Monday
Oct242011

Lights in the Wind (Deede Dixon, Saint Hilda's '12)

I have frequently considered the metaphor of being the candle amidst the darkness. If my surroundings are too much, they’re too strong, too windy, or too dark, my strength, hope, and faith can be blown out. This can be rekindled with complete immersion in a loving, supportive community...

A new city. New Haven. Morning Prayer. Candlelit Compline. Tutoring kids. Working within the public schools. Cozy living with 8 in a newly somewhat-refurbished apartment. Biking to work. Sharing communion on the green with those who are homeless. Trying to rekindle that sense of awe. Hearing excellent music. Dressing business casual every day. Witnessing fatigue and trying to exude energy. Feeling rejuvenated after talking with fellow service corps members. Morning Prayer. Hearing how to pray in new ways. Chatting with Berkley students. Reading dense theological pieces. House dinners. Trying to keep things somewhat clean. Deep clean the abandoned rectory across the street. Dance parties. Early morning rows on the Housatonic. Coming to see the politics of education, service work, and churches. Rite One. Rite Two. The Book of Common Prayer. Kneel. Stand. Chant. The ocean. Climbing trees. Exploring corners of the city. Trying to help people feel at home, feel safe.

I just got back from a Compline service that we ran on the green amidst Occupy New Haven. I was struck by the peace and beauty that we helped to share. After gathering supplies from Christ Church, we strolled to the green with three wearing cassocks. We used a mic check with repeats to announce our service and we picked up a few curious strangers throughout the green. Each lit a candle to hold, and we shared Compline. Reading the psalm and saying the creeds felt incredibly meaningful outside on the green in a candlelit circle. After it finished, the four of us St. Hildans kept our candles lit and started walking back to the church. We began singing.

Many slow, meaningful worship songs were shared amongst us as we walked down Elm Street in downtown New Haven. If one of our candles was blown out, another helped re-light it. I was struck by the power of others surrounding and supporting you. I have frequently considered the metaphor of being the candle amidst the darkness. If my surroundings are too much, they’re too strong, too windy, or too dark, my strength, hope, and faith can be blown out. This can be rekindled with complete immersion in a loving, supportive community: if I go back inside to a roaring fire. I had always imagined being the sole candle in a sea of darkness upon leaving such a community. It was my responsibility to bring this joy, this love to those who have not yet seen any.

However, tonight reminded me that I do not have to be alone in this darkness. I do not have to solve the problems of this world on my own, with solely the strength fed to me from God. Likewise, I do not have to be in a paradise room of light at all times, inviting people into this brightness away from what they know. I can bring light to traverse the darkness, the chaos of this world, as long as I’m alongside others who can re-light me if I am blown out and whom I can re-light if they blow out.

As we were walking back toward the church, everyone’s candles blew out at some point. However, since at least one would remain lit, we could continue walking down the dark street with our blazes of light. We could walk through the black wind thanks to each other’s support. I hope, I believe that our community throughout this year can re-kindle each other’s motivation, re-inspire each other to perform the difficult service projects we all have throughout New Haven. If we are stretched too thin in a day, if we lose hope, those surrounding us can re-light our passion.

Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ John 8:12

Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

Friday
Oct142011

Living Constancy (Jordan Trumble, Saint Hilda's '12)

I’m learning names and stories of people and, in return, others are learning my name and my story. But it’s not something that necessarily happens quickly, or even at all. Relationships take commitment and nurturing.

I was serving salad at the soup kitchen the other day when I heard someone shout my name and I looked down the line to see who was trying to get my attention. Jim*, a man who comes to both the soup kitchen and food pantry where I work and whom I have met out and about in downtown New Haven several times, was standing at the end of the line, smiling and waving. When he got to me, I greeted him by name and asked if he wanted salad; he said no, but after a second of thinking, changed his mind and said, “Well, yeah! From you, I’ll take salad!” With those words, and his ever-friendly smile, he was off down the line and into the crowded dining room.

This brief interaction with Jim marked an important transition in the work I’m doing this year: a transition from impersonal interaction into relationship.

