Week 2: Golden Summer

Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church (USA) on the westside of Baltimore has been working with Dickey Elementary/Middle School up the hill for years, doing an after school program called “Golden Eagles.” The Golden Eagles are a group of mostly 5th and 6th graders a few who have been coming since they were in 3rd grade when a group of retired church members began going to the school, to read with the children. This program morphed into the after school program and is now one of the first summer camps and programming with The Center has available for visiting groups. I began working with the after school program at the start of 2019, while Pastor Jennifer was on maternity leave. The Golden Eagles program has ebbed and flowed in the number of students because the school has seen large turnover as students leave for better schooling, parents find safer neighborhoods and even better job opportunities. This turnover is one of the many layers that neighborhoods face throughout Baltimore. Even with supportive administration (this had to be rebuilt recently) there is still opportunities that are needed and lacking to reach a significant number of students. The Golden Eagles program can host about 12 students after school and up to 20 for summer camp. 

For kids the start of summer begins by counting down the hours to the last day of school, and counting down the hours on that day until the bell rings. For Baltimore students, the last days of school were extended due to winter weather emergencies at the start of 2019! So, it meant mid-course changes in how camp looks and functions for the week. The Center hosted a High School Robotics team, Camelot Robotics, from the tri-city area near Durham, NC to work with the Golden Eagles program at Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church (USA). The Robotics team brought their program ideas, energy and excitement to about 15 Golden Eagle students at camp. The school day ended, and camp began with water games to cool off after the walk from the school to the church in the hot June sun. On the first day we talked about the stark contrast of Dickeyville the historic town and community today, against the neighboring apartment complex above it. The boundaries marked by small signs, the road ending, and a small wooden fence that doesn’t stretch completely across the area it is dividing. By the end of the week both the Robotics team and the Golden Eagles were acting like old friends, even distant siblings. 

What I will remember from this week is the moment I attended the end of the year basketball awards program after school with Zachary Ireland, a youth from the Camelot Robotics Team. Three of the Golden Eagles were being recognized for their performance on the team, two this year and one from last season since the awards program was ended due to funding and other challenges. We sat in the non-air conditioned gym at desks and chairs sized appropriately for elementary and middle school students. There were balloons left over from a previous award event trying to stay inflated. The Coach was setting up and yelling that the boys shooting hoops didn’t mess up his display before the program got started. There was organized chaos of students in and out of the gym grateful to be released from classes, but resistant to leaving the school grounds and to end conversations with friends. Some parents and siblings of the students being recognized were there and beginning to arrive. Coach finally set out the awards, and the food, and called for those playing to put the basketballs away and to sit down. A few more seconds to arrange this and that and the program began, us across the court watching this tailor-made fanfare come together. I offered to help hand out food, but was invited to relax and enjoy. Zachary and I participated like proud parents or siblings to the students. We cheered and took pictures along with a few others there to celebrate the students. It was a moment I pointed out later that tells the heart of a community. We were not outsiders, the camp leaders waiting for the program to end to take our students to camp; we were a part of the community. We were invited to be just like everyone else around us, and it gave us time to talk and deepen our understanding about each other and the school where the students learn and play. It was a twist to the afternoon that no one could have planned for and the appreciation the students expressed in us being there at the end of camp days later is priceless. 


-Mel

Week 4: Life

When I was growing up, I never understood why my parents spent so much time working in our garden; they would spend hours weeding in the heat just for those weeds to grow back a few days later. And then they would do it all over again. Maybe it was because I’ve never had a green thumb like them – trust me, I’ve tried keeping succulents in my dorm room and somehow, I always ruin them. Or, maybe it was because I never took the time to learn about why gardening was so important to them.

Last week, I had the opportunity to serve at Glenwood Life Counseling Center with a group from Watts Street Baptist Church located in Durham, NC. We spent our time there serving in their recovery garden. Their recovery garden resides in what used to be a vacant lot and found its home there because a staff member noticed how empty the land looked and decided that something needed to be done about that. Precious saw that recovery was about life, not desolation and vacant lots.

With the help of community members, Glenwood Life has been tending to and caring for this garden for a few years. They have plants native to Maryland, as well as a vegetable garden. We spent our first day in the recovery garden weeding – I spent hours weeding (and I have the sunburn to prove it!) just like my parents used to, and still do. At the end of our week there, we mulched the flowerbeds of native plants and the walkways in the vegetable garden, learning about how much mulch needs to be around the plants, how close it should be, how tall it should be etc.  

By the end of the week, I finally started to grasp why my parents spent so much time and energy taking care of our garden at home – it was the same reason Precious and the patients at Glenwood Life spend so much time and energy on and in the recovery garden – because they were creating life. One of the patients who frequents the garden when he can, was kind enough to give us his own personal testimony of how important the garden was for his recovery.

 Baltimore is constantly showing me different ways to see life around me. Sometimes, it is in the form of a child’s laughter at summer camp, and sometimes it is in the native plants and vegetable gardens that have taken root in the vacant lots of the city. Baltimore is inviting me to open my eyes and see life like I have never seen it before, asking me to embrace life and all it has to offer. Baltimore has been showing me what it means to truly live. And, hey, who knows? Maybe after this summer I’ll give gardening another chance and bring new life to other aspects of my world.

-Emma Kate

Weeks 2 and 3: Can I Touch Your Hair?

Hi friends, It’s been quite a full couple of weeks. 

A little bit more than halfway through the summer, I have plenty to catch you up on! My days with groups have been filled with jumping rope, meals in Patterson Park, bilingual worship, aerial silks practice with our friends at Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church, cornhole, math games, water splashing… But, before I get too carried away, I think that sharing every dynamic, kinetic detail of my time spent with visiting groups and our partners thus far would be…

  1. A long blog

  2. Maybe a bit tiring to read. 

So, as I find myself reflecting on where the summer has taken me so far with our visiting groups from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, Oak Hill Presbyterian Church from St. Louis, MO and First Pres. in Allentown Pennsylvania, I find myself reflecting upon both how we’ve moved together and how we’ve joined in stillness together. I believe that both our shared motion and our shared stillness these past couple of weeks have connected us to one another in their commonness, seems silly but what more can we do together but move and be still? 

