips for Youthworks, I was let loose to run amok at Camp Mitchell in the Diocese of Arkansas. I guess that you can say that the church has been a large part of my life. Why then am I left to muse exactly when I stopped believing in God? Somewhere along the road, Jesus lost his place in my heart, and my once surefire faith disappeared. Was it after my priest cheated on his family with a member of the congregation? Was it during the summer I spent running mission trips in the closet? Was it when I was removed from being a youth leader and forced to leave a charismatic church because I was honest about the fact that I was gay? While it would be easy to place the blame of my loss of faith with a broken church or two, honestly, that doesn’t quite leave me satisfied.
I elected to come to Servant Year because I had hope that I would find something that I lost in an intensely religious community. I wanted to reflect upon the hollowness that I felt whenever I attempted to participate in any particular worship service. I wanted to rediscover the meaning behind the cross. A part of me imagined that serving a vibrant community would bring me in from the wilderness that I’ve long been wandering as I try to come to terms with all that has happened. Instead of finding God, who appears to be better at hiding than Carmen Sandiego, I’ve found something better. I’ve found myself.
I don’t know who God is right now--but that’s okay because I’ve realized that I have a purpose. I am here to serve a wonderful community in which I have had the opportunity to create wonderful relationships. Several of my food cupboard clients have realized that I’ve been dealing with hip tendonitis, which has brought several offers from various clients to come and help me unload the large delivery that we get from Philabundance every other week.
Mr. Ballard is planning on being there again next week to help me out again, which is delightful--but even more touching is the fact that Mr. Ballard asked me for advice on how to deal with a particular troublesome volunteer at another organization. Then there’s Robert, who had been an avid attendee of Evening Prayer and Masses at St. Mark’s before he reached out to get involved in the Food Cupboard and the Soup Kitchen. I remember that there would be days that the only people at Evening Prayer were Robert and I. A part of me wonders whether he would have reached out to join a valuable ministry at St. Mark’s had I not been present enough to engage with him. While Robert hasn’t been around lately due to a recent surgery, I have had the joy of being able to visit him and to continue to build a friendship with him.
While there’s certainly the irksome thought that someone else who has a firm belief in God would be better suited to working at St. Mark’s, I think sometimes it’s easy for me to get lost in the minor details. Sometimes it’s important to remember that even if something like the words I say at a mass or at the Daily Office don’t mean anything to me, they matter to someone else. These services give us the chance to be a place for someone else to enter our doors to engage with our outreach--and to be a part of something wonderful. For me, I constantly find myself lost in the laughter of an early morning at the Soup Kitchen and realize that this is where I’m meant to be for this moment--purely because the outreach at St. Mark’s can be fun. Whether it’s watching someone play chess, having conversations, walking the dogs, or changing the way that the Food Cupboard is run, or simply being present, I am here for this community. It’s funny that a part of me feels like I had to let go of my relationship with God and take a step back and remember what I love about being at St. Mark’s. I am here to serve a vibrant community full of small joys, regardless of the fact that I’m currently faithless--and that’s okay.
James Serves as Ministry Resident at St. Mark's Church.
By Elizabeth Davis
Let’s talk favorites. I talked in my first blog post about some of the ways in which Philadelphia has far exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations. I thought it might be nice to share some of my favorites with whoever reads this thing, with the off chance that you might be in/end up in Philly.
The place where I spend all of my time: I discovered this place in January, and the biggest draw was that the classes were all taught in a 90 degree room. This. Was. Heaven. Now that temperatures outside are starting to soar, this is less of a draw, but let me tell you- for several months, these classes were the only time I felt warm. Even though it has warmed up outside, I’m still in the studio an average of 8 hours a week, and I love it. The instructors at Philly Power Yoga and Thrive Pilates are all really friendly and knowledgeable, and the studio is welcoming to all levels. If you are looking for a relaxed stretching class, check out the Pilates studio, as the yoga classes are power vinyasa flow classes (lots of pushups and sweat). They have a free community class Wednesday mornings, and a five dollar class Monday mornings.