One of the most difficult parts of the work I’m doing this year is that I see so many people (probably around 400 different people per week) and only for very brief periods of time. We serve about 200 people each day in the hour and a half that the soup kitchen dining room is open and we serve upwards of 200 people at the food pantry during the hour we’re open on Saturday morning. It’s hard to build relationships when I only see our guests as they’re going through a lunch line at the soup kitchen or through the grocery line at the food pantry, it’s nearly impossible to learn everyone’s names as I’m serving salad and handing out food to hundreds of people.

Thus, my exchange with Jim at the soup kitchen was a sort of holy name-calling in the best possible sense of the word. Hearing my name called out in a crowded room of mostly strangers helped me realize that, though it is a slow process to get to know everyone I see and serve, I am building relationships. I’m learning names and stories of people and, in return, others are learning my name and my story. But it’s not something that necessarily happens quickly, or even at all. Relationships take commitment and nurturing.

In the Holy Eucharist, Rite II, we hear the words “Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace…” I’ve realized that my job this year isn’t just finding volunteers, serving food, or writing grants. My job is constancy. My job is building relationships by being present over and over and over again.

*Names have been changed to ensure privacy

Sunday
Oct092011

Sermon at the October 2011 Solemn Pontifical Mass with Induction of Saint Hilda's House interns (The Rt Rev'd Laura Ahrens)

When we are in solidarity with those with whom we serve, when we are prophets crying out against injustice and oppression, when we are witnesses to the hope in the midst of struggle, resurrection overcoming death, unity over coming separation, our words and actions reveal the truth God knows, “The Kingdom of God has come near.”

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few….Go on your way…Carry no purse, no bag, and no sandals and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, Peace to his house…remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide (Luke 10:1-9).”           

I recently returned from the House of Bishops meeting in Quito, Ecuador. Several things stand out for me from my time in Ecuador. The first was the kindness of people, particularly as I mumbled various words in broken Spanish trying to communicate. The second was the food! Almost every meal that I ate Quito included some form of shrimp and often we served pork. I tried goat, sea bass and guinea pig!

The House of Bishops meeting was fascinating and insightful as we discussed God’s Mission and the Church in the 21st century. We talked about restructuring, rethinking old models and how we are called to re-envision how we are to join the passion and power of God’s good work in the world.

Some of our speakers taught us about liberation theology, focusing specifically on God’s preferential option for the poor. Most of our presenters spoke in Spanish, addressing a House of bishops most of whom speak English as their first language. We listened to translations through earphones. It seemed so appropriate as we addressed radically new thinking about the role of the church for many of us to be outside of our comfort zones, in a diverse and different culture, learning and hearing in a different language, struggling with translations and new contexts. 

One of our speakers on liberation theology was a Brazilian theologian named Silvia Regina de Lima Silva.  She spoke of the importance of knowing, of embracing your context if you are seeking to share God’s love and Holy Word.  Know your context.  Jesus says it in today’s Gospel reading. “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide.”  It’s a way to start learning context. Silvia reminded us of another passage from scripture:  “Take off your sandals, because wherever you step is sacred land.” Unburden yourself of your shoes, your sandals, your purse, and your bag so that you are present to the other, not carrying your own idols or your own stuff.  We are called to be present and commitment ourselves to the people and the places where we are called, being present in a way that respects and honors the presence of the other -their presence, their gifts, their importance and their story. We are called not to bring our “stuff” but to acknowledge the liberating presence of God in the midst of all people. God made the ground holy long before we arrived, long before we committed ourselves to Christ. God blessed and named the places where we seek to serve. It is God’s presence we are called to nurture and share. We remove our shoes because the place on which we stand is holy ground and we seek to honor the home, the place, the context, of those with whom we dwell. We listen and we learn.