Any given day with a visiting group is dense with buzzing, animate energy. Sometimes this feels like palpable nervousness. After all, members from visiting groups are in a new city, meeting new friends and members from our partner communities are introducing themselves to strangers and sharing their neighborhoods. Sometimes the kinetic energy looks like attempts to hula-hoop with ten hula-hoops at once, “I know I can do it! Just watch.” There have been walks toward the park, arms full of chalk and cornhole boards. Sometimes we move our bodies together as we sing our Soaring Eagles Learning Camp morning song and practice our American Sign Language. Sometimes we shake our tambourines and tap our feet to songs that are new to us, sung in a language we’re leaning to a beat we don’t all know quite yet. There are running hugs, foot races, and even moving through the hallways of Eutaw Marshburn as we model the planet’s orbit in our Hands On Science station at Learning Camp. 

I think kinetic energy of this sort makes it easy for me to see the Sacred. Surely She is present in  our visible and physical movement toward one another, through the park and toward the playground, between knee-high cafeteria lunch tables for one last hug before we say ‘Goodbye for now’. I’m reminded of some of my favorite lyrics by a musician I adore. 

In Map on a Wall Lucy Dacus writes:

“I've walked on two legs since I was a child,

but when did I realize that some ways out,

past the horizon for thousands of miles

there are people like me, walking on legs like mine?

Coming closer and farther away.

Coming to me and from my embrace.”

I know our visiting groups and my Baltimore neighbors have moved toward one another in our dancing, clapping, and tambourine shaking. And, in so doing, have moved beyond barriers that might have otherwise kept them apart. Past our geographic horizons, some groups traveling hundreds of miles. Beyond class and age differences, rejoicing in ice pops knows no age! 

Deriving part of their value from their rarity, are the slower, quieter moments of connection that contain a stillness. These moments, even more than the louder, hectic ones, have made me a proud group leader and reminded me that curiosity can be a brave act. 

At the Soaring Eagles Learning Camp one of the learning stations my group, the fourth and fifth graders visited daily was The Book Nook. The Book Nook was the only space in the school that had access to air conditioning. The lights were always turned off and we all spoke to one another in inside voices. Every day Book Nook leaders read us a couple of books. My favorite one was called “Don’t Touch My Hair!,” which was about how important it is to ask permission before touching each other’s hair when we’re curious about it.  But, before we heard these stories we took a moment to notice our breath and to practice our centering mantras. To practice our mantras we closed our eyes and sat up straight, counting on our fingers, word by word, something we needed to hear ourselves repeat. Ms. Bonnie from the Book Nook gave us a couple examples “I, Am, Smart. I, Am, Strong. I, Am, Safe.” We were then encouraged to practice our own mantras for a minute. One day, after the allotted time to practice our mantras was long over, I noticed one of my students continuing to practice his as the book reading went on. I was immediately proud of him for taking his still-self seriously.

I found myself so eager to know what he needed to hear said over, over, and over again..

One of my favorite days of this summer (so far) was bussing up to Woodberry Crossing with our Soaring Eagles campers to enjoy a day in the expansive outdoors. As we ran outside, held bunnies, and splashed in the river, much of the day was a sweaty blur. Still, two moments of stillness stick with me. The bus ride up to Woodberry Crossing from Baltimore City was a loud one. We were all excited and wondering ‘how long is this gonna take?!’ Partway through the bus ride I decided to let my hair down and enjoy the breeze. After a few moments of fascination at my fluffy curls, one of the students I was sitting by and had gotten to know that week began asking me questions about my hair, one of them being “may I touch it?” I asked if I could touch her braids and we spoke for a while about how we loved each other’s hair and thought it was beautiful. 

The bus ride back from Woodberry Crossing was, as you might imagine, not so loud. In fact, it was nearly silent. The day had been so packed that many kids and youth leaders fell asleep. In the cutest of cases, on each other’s shoulders. Enjoying the quiet and taking note of who’d fallen asleep, I caught one of my visiting group youth leaders digging into his backpack. Out he pulled a towel that he folded into a makeshift pillow and gently slid under a very sleepy camper’s head. Such a gentle, sweet moment made me proud of the youth leader and happy that his friend felt comfortable enough to rest on his shoulder. 

I’m eager to see where our shared chaos and stillness brings us the rest of the summer. 

Until next blog, 

Liv

Week 1: Abundance

Abundance (noun) – a very large quantity of something; plentifulness of the good things of life

Growing up in the suburbs outside of Baltimore, I had never really been exposed to the city, city driving, or city parking in the same capacity as I am during my time here this summer. I was more anxious than I would’ve liked to admit about taking on the city, but after just a few weeks I know that God called me here for a reason. As cheesy and cliché as that may sound, interning at The Center was where I needed to be this summer; I am growing and learning, experiencing the intricate and intimate details of my vocation, and immersing myself in mission like I’ve never immersed myself before.

Last week, I got to immerse myself in mission with Union Church of Hinsdale (UCC) outside Chicago, Illinois and Westminster Presbyterian Church from Austin, Texas. Mel and I joined these incredible groups as we served alongside the community of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church. Together we learned about their story, their congregation, their programs, their mission, and the Amazing Port Street Garden. But something that I personally learned about was abundance.

During one of our debriefs early in the week, we asked members of the group to share with us a word or phrase that exemplified their experience with the week so far. Honestly, I don’t remember what my word was, but someone from the group used “abundance” and that really stuck with me.

 One of our projects at Amazing Grace was to pick cherries from the beautiful cherry tree in the garden, which would then be pitted and used for baking. While we were picking, standing on ladders and step-ladders, we filled so many bowls with cherries (like a lot!). Every time we thought we were done with a section on the tree, we’d look again, and it was as if magically more cherries would appear, hiding under leaves and glistening in the sun. There was definitely no shortage of cherries from that tree.

 On Friday, we served with Rockrose City Farm, learning about their story and mission. Though we only spent a few hours with them, I could see how abundance described their ministry as well. We spent our time weeding plots so that sweet potatoes could be planted. Every year, Rockrose City Farm plants an abundance of sweet potatoes that are then harvested at the end of the summer and donated to food pantries, such as the one run by Amazing Grace, because the sweet potato is a universal vegetable and most cultures have a dish that uses them.  

When I started my internship at The Center this summer, I didn’t know what to expect, and I sure didn’t expect the abundance I have quickly been welcomes into. I didn’t expect the abundance of cherries or sweet potatoes, but I also didn’t expect the abundance of love and support I have seen in the communities and felt from the communities. Growing up 30 minutes outside of Baltimore, this world is completely different than the one I am used to, but there is comfort in bearing witness to the abundance of God’s Love at work in this city and in seeing God’s Mission being carried out by the amazing and beautiful people here. There is comfort in discovering the abundance of cherries in the world.



