When I was called to serve St. John’s, Norristown in November 2012, I was struck by how richly blessed we are in resources for ministry: a small but strong parishioner base, excellent buildings, and the well-known feeding ministry of St. John’s Soup Kitchen that has served the hungry and homeless of Norristown for over 30 years.
Nonetheless, it had been years since St. John’s had taken a fresh look at developing new urban ministries to serve a changing Norristown, where the Hispanic population has grown to 30%, and the poverty level is now 76% greater than the Pennsylvania average.
At a vestry meeting last spring, we prayed for guidance on how we could better engage God’s mission imperatives for Norristown right now. Not long after that I happened to receive a newsletter from ECS that featured our Diocese’s Servant Year program. As I read the article, it struck me that having someone serve full-time as an urban missioner could help jump start St. John’s to strategically build upon our current ministries and serve our community in new ways. Our Servant Year Member, Karitsa, has perfectly fit this role as a collaborator in mission with our parishioners.
A richly gifted and energetic graduate of the University of Maryland, Karitsa spends half her time working in direct service to our neediest citizens – those suffering the effects of homelessness, impoverishment, and mental illness – through Norristown Ministries, one of St. John’s community partner organizations that operates on our campus to provide case management, counseling, meals, and respite from life on the streets. This work also enables Karitsa to help St. John’s better understand our community today and strategically plan new avenues of service.
Karitsa is also engaged in a wide variety of urban mission initiatives, including: serving on the Diocese’s Latino Hispano Ministry Task Force to start an outreach ministry to Hispanics at St. John’s; developing a partnership with a local psychiatric emergency services hospital to address the mental health needs of our community; and preparing to serve as the site director of Camp St. John’s, a partnership with Diocesan Youth Ministry office to reach out to children in our neighborhood through a camp on the grounds of our church this July.
Speaking for all of us at St. John’s, we are grateful for Karitsa’s presence as a force for renewal among us. None of this would be possible, however, without the foresight of the Diocese in supporting urban ministry initiatives, the support of Canon Andrew Kellner and the Office of Youth Ministry and, most especially, the Director of our Servant Year program, Lindsay Barrett-Adler. It was Lindsay who responded to my request to consider a Servant Year intern for Norristown. Lindsay believed in the vision for ministry that we presented and made all the rest happen.
My hope in sharing these thoughts with leaders of congregations and future Servant Year members is that you, too, will consider the creative possibilities for mission and ministry that the Servant Year program offers.
Father Albergate is Rector at St. John's Episcopal Church in Norristown.