Sylvia notes, “Listen to the presence of God in the suffering and the hopes of the poor.” It is from this place of holy ground, knowing the stories and the people, their suffering and their hope, that we are called to cry out with our prophetic voice, denouncing exploitation, the negation of the other, discrimination, injustice, the social sin. The prophet Isaiah says “Shout out, do not hold back, lift up your voice like a trumpet (Isaiah 58:1)”. Our shouts cry out to the God of Life. Our shouts call for solidarity and commitment to those who are oppressed; our prophetic message is one that is the imperative for the care of the other. Be responsible for his life. Break bread with the hungry, clothe the naked, and do not turn your back on your brother. Overcome your indifference. Overcome your fears of difference. Try on unity, in the midst of diversity. Unified with the oppressed, cry out, reach out and witness to God’s peace. The Kingdom of God is a place where swords are beat into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. In the Kingdom of God there is no war. There is no oppression. Cry out when the Kingdom of God is not being revealed and works for its vision.

Sylvia’s last point was that we should never lose sight of the fact that the God we serve is a God of resurrection. In her own words, God is a God of party! The God that has resurrected Jesus is resurrected in communities. The struggle is real. The hope is real and the resurrection is true. God offers healing and reconciliation and calls each one of us to be his hands and feet in the world, to be instruments of his peace, witnesses for hope.

When we are in solidarity with those with whom we serve, when we are prophets crying out against injustice and oppression, when we are witnesses to the hope in the midst of struggle, resurrection overcoming death, unity over coming separation, our words and actions reveal the truth God knows, “The Kingdom of God has come near.”

Your ministry here in New Haven is a gift to this city and to God.  Know your context; know that the context in which you serve is Holy Ground.  Leave your idols and your preconceived notions behind, take only your heart and open it to the people and places you’ll touch. Be a prophet, cry out against the injustices you witness, you hear about and you know your heart is social sin. Use your place of privilege and power, your access to systems that can work for change, to bring about God’s justice and peace. And know that the God of resurrection, the God hope and healing, blesses you and your work. He comforts you in your angst and frustration, he encourages you in your ministry and he blesses you in your service. The kingdom of God has come near. May your mission and your ministry reveal that God news.

 

The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens                                                 Isaiah 2:2-4

St. Hilda’s House                                                                    Ephesians 2:14-22

October 2011                                                                          Luke 10:1-9

Monday
Sep262011

A Changing Perspective: A Second Year in New Haven (Jordan Trumble, Saint Hilda's '11 & '12)

It feels more personal when I know the person I see sleeping on the sidewalk as the man who told me a joke at the soup kitchen earlier that week, or the woman panhandling by Gourmet Heaven as the woman with three children who came to the food pantry. 

When I decided to spend a second year as an intern with Saint Hilda's House, one of the things that I found most exciting was the fact that I would be able to explore New Haven even more than I did last year.  As I've moved from place to place in the past couple of years, I've often lamented that I've never felt as though I had enough time in each place to really get to know it well and make it feel like home. 

I've only been back in New Haven for six weeks but I feel like I've already experienced so many new things; I've found some new hangout spots, explored Yale more, and spent a great deal of time walking around different neighborhoods in the city.  But in addition to finding new spots where I'll spend time with friends, I've also discovered a lot of unpleasant things about New Haven that, deep down, I knew existed but never really had to confront.

While the job I did last year was very rewarding and taught me a lot about working in a parish, my interaction with the community was limited; most of my work was done behind a desk and, although people would often call or come to the door seeking assistance, those encounters were usually limited to a few minutes at a time, not more than two or three times a day. 

Over the course of this year, though, I'll be working part-time at two different job placements: Community Soup Kitchen at Christ Church and Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry and Clothing Closet at The Episcopal Church of Saint Paul and Saint James.  Each week, I help serve upwards of 500 meals and help distribute approximately 200 bags of groceries.  I also write grant reports about the funds we receive for our programs, sort clothes that have been donated, recruit and schedule volunteers, sweep floors, wipe tables...

The list goes on.  The work doesn't end.  I've always known that poverty exists in New Haven.  I've always known that people sleep outside on the town green or on sidewalks or in doorways.  But it feels different now.  It feels more personal when I know the person I see sleeping on the sidewalk as the man who told me a joke at the soup kitchen earlier that week, or the woman panhandling by Gourmet Heaven as the woman with three children who came to the food pantry. 