-Emma Kate, Center Intern

Art Project Update!

Hello followers of the blog! 

This week’s been my office week while Mel and Emma Kate have been with groups so I’ve been spending some time organizing our sacred objects and I wanted to post a brief update before I’m out with our visiting groups! 

Right now, the main, middle section is up and secured to the wall and inside the cross are a few of our partner’s objects. Right now they include a beautiful bunch of flowers from Amazing Grace, an eagle stuffed animal from Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church, and a mini kickball park scene from Maryland Presbyterian Church. 

This first week, our group spent time in the McElderry Park Neighborhood and collected some lovely sacred objects that we’ll add to their box that will soon surround the cross. I’m so excited to start putting together the group boxes and see what they all look like side by side. 

Stay tuned for more! 

Liv 

Summer is here!

It is summer time at The Center!

In a few short days we prepare to kick-off nine back-to-back weeks of groups arriving to Baltimore on Saturdays and spending a week in the city (with a possible day in D.C. for advocacy) partnering with our local congregations and organizations.

It also means a new face in the office. This year because of the two fabulous fellows Liv and Mel, we only have one summer intern this year. Meet Emma Kate! A rising senior at Susquehanna University and native to Maryland, Emma Kate brings her love of music and religion, work with youth to this summer.

We are excited to welcome Emma Kate and all our visiting groups to The Center for Summer 2019! Safe travels and fun times! Keep following for stories, pictures and more.


-Liv, Mel, and Emma Kate

The Ruach of Spring

The last thing one expects at the start of spring is to get hit with the flu (and yes, I got a flu shot this year)! So imagine my dismay when my visit to the doctor resulted in more than a sinus infection.

It was prep week for UCC Norwell, a youth group coming from the Boston suburbs. Prep week can be hectic making sure everything is printed and ordered. I felt guilty being home and since I have never had the flu before did not realize how draining and long-lasting its effects. Though my temperature was gone I still missed Saturday orientation in order to be fully energized to meet the group and begin our week together Sunday. Sunday I felt a rush of energy and was ready to meet UCC Norwell.

Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week I just knew God was on my side. In Amazing Grace fashion you cannot begin Holy Week without a short Palm Sunday processional into the church. As we gathered on the steps of the church to recite the beginning liturgy for service I could feel the excitement building. Then we began to sing and walk the four short corners near the church...here comes the shoe dropping! I promise it was not a fast pace and nor did I sing with full breath every verse, but that was it for me. By the time we hit the gospel lesson my body was done and my lungs were shot. A coughing fit sent me to the basement to try to cool down and calm my unending cough. I could hear Pastor Gary reciting the familiar scripture of the night Christ was betrayed. I silently prayed for my cough to stop so I could rejoin service, but not even the cough drop could soothe my overworked lungs. I was feeling betrayed by my body as I tried to figure out what all I could do to ease my cough. A slight break gave me the opportunity to return to my pew to collect my things and let Liv know I was going home. I overdid it, back to bed I went!

So as Monday came, with determination and caution I went to Amazing Grace (AG) to finally meet UCC Norwell and begin our week of service with Natalie and the AG family. As Pastor Gary began giving background on the church and some of the initiatives it provides for the community, I began to think of my experience with the flu and this time of Holy Week and mission. As we began personal introductions with some congestion building up I introduced myself to the group reflecting on the creation story in Genesis. It is the ruach of God, the breath, wind, and spirit of God that is at work when we think of mission. It is the spirit of God creating a garden space where blight was rampant. It was the breath of God that I was praying for last week and on Sunday to fill my lungs and ease my cough. Our time and work in the AG space would be like the wind of God moving through the space and changing it as we work. See God and the Holy Spirit saw and moved among the void, but I defined it as opportunity, spaces for something new to be created, places where healing needed to happen. I reminded the group that it is this ruach of God that we should be looking for and reflecting on as we began the work that day. At the end of the week, with still a lingering cough, but a restored energy I reminded the group again that many have already began to comment on the changes they can see in the space. That though there is still much more work left to be done, that they should be proud of how God worked through them that week. That their spirit moved through the AG garden space and together we were able to create much needed change. Their energy was a much needed breath of fresh air for me, just as being out in the open after days in bed was needed energy for my healing. And so, though there will always be tasks left to complete at Amazing Grace, we could say with great confidence that this project is finished!

-Mel, Hands and Feet Fellow

It is finished! UCC Norwell takes a rest to soak up the sun and take a breath on the last day of service at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in McElderry Park, Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Mel Lowry

It is finished! UCC Norwell takes a rest to soak up the sun and take a breath on the last day of service at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in McElderry Park, Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Mel Lowry

Is That a Giant Wall of Junk?

Only at first glance! Allow me to explain...

At The Center we believe that it’s not our job to deliver God to our partner communities for God is already present in the communities our groups might visit! Instead, it’s our job as visitors and new friends to look for and join in the joyous and creative ways the Holy Spirit is dancing.

As groups visit, a whole lot takes place. In the span of just a couple days, a visiting group member will meet many new people, make new friends, play games, share meals, travel all around Baltimore on a justice tour, play games, learn about their specific partner community, experience their mission site, attend evening programming and much more! As all of this is experienced, sacred moments abound. These sacred moments work on our hearts and sometimes they change our minds, urge us into action, or compel us to live differently.

Given how powerful that sounds, these ‘sacred moments’ must look grand and spectacular, right? Fireworks? Large, blinking neon arrows?

Sometimes! But, more often than not, these sacred moments jump out of the otherwise mundane. Sacred moments happen through conversation, when we meet people we didn’t know our hearts were missing. They happen when we listen well and encounter God in new ways. They happen amidst pain and decay when we are challenged. They happen when we dance and laugh, when we are moved to build relationships with each other by asking the hard questions.

So, for the past four months or so, Mel and I have been working with our partners and our visiting groups to create a collaborative art piece that embodies and displays some of the surprisingly sacred, often goofy, sometimes challenging ways the Holy Spirit is dancing in Baltimore. We are asking visiting members and our partners to keep an eye out for a “Sacred Object,” something they find during their time here that reminds them of their experience.