The place where I completed (most) of my graduate school applications: Granted, much of my graduate school essay writing/procrastinating/stressing was done late at night in my room, but Elixr Coffee was a much needed change of scenery in the time of stress and snow. It is full of terrariums and reclaimed wood, and is worth a look for the atmosphere alone. Whoever is in charge of the music is also great, as it’s pretty eclectic but always good. The location is off a side street close to St. Mark’s, and they don’t seem to mind if you nurse a cup of coffee for quite a while (it’s also possible that they took pity on my stressed state/thought I shouldn’t have any more caffeine). That being said, their food is also quite delicious.
The best place to run in the sleet and snow: Ok, so this might be a little bit of a lie. I loved running/ sliding on the ice along the Schuylkill River Trail, but that could be related to the fact that I’m a native Texan, and just recovered from an injury that kept me from running for two years. I got the all-clear from my doctor in January, and immediately started running on the trail. The trail runs through several parks, and is a great place to run/bike/rollerblade/chase goslings. In January, I would run into another person every half mile or so, but ever since the first 70-degree day, the place has been packed! There are tons of free events along the bank during the summer (like yoga), so it’s worth a stop even if you hate running.
The best happy hour: I’m not a big drinker, but I ADORE pizza, and Nomad Roman has some of the best in the city. They have a normal happy hour, and a late night happy hour on the weekends! The restaurant itself is beautiful and tiny, and the pizzas are really, really, good. The St. Mark’s house is a big fan, and when my sister came to visit I took her there purely for the joy of the Nutella pizza. Yeah, that’s right. Nutella. Pizza. You can also go outside of happy hour, but really, on a stipend, there is not much better than a five-dollar personal pizza.
This is obviously a teensy-tiny bit of what Philadelphia has to offer, and I invite you to take the time to explore and find your own favorites! There is more to Philadelphia than cheesesteaks.
Elizabeth Serves as a Case Manager at Bethesda Project.
By Ellen Doster
While we here in Philadelphia were eagerly awaiting the seasons to finally stabilize into spring, the bee yards down in Georgia were already buzzing with activity. Honey bees are extremely sensitive to climate, and in the warmer south with its short winters and earlier springs, conditions are perfect for bees to start working. While everyone else is still warming up, bees in Georgia are already being prepared for their long journeys to other parts of the country. As I eagerly awaited the arrival of Saint Mark's bees in early April, I couldn't help but think about my own journey from Georgia to Philly. The weeks leading up to my move had gone fast. I was saying goodbye to a place that had become my home. I was spending precious time with my family. I was preparing to start a year of service living in an intentional community. I was anxious yet ready to just be here already, tired of being in the weird limbo of doing nothing before something big happens.
While the bees were being transported, it must have been a little like being in limbo. There's no hive to protect, no honeycomb to tend to; they don't have much else to do but eat the syrup that's been provided to sustain them during their travel. When they got here, our bees certainly had their work cut out for them. They had to start from scratch, making all new honeycomb and building up drastically reduced numbers. Beekeepers should always be attentive to their hives, but this time is especially crucial for giving the bees the help they need while they're getting established. Before we know it, the summer will have come and gone, and then the bees will have the winter to face, and they'll need our help to survive. To my utter delight, our bees soon began to flourish and continue to do so as we move into summer. What they've accomplished so far gives me hope that they will be strong enough to survive and thrive. If they make it through the winter, they can be even more productive next year since they won't be starting with nothing like they did this spring.
In a way, I can see similarities between my and the bees' journey. When I moved here, I was starting from scratch too. I had never been to Philadelphia before and I didn't know anyone. At first it was overwhelming being in a new environment and learning on the job. But with lots of support and encouragement, I've been able to find my place here and thrive. I know the summer will come and go before I know it, and I'll be moving on to other things, but the work that I've done here and the things that I've learned will be invaluable in helping me tackle new challenges. When I start my second year in Servant Year in the fall, I'll have more to learn, but I won't be starting from nothing. I'll have the past year's foundation built solidly in place, and from there, who knows how much I'll build in the coming months. For now, the bees and I still have a ways to go.