I generally consider myself to be a pretty caring and empathetic person, so I'm a little disappointed that these problems I see around me have only suddenly become so personal.  Why didn't I care so much before this?  What could I have done if I'd cared earlier?  What does my life mean in the context of this place with all its poverty and violence?  And how can I make my life into something more meaningful and productive for this community I've called home for a year but am now seeing in a different way? 

I don't have answers to these questions yet but I think (or at least hope) the answers will come as part of a process of self- and community-discovery this year.  Perhaps, though, it is the process of discovery that is most imporant. 

Tuesday
Sep202011

Fear and Loathing in Ministry (Fr Robert Hendrickson, Program Director)

Fear is a luxury that we cannot afford though.  There is too much need around us for us to spend overly much time nurturing it.  Fear is a sign of a deeper ego-driven desire for self-preservation versus self-offering on behalf of the people of God.  Fear is one of the many things we need to be able to offer up to God so that he can transform it and us.

One of the challenges of urban ministry is asking for the help of the Spirit to help combat the twin evils of fear and loathing.  Of course, our work the supports justice and peace-making is part of this as we work to break down barriers between people and build bonds of peace and charity.

Yet the more difficult battle is to conquer those very impulses within ourselves.  There are people we will encounter in ministry that will trigger both impulses in us – often at the same time.

As our new interns arrived this year we placed many of them in a challenging part of New Haven.  Almost all reacted with a sense of joyful mission and immediately began to look for ways to become part of the neighborhood and to be a prayerful presence in a place that desperately needs it.  A couple found it much more challenging.  Fear overwhelmed them.

There is a profound difference between the ministry of the visitor and the ministry of the neighbor.  Our interns are now engaged in a ministry of presence living among those they serve.  This is no easy feat in the midst of a culture that feeds and rewards fear – a culture that sometimes subtly and often grossly teaches us to loathe difference.  We are learning together what it means to be a not just a visitor bringing moments of aid or comfort.  We are learning what it means to take on the burdens of those we live alongside.

There are verses throughout the Bible that remind us of the ever-present strength and support of God:

Isaiah 41:10 – “fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

Deuteronomy 31:6 – “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

2 Timothy 1:7 – “for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control.”

Urban ministry is often a ministry of facing fear.  Fear of the different and what seems potentially dangerous drive our culture’s response to challenging neighborhoods.  We look for ways to isolate ourselves behind walls, to build a police/incarceration complex that will protect us, or to create a safety net rather than to challenge deeper systems of injustice.

The wonderful thing about fear is that it can become the fuel of love.  When we conquer our fears, when God gives us the strength to go forward when we cannot do it alone, we know that we are not alone.  We come to realize that grace abounds.

Fear is a luxury that we cannot afford though.  There is too much need around us for us to spend overly much time nurturing it.  Fear is a sign of a deeper ego-driven desire for self-preservation versus self-offering on behalf of the people of God.  Fear is one of the many things we need to be able to offer up to God so that he can transform it and us.

Fear cannot drive the Christian response to the other.  We cannot be content to say “there but by the grace of God go I” we have to ask God to give us that spirit of power that 2 Timothy promises so that we can go – because we must – with God’s grace.

In October, our interns will join clergy from Christ Church to walk the Hill neighborhood in New Haven.  We will be going door-to-door.  We will not be asking for anything, promising anything, or offering anything particularly grand.  We will be asking our neighbors what they need prayers for.  What deep need do they have that they would ask us to offer to God with them in our daily devotions?

The Church cannot do everything – we often over-promise and even more, in our sin and failure, under-deliver.  Yet we can pray.  We can pray for healing, for justice, for strength, for hope, for bravery, for forgiveness, and for love.  I am looking forward to walking the neighborhood and to hearing the needs of our neighbors and I pray that it is the not one day, or one walk, but one more of many steps taken trusting in the love and grace of God.