Sometimes the objects themselves, like the sacred moments I’ve described, are easy to overlook if you’re not paying close attention. So far, such beautifully sacred objects include (just to name a few) a door knob, a plastic frog, a piece of broken pottery, a drawing, and a glove. These objects have been added to their respective groups boxes and will later be added to the shelf. Once completed, this piece will be on display at General Assembly 224 in 2020 and will act much like a gigantic 8’x12’ shelf containing many shadow boxes of different sizes full of all sorts of sacred objects!  

Check out this rough sketch of what our Sacred Object Shelf will look like one day and some of the object descriptions our visitors have provided!

-Liv, Hands and Feet Fellow

A visitor’s reflection on a bent screw they found:  “While helping JC the carpenter repair some of the old raised flower beds I had to remove that screw. It took a lot of effort to get that bugger out. Afterwards, I felt attached to it. It’s been in my pocket for the last day and I keep pulling it out and trying to bend it back to being straight again. It wasn’t until tonight that I realized it was perfect the way it was. Sometimes when you walk into someone else’s community it might look crooked and bent. The instinct is to take action immediately and fix it. Before you’ve even taken time to just be with it. In time you might learn that which looks crooked or bent is beautiful just the way it is. The problem was your eyes and lack of perspective.”    A visitor’s reflection on a small, fresh cut wooden pyramid:  “I’m drawn to new things. This piece represents the construction of new plant beds and all that they will mean to the community. I had a similarly sized and shaped piece of wood in my dining room table growing up. My mom told me it was from our old house. I suppose that makes it an old thing, but this new thing reminded me so much of it. All of our work this week focused on creating room for gardens and for things to grow. This piece to me helps symbolize that transition from old to new. God, however, did not show up in the soil or wood, but in the people who were excited to have us help and appreciated our work.”

A visitor’s reflection on a bent screw they found:

“While helping JC the carpenter repair some of the old raised flower beds I had to remove that screw. It took a lot of effort to get that bugger out. Afterwards, I felt attached to it. It’s been in my pocket for the last day and I keep pulling it out and trying to bend it back to being straight again. It wasn’t until tonight that I realized it was perfect the way it was. Sometimes when you walk into someone else’s community it might look crooked and bent. The instinct is to take action immediately and fix it. Before you’ve even taken time to just be with it. In time you might learn that which looks crooked or bent is beautiful just the way it is. The problem was your eyes and lack of perspective.”

A visitor’s reflection on a small, fresh cut wooden pyramid:

“I’m drawn to new things. This piece represents the construction of new plant beds and all that they will mean to the community. I had a similarly sized and shaped piece of wood in my dining room table growing up. My mom told me it was from our old house. I suppose that makes it an old thing, but this new thing reminded me so much of it. All of our work this week focused on creating room for gardens and for things to grow. This piece to me helps symbolize that transition from old to new. God, however, did not show up in the soil or wood, but in the people who were excited to have us help and appreciated our work.”

Peace, Love, Joy

Temperatures started at 10 degrees and cars are caked with ice and remnants of snow from the unexpected storm that blew in the day before. It is a typical winter Saturday, but for me and part of a group of 8th graders from Alexandria, VA, it was the first time assisting with the Harundale Presbyterian lunch program. A service that has been serving meals to the community in Glen Burnie for 30 years. During lunch I talked with Charlie, who at 73 years young, helps faithfully with the program and knows all of the people who come. The meal started with a trickle of folks and slowly a few more people started coming in. This allowed for the students, their adult leader and I to sit and eat with guests. Some went to another church to see what items they were handing out for the start of the month. A few told me that there are several churches who like Harundale assists the community with food, clothes, household items, toiletries etc. About a half hour into lunch Ms. Joanna walks in with a smile and greets Charlie, as many others have done also. She walks over to the table where I am sitting and with a deep breath of tiredness begins to take off her coat and sit next to me. Jason, who recently started attending Harundale and helps in the lunch program, began setting Ms. Joanna a place setting before going to prepare a plate. She greets the table with a smile and another deep breath. It is still cold outside and her voice was slightly horse. I don’t know exactly what we began our conversation with besides the cold weather and the reason she was out of breath and a bit horse, but for the next half hour or so I talked with Ms. Joanna about life.

Joanna (Bloom) Clouse, 88 is originally from the area, though she had moved to Ohio for a while with her husband. She has been a widow for 53 years but has come to enjoy being single. Her theme is “peace, love, joy;” which is inscribed on purple plastic key chains she gives out whenever someone does something nice for her. She said it is her way for giving back. That if people see these words they should remember that there is nothing to be mad about. She is still finishing rehab after falling and breaking her femur. Ms. Joanna says she is grateful that she broke her femur. It had become a blessing to her personally and she is able to minister to the people at the nursing home while doing rehab on her leg. Every so often during our conversation she would stop and say how much she loves her life with the biggest smile that she almost seems moved to tears. She would pause and beam with such joy that one can truly feel how much she really means what she says. Ms. Joanna hasn’t had the easiest life. She has kids who don’t care to talk to her and a granddaughter who is about to move in with her. She does not seemed bothered by any of life’s setbacks and focuses on how she is able to see God’s goodness. Ms. Joanna works part-time at a local restaurant and comes in to the lunch program to make ends meet. Charlie came and sat with us before Ms. Joanna left. Afterwards I asked Charlie what brings in people to the lunch program. He told me he’s learned there are at least 25 different reasons people have consistently come to Harundale. Anything from not getting along with family to homelessness to just a way to make food stretch in the home. He says some find it easier to be homeless, some just barely make enough on the job. He believed that the low numbers on Saturday was because it was a pay weekend. People probably got some money to get the things needed for the time being. In total 29 plates of food were served; and I learned a valuable lesson on how to have peace, love and joy guide my outlook on life.


-Melva, Hands and Feet Fellow

Winter at The Center

It is the start of a new year, but still humbling to know that it has only been five months here in Baltimore. Though Liv and I have experienced so much in this short period of time, we know there is still much much more to experience. We started pretty quickly and very hands on. The holidays brought the expected slow down and reving back up into a new year.

One might think with the start of true winter storms that things stop or slow down drastically. For The Center it is just another chance to see how congregations become creative in their mission work with the change of seasons. Visiting mission groups come willing to brace through whatever element(s) the weather presents that week; and The Center welcomes it all with excitement and expectation that God will move and show up as always. So we began this new year and start of winter with a group of college students completing a January intensive (j-term or jan-term) course looking at the intersection of faith and justice. We helped with the 2nd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Essay and Speech Contest in West Baltimore hosted by a partner congregation. We are preparing to help with a monthly feeding program and a new mission initiative that is meeting neighbors through providing firewood during these colder days.

