Monday
Sep172012

Inside and Outside (David Burman, SHH '13)

Christ Church, where we eleven St. Hildan interns live, is an exceedingly lovely, comforting, and peaceful place, but it does not give a good sense of what it is like to live in much of the rest of the city of New Haven. A lot is packed into the relatively small church courtyard where I am sitting.

There is a grassy lawn, finely-cut stones put together to form walkways; tables, chairs, and a bench (all wooden), trees (both deciduous and evergreen), a birdbath, and an assortment of bushes and flowers. On the east side of the courtyard, below a garden, lie the remains of a little under twenty people, whose names appear on a large headstone in the middle of the garden.

 

Buildings surround the courtyard: to my left is an old red house with white/light red trim; it’s the home of Christ Church’s curate (meaning a priest who is second-in-command at a church) and the director of our internship program, Fr. Robert, as well as his wife Karrie. Behind me and to my right is a more modern red-brick building that houses Christ Church’s offices, the parish hall, a community soup kitchen, and the spacious living quarters that are the home of us interns.

 

In front of me is the best part, the church itself, a massive Gothic structure made of stone. It is astonishingly beautiful, and a description of it would take far too much space in this blog post; I might be able to do that some other time. All in all, the buildings and the courtyard take up about half of a city block, and surrounding virtually the whole campus is a tall brick wall, with gates every here and there.

 

This wall has the literal and perhaps symbolic effect of isolating the peaceful courtyard and the buildings surrounding it from the rest of the city just outside the gates. The bustle of Yale University and the homeless people who often walk through and rest in the New Haven Green can almost be forgotten inside here, as can the unemployment, violence, and class and race problems that bedevil New Haven.

 

Fortunately, Christ Church seeks to engage with the larger community in several ways, and our internship program is one of them. The motto of our program is “Through the Gates into the City,” which describes quite literally what I (and most of my fellow interns) do every morning Monday through Thursday: I unlock one of those gates in the wall, go through it, and lock it again. Then, I walk about four blocks to the offices of AIDS Project New Haven (APNH), a non-profit organization that both cares for people with AIDS and is embarking on a new AIDS prevention effort.

 

My role within APNH (a role which I am very much growing into; I just started last week and am not always sure what it is going on) is to coordinate the Caring Cuisine program, which delivers food to people with AIDS and/or other chronic illnesses (and as a result are physically and often also financially unable to purchase and prepare food for themselves). My housemates at Christ Church are working similar internships around the city, and so we all leave Christ Church’s campus every day to work in the community (with two exceptions, one of us works with the soup kitchen at Christ Church and another at the church offices; and both of them still work with the larger community).

 

Christ Church and New Haven at duskThe nature of our work means that Christ Church doesn’t simply function as a place of beauty, an escape from the city that surrounds us. Instead it allows us to bring our experiences at our work sites inside each day, wrestle with them on our own and with each other, and then go back out again the next morning for more of the same.

 

As a result Christ Church isn’t merely a place to rest, but a place to reflect on what we have seen and done, and to recharge for the next day’s work. In more churched terms, it’s a place for us to commune with God, learn more about him, his world and our place in it, and then take what we’ve found out through the gates to serve those beyond our calm and cloistered courtyard.

Friday
Sep142012

An Ed's Eye View: Reflections on First Days at Saint Hilda's (Ed Watson, SHH '13)

The First Few Days

I didn’t sleep the night before I went to America, which, combined with my complete inability to sleep on plane, meant that by the time I arrived at 343 Elm Street, New Haven, I’d been awake for forty hours. Most of my memories of the journey are thus fairly hazy. Saying goodbye to my parents was emotional in that strange way that long term partings always are when it becomes apparent that everything else will carry on at normal pace. The only notable features of the departure lounge were a 30 Year Old Glenfarclas for £90 and the presence of the Fulham Badgers, a football team for children with Downs Syndrome, apparently on their way to Hong Kong with coaching staff and parents in tow. The flight was uneventful, though I am indebted to the man sitting next to me for lending me his pen in order to fill in the various border patrol and customs forms (I couldn’t find mine: it was in my pocket). Two hours in a queue at JFK Airport, and I was officially on American soil.