Ellen Serves as Ministry Resident at St. Mark's Church.
By Michelle Day
At 23, there are many things I’m not good at. I’m probably the worst dancer in the universe, but I refuse to let that stop me from singing and dancing along to every Taylor Swift song as if my life depends on it while my friends stand in the background, pretending they have no idea who I am. I also still get lost every time I go into Center City by myself; a few weeks ago I spent a good 20 minutes wandering the streets with a (wonderful and patient) group of friends searching for my car because I had no idea where I had parked.
It’s easy for me to laugh at myself when I fail at something I’m terrible at. What I’m learning is that when I fail at something I know in my heart that I was created to do, the bruises left from a small mistake can quickly turn into bitter scars if I give in to the deception of defeat.
Since day one in North Philly, I’ve tried to be honest and open about my experiences. There have been moments filled with unadulterated laughter and joy, and others filled with tears, frustration, and brokenness. Some days I wake up and feel like I’m doing exactly what I was meant to do, and there are other days that I seriously question my sanity and my ability to live up to the challenges placed before me on a daily basis.
When January rolled around I felt rejuvenated and prepared myself as best as I could for a fresh start. I worked hard to focus on taking care of myself so that I could embrace every day to the fullest, and for a few weeks, it seemed to work. My heart felt lighter than it had in years, and I made it an entire month without having a mental or emotional breakdown at school. I thought that if I could just make it through winter—the dark, cold, and weary months—I could do anything.
Then one particularly chaotic day, I couldn’t help a student who needed me. Several others needed help with a project, and in that moment, I chose to help the masses, ignoring the student who was crying and throwing pencils across the room. As an adult, I understand that many people needed help, and in that moment, I couldn’t be in two places at once. But an eleven year old doesn’t understand that. In a moment of panic, all they can see is someone they trust abandoning them.
In an instant, a relationship that had taken months to build was broken. After that day, that particular student refused to work with me. They moved their desk as far away from me as possible in class, said negative things right to my face, and ignored me when I tried to continue to be polite and friendly with them. I tried to stay positive and focus on the other students who I worked well with, but little by little, it started to eat away at me.
A few weeks later, the explosion came. In that moment, every last ounce that I had been fighting to keep together broke, and I ran out of the building sobbing, the door slamming behind me. I acted in a less than graceful way, and the results left me angry, hurt, frustrated, and humiliated.
In the days that followed, I completely questioned whether I really was cut out to do this job, or if I’d made a major mistake in pursuing my dreams. Everything I had worked so hard for had fallen apart and smacked me in the face. For a while I didn’t want to talk to anyone about what happened. If anything, I wanted to crawl under a rock and escape reality. Instead though, I found myself praying several times a day—for peace, for grace, for the broken relationships, and for God to show His work in this big mess.
Exactly one day after the student returned to school, they saw me in the hallway and asked to speak to me. Not knowing what to expect, I stopped. The eleven year old looked up at me, eyes wide, and said, “I’m sorry for what I did. Can you forgive me?”
Instantly my heart melted, and the anger, hurt, and frustration were swept away. I nodded my head vigorously, offering my hand for a handshake and said that I was sorry too, that I never wanted them to feel abandoned by me, that I wanted them to know that I would always be with them even when it doesn’t feel like it. Then I asked if we could wash the slate clean and start over. The student smiled, whispering, “I would like that.”
Something has changed since the day I decided to let go of my insecurities and mistakes, using them instead to grow into a better educator and a better person. I’m not so worn down by the student who throws pencils at the wall when they don’t get their way. I’m able to smile at the child who screams and yells because they don’t know how to express the hurt and pain they’ve seen, or the joy they so desperately want. I thrive in situations where students need encouragement and kind words, and I’m learning to let the words of others impact me only when they provide me with ways to grow or cause me to laugh and grin from ear to ear. I’m no longer clinging to the idea of perfection or success. Instead, I’m doing my best to use my idiosyncrasies and my gifts to embrace failure and success with grace.
Michelle serves as an Instructional Assistant at St. James School.