Liv and I are meeting with pastors throughout the Baltimore Presbytery, learning more about the neighborhoods and the people who live there. The diversity runs deep, not just from person to person, but from block to block. Each church has a unique perspective of Baltimore as it relates to the area and the street on which their church is located. I am grateful for a few churches that have extended preaching opportunities and look forward to sharing worship as a intimate way to understand how they gather as community and understand their church’s mission. January, February and March are definitely filled with opportunity for all of us here at The Center. We hope you will join us soon and thank you for your continued support!

-Melva, Hands and Feet Fellow

A Brief Reflection from NEXT Church Training: Church? Really?

In October, Mel and I were able to attend the NEXT Church community organizer training here in Baltimore! It was a weeklong experience in which leaders from the Industrial Area Foundation’s Baltimore chapter, BUILD, led programming on community organizing from a congregationally-centered perspective. The days were long and full, rewarding and challenging, comforting and alarming.

As we discussed the foundational principles of organizing during the week: power, relational meetings, asking for money, running actions, examining one’s own self-interest, I felt at home. I mean, I love this stuff. I’ve had some practice using these skills before! I was feeling pretty good about myself, nice and comfortable. But, as we were asked to consider how we might apply these skills in our congregations when we return home after the training, I felt a pretty pressing sense of fright arise. It went something along these lines:

I don’t have a home congregation! I’m new here! OMG, I’m so new here, how do I become un-new here? How do you even organize in a place that doesn’t trust you yet? And oh my word do I not want to be a pastor. That desire sits at a very solid, very heavy zero. But do I have to be a Rev. in order to organize within the structure of the church? What is my role in this church of ours, anyway? Do I even know anyone here? Who is God?

So, welcome to my brain during (and still sorta after) NEXT training. Things tend to amp up rather quickly! Now, of course, part of my feeling adrift was because the training was designed specifically for clergy people and my status as a lay person still new to her area and still working to solidify her church home made answering some of the questions as they were posed rather difficult. Even still, a lot of the above anxiety is founded in genuine curiosity about what my role and relationship with church will evolve to look like-- both personally and professionally. I know myself to be an organizer and I feel increasingly at home in that role. But what about my identity as a person of faith? Do I feel increasingly at home in that identity?

In summary, I suppose the big question I’m forever trying to answer is, “Why am I so committed to organizing within the context of church?” Full disclosure, sometimes I’m surprised at myself for so ardently committing to church. I mean, I don’t think it takes away from my credibility to own the fact that I’ve got lots (!) of questions about this ole’ church of ours. I’ve spent a fair amount of time disappointed with decisions the church has made and the way it’s elected to treat all types of hurting people. In my peak pastor’s kid angst days, I was mad at the church on a personal level-- I felt I’d been allowed a look behind the curtain and was not impressed with the way the structure of the church treated ministers and their families. And, yikes, do I even believe all of this bible stuff?

NEXT training made these questions more clear and tangible but not necessarily their complementary answers. Rude. So, honestly, that’s where I am right now. Lots of questions about why my organizer self can never quite escape church and how my community-organizer-self and my person-of-faith self inform one another.

Holy Spirit? Does she have something to do with this? Is this all her doing? Sneaky! Someone get me her number.

-Liv , Hands and Feet Fellow

Hands and Feet

For those who have begun following the adventures of Liv and I here in Baltimore we thank you for the support of giving our stories time and attention. As we wrap up the first 60 days of being official Hands and Feet Fellows, you can probably tell that the work is broad in its reach and makes for long days and short months. We have not stopped moving so to speak, but we have gotten days off and moments to steal away and do fun things. We also get along and have established a friendship, so the home life is fun and conversational as well. But, who are we and what is this Hands and Feet Initiative about really?

By day 45 I finally felt like I knew what my job was really about. After completing a community organizing intensive training through NextChurch I realized the dual focus in the work that I do. One is to be the Hands and Feet Fellow as part of the Office of the General Assembly (OGA). An initiative that is really forward thinking for how the Presbyterian Church (USA) as a denomination engages with the communities where our churches reside and the cities we visit for large denominational meetings. This incite to intentionally build our local engagement and support of the ministries, work, and lives of those who are members of this denomination; and through ecumenical and civic partnership is huge. It is the Gospel of engagement, literally! The second focus of our work is to be the Hands and Feet Fellows for The Center. Liv and I get to be deeply involved with Churches within the Presbytery of Baltimore. We have begun this work by meeting with the congregations that are/or have partnered with The Center recently. We are moving towards reaching out to churches who have expressed some interest in partnership and/or are part of the Presbytery that we have yet to meet.  The Center’s focus on mission informs the depth and breadth of this OGA Initiative. The Center uses the concept of mission to empower local churches to engage with their surrounding communities. To function as not a separate organization, but to build and establish relationships with residents and other area organizations (if any) situated within the church’s radius. The Presbytery has set up its churches into ministry groups which broadens an individual church’s reach because the relationship with a community organization might be established with a sister congregation within the ministry group. Thus, some of the local churches have used their ministry group as a cohort to provide programming during the summer for kids in a centralized area. Some churches have partnered with other religious denominations and institutions within the area to provide activities and opportunities that support the needs of residents around the neighborhood. The work at The Center and with our partnering churches and local organizations varies from area to area. As you have seen in past posts, we have done many things: gardening, we have played kickball and have assisted in providing meals.

As Hands and Feet Fellows Liv and I are part of organizing and building relationships through listening to partners and people we are meeting along the way. We have both started finding ways to get out the house beyond work that also builds and feeds our personal needs and interests, but is rooting us into Baltimore as residents. These moments also provide for new connections and places to network. For me they have been educational and conversational in nature. I realized that as a black woman I am coming into a new community that already has a heightened awareness of what it means to live in America that recognizes you as citizen second. I also knew that Baltimore is unlike any other city I have lived, and want to do my diligence to learn about this city and the underlying tensions. As you have seen in other posts there are many layers to Baltimore and its history. I am not a tourist that gets to step in and out of spaces with my captured Instagram memories. I am fastly invested in who are the residents I call neighbor, the neighborhoods that hold landmarks to help me navigate movement, and the policies that impact me just as much as the next person. I am a resident of the city working for both city and county based congregations. In Baltimore and in Maryland that means something to distinguish where you live. My past work and education is starting to integrate into my understanding of this work. Coming out of the organizer training I feel more confident that I am on the right path of seeing how my faith and passion work together. As I work through the layers of Baltimore, God is causing my own layers to be examined. It is exciting and vulnerable. I am grateful for this year and for what has already begun to change in my life in just the last 60+ days in Baltimore. I am excited to be part of this Initiative and to have a practical hands on role in it manifesting throughout the denomination. It is work that we have all been called to by accepting Jesus and baptizing ourselves into the Christian community, but it is work few are willing to accept and are hesitant to engage. I am grateful that I am charged to come alongside and meet them where they are and help them to meet their neighbors where they are as well.