The reason I’m here is to take part in one of the Episcopal Service Corps programmes, specifically St Hilda’s House in New Haven, which I’ve recently been told is known on the circuit (yes: there’s a circuit) as Anglo-Catholic boot camp, in part due to the extremely high nature of the service, in part due to the intensity of the work. The purpose of the programme is two-fold: firstly, to provide much needed volunteers to help the various community initiatives aimed at serving those who, for whatever reason, do not have the means to provide for themselves. Secondly, it is geared towards helping Hildans (for that is the collective term) explore a vocation. The website also says that it hopes to help train up at least a couple of future church leaders. Canterbury, here I come.

Getting from JFK to New Haven took just over five hours. First up was the thirty minute wait for an “express” bus from the airport to Grand Central Station: if there’s anything which makes you appreciate the underground, it’s sitting outside in thirty degree heat waiting for a bus that looks like it was old in the 80s. The traffic in New York puts London to shame. There appears to be a different attitude towards driving as well: this was the only bus I’ve been on which turned off a motorway onto a junction in order to move in front of five cars in an especially congested area. Other drivers were similarly resourceful and ruthless. I find the idea of trying to get ahead in a traffic jam confusing, and I’m sure there’s a profound metaphor explicating certain facets of the American Dream in there somewhere. The buildings are huge, to the extent that there’s just no point looking up. Grand Central itself is teeming and pristine, right up until you get the the platform, when you’re greeted with the heated stench of tar and petrol. Once on the train, it’s about an hour and three quarters to New Haven, which bodes well for future weekend trips to the Big Apple. Over the four hours, I made small talk with a retired Irish television producer on holiday, a group of middle aged chemists who manipulated the polymers in paint in order to create a thicker coat for a living, and another retiree who gave me a business card I couldn’t make head nor tail of (apparently even some retirees have business cards).

I felt a certain amount of trepidation as I approached Christ Church, New Haven, and not just because of the taxi driver chatting on her phone whilst failing to drive in a conventionally straight line. This is home for a year, a home I’m sharing with not just ten Americans, but ten American Christians, and I’ve seen enough Louis Theroux documentaries to know that things could get messy. Fortunately, the people couldn’t be nicer (and I’m not just saying that because they might be reading this). I won’t go into detail, public blogs hardly being the place to lay out character evaluations of your housemates, but suffice to say that Fred Phelps Jr is nowhere to be seen. The house meanwhile is practically a mansion, with more sofas that even I can do slo-mo jumps onto.It’s been busy.

Helping out at Chapel on the GreenOn day one we helped out at Loaves and Fishes, which on this particular occasion provided food, clothing, and doctors to about 200 people. We were also given a tour of New Haven by C and J. J is mid-thirties going on fifty, and has been homeless since he was sixteen. He knows the streets and bemoans the fact that the younger generation of street criminals don’t have an honour code like the old timers. Though he had difficulty maintaining a consistent line of thought, he provided a snapshot of city life which is unlikely to appear in any official tour guides. The only observation I’ll make here is the probably very obvious one that indigence sits within opulence in New Haven, not next to it. One homeless camp J showed us (after first checking there was no-one there) was a minute’s walk from the Yale Library. It consisted of a folded mattress.

We spent the afternoon making lunches for Chapel on the Green, to be held the next day. Chapel on the Green is an outdoor service for those who might not want to set foot in a church, and who would certainly be turned away from Winchester Cathedral anyway. In the twenty minutes before the service starts a core of five or so men provide percussive music by hitting worn out drums and bins. We Hildans divided our time between handing out song sheets, conversing with the congregation and trying out hand at the drumming (I still have no sense of rhythm). The service was a Eucharist with grape juice, as many regulars express a wish to drink no alcohol. The reading was taken from Mark’s Gospel and delivered by A.J., leader for the drum group.