-Mel, Hands and Feet Fellow

The Honeymoon is Over

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As quickly as it started the honeymoon ended just as suddenly. I was ready for the moment, but I was not prepared for the impact. I started an anti-racism course for People of Color at the Baltimore Racial Justice Action (BRJA) after work on Wednesdays. Though I have taken anti-racism training before, I thought it important to take this course to help me understand Baltimore better. From the news and being an outsider I heard that the racial tensions in Baltimore were prevalent. The first 29 days did not reveal such understandings as depicted by news media, but on the eve of the 30th day that layer was revealed.

I was returning home from class and as I stated in my early post the neighborhood where Liv and I stay in is gentrifying. After about 5 pm parking is a complete nightmare. So, after circling the blocks (literally multiple blocks were driven) I came back to the block just above the house to find an empty space. Praise the Lord!!! There was a man on a bike looking at his cell phone so I figured he moved to the side to be safe in the darkness. I pulled up preparing to master a smooth parallel park, rolled down the window and asked if he would kindly move. Now, my Chicago living taught me that people put random objects to save parking spaces during the winter so I am used to the behavior. Be mindful that it was closer to mid-July than the depths of winter in Baltimore, so I was not in the mindset to hear this man inform me that he was not being safe on his bike and just randomly on the phone, but saving the spot for his wife who is coming up the block. I uttered my thoughts of unfairness to him and sat there in my car to see how long it would take his wife to arrive. She arrived a few minutes later, but my disbelief and frustration at possibly taking a few more turns around the block had me stuck. I sat there until she parked. I sat there until they walked together across the street into their house. I sat for a few more seconds until I realized that I still needed to find a spot and get home. As I sat, there were emotions building up inside that I had not felt in a while. I felt alone. I felt extreme sadness and hurt. I felt lost and I started to feel angry. I moved up the street slowly and sure enough I found a potential spot at the other end of the same block. I looked around for the signs to tell me if it was legal or not. I backed in as far as possible to ensure that I wasn’t crossing too far over the line into the walkway. As I parked I prayed that this spot was safe. I sat as a few cars came to the intersection and turned. I moved the car a few more times to ensure I was close to the sidewalk and out of the way from the corner. Then I sat there for a while longer. I wanted to cry. I wanted to go back to Georgia. I wanted to walk into my parent’s house knowing my car was safe in the driveway. I wanted this feeling of being defeated and helpless to go away. I got out the car still looking for signs to ensure that I would not wake up to a ticket or a towed car.

So where was the tension? It was internal. The incident itself had nothing to do with race, but I realized that the feelings I had was my awareness of blackness that I had not had to face in this way in a long time. When I was just starting the workforce I had an older white man tell a client that I had no international experience (though I had traveled several times outside the continental states at that time). He deflated who I was based on assumptions rooted in racism. In this moment those feelings returned.  Feelings that there was no way for me to defend myself or insist that the man saving the parking spot was truly unfair. There was no way for me to be assertive and confident that if anything escalated between me and ‘my neighbor’ that I would be treated equally. I realized that I was a Black woman in Baltimore, where tensions between Police and Black citizens is not on the best terms. That evening my mind began to understand what my body and soul already knew. I was not some new resident from Georgia, to my neighbor and to those who I encounter I am a Black woman from Baltimore. My race and my gender precede any other information or knowledge one might gather in our interactions. I uncovered another layer of Baltimore--internalized oppression covered in white privilege.

Update: I had another almost similar incident that ended up in a $50 parking ticket because the spot was not legal. With only 15 days to pay before penalty I understand the reason many get jammed up with parking fines. I am fortunate to have a few surplus dollars to handle surprise expenses, but for many this is another layer in the battle.

-Melva, Hands and Feet Fellow

What Am I Doing Here?

Second only to “Now, if you’re from Baton Rouge, where is your Southern accent?” the question I’ve been faced with most since moving to Baltimore has been the plain-spoken, “Why are you here in Baltimore doing community organizing?” 

Mel and Liv at the October community organizing training in Baltimore, sponsored by Johnson C. Smith Seminary, Metro IAF, and NEXT Church.

Mel and Liv at the October community organizing training in Baltimore, sponsored by Johnson C. Smith Seminary, Metro IAF, and NEXT Church.

I think my answer to this--why, Liv, are you called to community organizing?--is largely dependent upon who asks the question and what is presently aflame in the world. I’ve wondered a while whether there’s something disingenuous about maintaining a sugary-cereal-aisle volume of responses that I can pluck from and tailor dependent upon the identity of the person asking, the most recent failing of the government, or the latest affront to justice of which I’ve recently become aware. I’ve decided, for now, that having different responses for different days and different people is alright as long as each response is as true as the next. As long as I can position each “why community organizing” response in relationship to the others, trying always to keep track of the largest narrative, this cereal aisle can be as big as it needs. In no way is one response that I cite, one reason for acting publically to transform the world, entirely unique, each bears a plane that somehow connects it to the others. From what I can tell, there seem to be three threads that connect all of my reasons for seeking to organize to one another. So, I’ll tell you three of them. One about public crying, one about a cafeteria epiphany, and something about God and organizing. 

First, I am here because I’m a pretty big purveyor of public tears. I’m telling you... music, beautiful or difficult pieces of artwork, word of injustice here or there, a good story, a sappy segment on the news, films-- you can bet I’ll weep! A homegoods store, a church service, while exercising, walking from point A to point B, I’ll cry right then and there! Now, for a while my tears were something I was embarrassed about. I had practiced all sorts of ways to suppress the tears, to coax them back up my cheeks and back into my eyes. I didn’t want people to know that I was such a softie, crying about something they didn’t seem so moved by. I’ve come to appreciate my tears as external indicators that I’m listening and that I’m called to feel and to find means to metabolize that feeling into productive action and productive lament. I’m here because I’ve found myself with plenty to cry about lately and I’ve got to let these tears be seen and put these tears to work. 

Second, I’m here because I think of myself as the most privileged lady there ever was. For whatever reason, this realization came to me as I hurriedly ran across campus one day a couple of years ago on my way to grab some astoundingly subpar food form my school’s cafeteria. I had been thinking about how hard it felt to talk to some people in my life about Trump’s election. Why couldn’t they see everything I saw? How this news would affect minorities, how the wealth gap would likely increase, how this couldn’t be good news for our environment. I then wondered why I could see and feel all of the looming doom and why, of all times, I was most troubled by it during the middle of my time at a very cushy and elite college. Making my way toward an unsatisfying meal, it hit me that the very reason I felt a strange sort of ease and clarity in understanding what Trump’s election meant for the marginalized was the exact same reason other’s saw their way of life under fire and felt no problem with the election of an explicitly bigoted individual. Because I’ve practiced seeing things from the margins, I’ve been primed to see structures of power a certain way given my identity and the circumstances surrounding my upbringing. I know and feel and, to a certain degree, understand the mechanics of oppression because, as a queer lady, I’ve sometimes felt small and forgotten and like the mechanisms of society weren’t built with me in mind. I have been permitted behind the curtain to know and feel othering in my body. Yet, this experience in itself made a privilege because the other pieces of my identity-- my whiteness, my able-bodiedness, my education-- prevent the totality of my experience from being one in which I am rendered entirely immobile by the manifestations of said marginalization. I am here because I have felt some of the ways in which exploitation and discrimination hurt but have privilege yet to make use of. 

Third, while I’m a ways away from piecing together anything resembling a complete statement of faith, I am here because I know at least one thing to be true: the work of the church and the work of the community organizer are one and the same. The just world that God calls me to believe and act toward, rooted in the hopeful ethic of Christianity, is brought into being with the skillset of the community organizer. It is my belief in the efficacy of community organizing that bolsters my hope in what the church and what Christianity can be. And, it is my faith in God and the ever-courageous presence of the Holy Spirit that tells me that there remains a more just world that is worth organizing toward. 

-Liv Thomas, Hands and Feet Fellow

A Precious Garden

We have had two weekend mission visits for the fall so far. These weekends are the first time I got to experience the full programming and schedule set up by The Center.

The excitement and nervousness of Friday night moved into the sheer excitement of getting to spend time with Precious, the patient advocate coordinator at The Glenwood Life Center in Woodbourne-McCabe. Olivia (Liv) and I got to meet Precious during our orientation. Once you meet Precious you will never forget her or lose her in a crowd. Whatever anxiety I might have been feeling about my new role, I knew once I got a hug from Precious and began listening to her stories, whatever I was feeling would fade.

The group arrived on site and after filling some space with devotion, instructions, and some background information on the work of the Glenwood Life Center as a Methadone Clinic, Precious arrived. The Glenwood Life Center is a community. It helps those who have become addicted to opioids. There are resources, counselors, art projects, and group meetings to help patients work their way out of addiction and off methadone treatment. Precious is not just the patient advocate, but a patient herself. She is very open and forthcoming about her story and the process she has gone through to get to where she is today. Plus, Precious always comes with smiles and hugs.

To work inside this garden is very special. Precious began the garden in 2013 when she started volunteering as the patient advocate coordinator. Across from the clinic is an open space where they built a small playground for the neighborhood. Initially a small plot of the land was used to build a garden to promote healing for the patients, a backdrop to the playground, and give healthy food options to the kids and their families who live in the neighborhood. The garden has since turned into much much more. When you enter the garden you feel as though you are in a completely different setting. The chill in the air and the mist of light rain does not matter as you begin to dig, pull, turn over soil within the garden beds. The plants are her babies. Each one a sign of hope and optimism. Marigolds were the first plant she planted in the garden that has recently helped feed 1,374 people with produce donated to the local farmer’s market and food pantry. To watch Precious and volunteers work in the garden is experience a small taste of the impact the garden holds for this community. Though it is hard to get patients from the Glenwood Life Center to assist in the garden, for fear of sweating out their medication, it does not deter Precious who is now a master gardener, from working and planning another expansion project.

A part of my task as a Fellow is to work alongside her and I am excited to see her visions come to light. For the past two weekends we have cleaned and prepped the beds for winter growing. Precious has a special touch and way with planting seeds that produce in the unlikeliest of conditions. This is literal and figurative. Precious has already planted a seed within me about understanding the difference between the addiction and the treatment of opioid abuse. She has become a friend and protective older sister, making me pinky promise that I would call her if I ever needed assistance getting around the city. She makes it comfortable to enter and interact with the staff and patients within the Glenwood community. I never would have thought that I would say that working at an addiction treatment clinic would be a highlight of my work experience, but everyone I have met there is friendly, open-minded, and knows who Precious is! She is very much a celebrity figure, but honest in the way that she cares. I have lost track of her because she stops and gives 100% of her attention to someone who needs to talk to her. The garden and Precious are reminders to slow down and let the unexpected happen. You’d be surprised about what grows when you do.  

-Melva

Trying to Make Sense of Last Week

This year, as part of the Hands and Feet Initiative, The Center is hosting two fellows. Stay tuned here as Melva and Liv share their experiences.

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Today marks my first month as a Baltimorean, the first of many more to come! Stay tuned, I’m working on finding means to shift the ‘baltimorean’ moniker to ‘baltimorer,’ leaving long-time locals the opportunity to claim the ‘baltimorest’ identity. Feedback welcome.

These first four weeks have brought parking tickets (starting a gofundme), sleep schedule adjustment and readjustment, shear bewilderment at the depth of potholes here, and some heavy Google Maps dependence. The learning curve associated with a new city, a new job, a non-college schedule, and finding new community has felt a great deal like trying to drink from a firehose. Amidst all of this, I’ve found comfort in my co-workers, in nearby family members, and in some lovely new friends. These past two weeks I’ve found myself in need of every bit of their presence, insight, bravery, and wisdom.