I’ve heard very few readings which really get the heart of the gospel as he did, even if he did struggle with a few of the longer words. The translation helped: the NRSV doesn’t have Jesus saying that Isaiah ‘hit the nail on the head’ when it comes to the Pharisees, or saying that they ditched God’s command for passing fads. After the service there is more drumming, and everyone present queues up for lunch. One man queuing appeared to be living a relatively clean life: though he only had one arm, his shirt was ironed and clean and his trousers appeared to be pressed. Beneath it, his remaining arm was withered and the hole in his cuff revealed a gangrenous looking sore. I could probably trot out various clichés about the inherent dignity of those present despite their situation, but I have a feeling it would say more about the values I would want to impose upon them to make sense of their situation. I have no idea about the truth of the people at the service. Their experience is utterly alien to me: to try and describe my impression of it in my terms seems insulting. In any case, I had to take a quiet moment after carrying a table away to collect myself. I wasn’t about the burst into tears, but I had to sit a stare into space for a short while.

The final event of the day was Compline. To backtrack a bit, before Chapel on the Green we attended a High Mass at Christ Church, following an order of service reassuringly similar to the Oriel Eucharist. Overall, I reckon the Pope might have felt the need to tone things down a little, but that was no bad thing.

Compline was completely different. In fact, I’ve never experienced anything like it. It takes place at 9pm, and is only lit by candles. There’s no order of service, no spoken words. The light is such that you can only see the silhouettes of the congregation. The service consists of half an hour of sung liturgy, sung by a five person choir. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a quantifiable religious experience. Once it had finished a few of us were standing at one of the doors to church, thanking people for coming. The impact of the service was such that the noise of the traffic seemed muted, as if the sound was hailing from another dimension. Our other roles consisted of lighting the candles (a specialty of mine) and standing back in awe as one of the priests swung a thurible about in a way that suggests he could easily develop a new martial art out of Anglican paraphernalia. We all smelt of incense as we went out to the bar afterwards.

More of Ed's reflections and experiences may be found on his blog!

Wednesday
Apr252012

Coming home catholic: Rediscovering my catholic faith in the Episcopal Church (James Shire, SHH '12)

There is a point in the liturgy that sums up everything, the Law, the Baptismal Covenant, the creeds, everything:

“Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

What does it mean to be catholic? Some would say that it means being Roman Catholic, being in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Others would say it means holding onto the apostolic tradition of orthodoxy. The word catholic is derived from the Greek word katholikos, which means universal. How can you call yourself universal if you deny people access to the sacraments?

How can you call yourself universal if you deny that people have a call to ministry just because they are gay, married, or a woman? How can you call yourself universal when you are disconnected with the laity, with the people of God, with your flock? The answer is that you can’t call yourself universal very well. What in essence happens is that you claim to be universal, but on your terms. Universal means including all people, and inviting all people to ministry and the sacraments. It is inviting everyday people to be involved in the decision-making processes of the church. It means accepting all people as the Body of Christ

Today I have been received into the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Instantly people would think I am refereeing to the Roman Catholic Church, but I am not. Instead, I speak of the Episcopal Church. This church claims the mantle of catholic, and I have found it to be an institution that represents the catholic Church.

I grew up Roman Catholic. Though from an early age, I was endlessly fascinated with Church history, theology, and faith, I never really had the best of connections with the Roman Catholic Church. After a long period of apathy ending with the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s involvement in Prop 8, I turned from the church. I believed that the hierarchy was hypocritical and unable to recognize the harm that they cause to people.

After a period of time, I started attending evangelical churches. I enjoyed it at first, but I found the services to be distant and not really connecting to anything. I never connected with the four songs and a sermon method of worship. After being made to feel unwelcome in the churches that I attended. With no place to turn, I started attending an Episcopal Church.

When I was there, I felt as if I had come home. The warmth of the congregation, the vibrancy of the liturgy, the invitation for all to the altar, it all made me realize that this was what it meant to be universal, to be Catholic. I can never be more thankful for the priest there, and all that she did for me in those few months I was there.

In my time in Thailand, I grew to depend on the Book of Common Prayer app I had for my iPod in order to find any sense of fulfillment and discipline in my prayer life.

When I returned to Hawaii, I started attending an Episcopal Church near my home.There too did I find a sense of belonging, even though I spent a short period of time there. I am grateful for the priest there, and all she has done to make me feel like I have a home when I am there.

During my time working and worshiping at an Episcopal church, I fully embraced being catholic. They showed me that you can be catholic without Rome. And they have challenged my theology in new and interesting ways. I am gratified for the opportunities that the priests there have given me.

In this past year of attending the Episcopal Church, I have learned many things, but one thing stands out is that Jesus loves everyone, Jesus accepts everyone. Our response to this is to do the same: love everyone and accept everyone.

There is a point in the liturgy that sums up everything, the Law, the Baptismal Covenant, the creeds, everything:

“Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

To follow this means we are living out the commands of our faith. To follow this means we are living out orthodoxy. To follow this means to be catholic.

We invite all people to the Baptismal font, for we are all invited to share into the death and resurrection of Christ. We invite all people to the altar because we are all invited to be the body of Christ. We are a living faith, for we are in a living Body of Christ, it means that we will grow, and change, and move more and more to that ideal of God, of the Church, and of what it means to be universal.

We sometimes fall short, we sometimes fail, we often disagree, but we still work more and more towards the ideal that Christ set forth. We recognize that compromises are necessary for unity, but that if we sacrifice people in the sake of unity, we deny our greater unity. Doctrine and theology are important, but not so important that we deny people access to the love and grace of Christ just to maintain our sense of “purity.” The Episcopal Church has made many mistakes, but it keeps moving forward knowing that: “There is one Body and one Spirit; There is one hope in God's call to us; One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; One God and Father of all.”

We are all the children of God; we are all in the family of God. And we have a responsibility to love one another. That is what it means to be catholic, to love one another, without condition. When we love one another, we love God, for as Jesus says “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” It is one and the same thing. We fulfill the catholic mantle when we do this.

And so I walk forward once again into a new beginning, into the family of the catholic Church.

Sunday
Apr012012

An April Fools’ Palm Sunday (James Shire, SHH '12)

I cannot help but say I had a lot of fun today. This Palm Sunday was quite possibly the most joyous and exciting experiences I have had in church; perhaps in someway it reflects the excitement and joy that people had when Christ entered Jerusalem. The procession with the hymn All glory, laud, and honorset the mood for the day. And you know what, it was, dare I say, fun. And I am not just saying this because I am trumping my church’s horn; I had to keep a straight face while singing and suppressing a smile while in the procession (lest I look to happy in Christ Church).

There is one thing that struck me today, today is not just Palm Sunday, but it is also April Fools’ Day. There is something to be said about that, that at the end of Lent, and in the sadness of the days to come in Holy Week, there is foolish defiance of the powers of the world in Palm Sunday that is but a foretaste of the Resurrection of Christ.

Over the Passover in Jerusalem in Jesus’s time, it is likely that the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, requested more troops to enter the city to maintain order. Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims for the feast, a feast that celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people from enslavement by another empire long ago, a feast celebrated by a people that were somewhat defiant of Roman rule. So there was probably a concern that in the atmosphere of celebrating liberation, an uprising may occur.

These troops probably would have entered in with standard military procedures and ceremony complete with pomp and circumstance, and with there commanding officers on horseback, displaying the full power of Rome. Around the same time a backwater hick from Galilee named Jesus enters in on a donkey. The donkey is nowhere near as majestic as a horse, and an animal that is known for being stubborn.Yet here he is in the midst of what must be a foolish image, a grown man riding a donkey that probably does not want to be bothered, being proclaimed King of Israel, the Son of David. The crowds lay their robes and cut palms to lay in the street and shout Hosanna in the highest! His entry into Jerusalem almost seems laughably defiant towards the powers that be; and yet his entry into Jerusalem begins to call into foolishness the powers of the world.

And yet, it almost seems foolish that Jesus is entering into the very den of those seeking to kill him. Nevertheless, he rides on. Not on a warhorse or a steed like the Romans, but on a donkey.

The foolishness of his entry seemingly becomes apparent. After his arrest, we see the crowds turn on him, people proclaiming him king soon call for his crucifixion, possibly in hopes that if they scream the loudest, no one would know they were there laying palms before his path. The foolishness of our fears is revealed. We don’t want to be seen as defiant, because defiance means scorn and derision, and in Jesus’s case, death. To soothe our fears, we call ourselves foolish for even thinking such thoughts as to challenge the status quo. We call foolish those seeking to challenge the powers of the world, and we dismiss too quickly their work, and go about our business as if nothing is wrong.

But even upon the cross, bearing the world’s pain, sorrows, sins, oppression, injustice, and evils, Christ overcomes the darkness of the world. Death could not take him, Hell and the grave could not contain him, and thus the foolishness of Hell and Death are revealed, and now are no more. What started as a foolhardy, joyous, and defiant entry into Jerusalem becomes the salvation of the world.

And so, may you all have a blessed and happy April Fools’ Day.

Tuesday
Jan312012

The Agape Feast (Aleithia Burgess, Saint HIlda's '12)

To me, our house dinners seem so healthy, a habit that is utterly sane. They may very well be my favorite part of this entire program, and not just because we all happen to be pretty good cooks. 

Tonight I cooked dinner for my housemates. This is a regular occurrence in our house: we eat together here at least three times a week. Sometimes we invite a guest or two to join us, sometimes it’s just us. Usually we are eight, which seemed like a lot of people to cook for at the beginning of the year but now has become normal. Tonight, two of our eight had made other plans and did not join us. We saved them some leftovers, but their presence was missed.

To me, our house dinners seem so healthy, a habit that is utterly sane. They may very well be my favorite part of this entire program, and not just because we all happen to be pretty good cooks. (Which, incidentally, we are—the cookbook is forthcoming.) We are eight very different people, with different backgrounds and experiences and interests, and yet we all gather together to share our food and to enjoy one another’s company. For some of us, this is a well-known ritual, something we’ve been practicing since before we can remembers. Others of us are less practiced. Still, we all are able to come to the table: our table.

I see these dinners as a tangible metaphor of what we mean by ‘Christian fellowship’. All of us are different, yet we are brought together by the love and grace of God, brought into communion with Himself and with each other in the breaking of bread: “This do in remembrance of me.”

Our community is young, and small, and far from perfect. In a mere five months, we have experienced more drama and conflict than I care to remember, some of it silly and some of it serious. Yet in spite of our brokenness, we are a community, and for every moment of suffering we have experienced, there have been at least two moments of joy. And in a strange way, I am learning to be thankful for the suffering as well, for it is through those difficult experiences that we are made stronger, and drawn closer together. When we join hands before the meal, I need look no farther than across the table to see something—someone—I am thankful for. We ask God to bless the food and the hands who prepared it, but it is all of us who are blessed.

It is also a tradition in our house that whoever cooks the meal may read something afterwards. Sometimes it’s a short story or a poem or a selection from a longer work. This is what I chose for this evening.

PILGRIMS’ HYMN

Even before we call on Your name
To ask You, O God,
When we seek for the words to glorify You,
You hear our prayer;
Unceasing love, O unceasing love,
Surpassing all we know.

Glory to the father,
and to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit.

 Even with darkness sealing us in,
We breathe Your name,
And through all the days that follow so fast,
We trust in You;
Endless Your grace, O endless Your grace,
Beyond all mortal dream.

Both now and forever,
And unto ages and ages,
Amen.

 

(Michael Dennis Browne)