I, like much of the country, have been gripped by the recent Brett Kavanaugh hearings and Dr. Christine Ford’s associated testimony. I couldn’t look away. I found myself spending more time on CNN and CSPAN and Facebook over the course of the past two weeks than I regularly might over the course of several months combined. I have been even more aware of my identity as a woman. To watch a woman my mom’s age, who grew up not far from where my mom did, recount an experience all too similar to ones my friends have endured felt deeply personal and I’d imagine that the judiciary committee proceedings likely felt personal for many women and men. As the Senate vote approached and it became clear that Kavanaugh would be confirmed, I felt my tense anxiety surrounding the hearings morph into disillusionment and a heavy heavy sadness.

Given the timing, the Senate hearing came down amidst all of my newness that I mentioned before and just as one of our first groups of the fall was getting into town and settling in for a weekend with us. I’ve so been looking forward to getting into the swing of hosting groups at The Center, learning our curriculum, spending time with groups and our partners, and experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit in all of it and I wondered how I’d do so with such a weight in my stomach. I wanted desperately to be fully present but I’m really no good at compartmentalizing.  

How does one remain authentic and engaged in justice-seeking work among youth and their leaders on one scale and dimension when that same justice and will to transform our world and our treatment of one another is so blatantly dismissed on a different scale and in a not-so-far-away dimension?

This weekend, with the events in DC in mind, experiencing youth participant’s honesty and curiosity and courage as they worked in gardens among new friends and caterpillars and mums and morning glory flowers felt a bit like I was in a utopia that was aware of its ephemerality. Such a strange and disparate dual experience might be compared to:

A single floating honey nut cheerio in a bowl of sour milk.

A massage chair in the middle of a mall on Black Friday.

A shiny red and white life preserver amidst hurricane seas.

A warm melting pad of butter on a very cold and very whole wheat pancake.

A mindfulness meditation circle in the middle of a heavy metal mosh pit.

If I’m being honest, I don’t yet have my head wrapped around everything that took place this past week and weekend-- both good and bad. And, truth be told, I have no profound wisdom regarding how to forge ahead when the weight of our nation’s political unrest becomes especially heavy upon our shoulders. What this weekend and my experience with our first full weekend group did remind me is that justice and injustice don’t stand in line and take turns directing. The good and the bad and the wrong and right and fair and unfair all happen all at once and perhaps the best we can do is keep our eyes wide enough to see both. For me there was no putting my sadness for Dr. Ford and our country away as I worked with our group this weekend. But, there was a way to feel that sadness and despair and ask God to permit my sensitivity to also be hyper-aware of the light peeking in through caterpillars and laughter.

-Liv Thomas, Hands and Feet Fellow

“The Layers of Baltimore” (Innocence)

This year, as part of the Hands and Feet Initiative, The Center is hosting two fellows. Stay tuned here as Melva and Liv share their experiences.

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If I could sketch

I would rough out a picture

that lingers with me.  

The sketch would depict two small black boys ---- walking

across the street

thru an open area

between two-story housing buildings.

A second sketch

would depict a quick embrace

of the older boy to the younger.

It would depict a conversation

that includes smiles and laughter.

Just like a rough sketch cannot tell the full story, there is no real way to tell in words without adding layers. Layers that are prescribed by living as a minority in America. Layers prescribed by watching the news and being observant as you enter and exit different spaces. These layers take away the innocence in the image I witnessed as a passenger heading home after another day in Baltimore. The image gave my roommate, partner in the Hands and Feet Initiative, and I a deep sense of joy and light-heartedness that we discussed briefly in the moment and days later.  It is an image that truly impacted us.

Olivia Thomas and I had about a week of living together and orientation into our work at The Center when we witnessed the above story. We were returning home to our neighborhood in its own process of gentrification. We were about three blocks below our residence. I believe we had started a tour that day to find special locations around the city. However, this small and very brief moment we shared watching the interactions of these young boys left a deeper impression. This moment has come define what I call “the layers” of Baltimore. As we enter a month of living, working, and moving about Baltimore I can sense that there are many many layers to this city and people. There are layers that have been added by the rich history. I have walked our neighborhood and have found old historical homes once belonging to free blacks who worked the docks in the 1700s. I have walked down cobble streets passed old warehouses and family bakeries. At times it feels like any new urban setting city. But, there are layers added by injustice and segregation. There is a northern feel, but people still speak when they pass reminding you that you are still part of the southern etiquette. This layer covers what I have seen portrayed on the news. It covers up some of the tension you see when you drive from East Baltimore to West Baltimore. When you drive through the neighborhoods that gentrification has yet to touch. It covers up the layers of violence, poverty, and disparities you hear when in conversation with a local partner or watching groups sit on stoops and stand on corners. The innocence of two small black boys happy to be with each other walking is where I want the layer and story to stop. As we started driving home again, I tried my hardest to not add anymore layers to their story. My mind began to add layers of who they are based on appearance. Layers that with some visible evidence might prove to be factual, but places them within the statistic that will have one of them dead in 10-15 years or part of a gang. A layer that has them witnessing struggle, violence, hunger, rage, and despair. What Olivia and I witnessed that day was just one of many layers. My prayer for them as they walked on oblivious of our gazing, was for God to protect them and keep them from the many layers of harm and injustice this world has set up and is ready to place on them. I prayed for their safety that night and for their success in life. I prayed for the work I was entering into and the many people I will meet along the way. That moment lasted only a few seconds, but it is the image that is branded into my mind as the backstory of life in Baltimore. Even in hearing the stories, we have witnessed the layer of innocence. We have been met with welcome, curiosity, and open-mindedness. We understand that this is but one layer and have begun finding different ways to immerse ourselves within various communities and settings throughout the city. My mind has stopped trying to add its prescribed social layers onto my memory of two little black boys, crossing the street walking through the two-story housing buildings with smiles on their faces.

-Melva Lowry, Hands and Feet Fellow

Centern Stories: Week 8 with Laura

“All Good Things Must Come to an End” -Geoffrey Chaucer 

Last summer, I visited The Center with my youth group from Burke Presbyterian Church as one of the adult leaders. We worked with Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church on the second week of their Golden Eagles camp. Our group got to be mentors to the kids at camp that week. As our week there progressed, I slowly started forming a relationship with my mentee. By the end of the week, she gave me a small heart with her name on it and told me she loved me. This small moment was a big reason why I wanted to an intern this summer. Within a week, I had built a meaningful and genuine relationship with this girl. This had been a mission trip unlike any other that I have had ever experienced. We had all left that week with new friends and tons of memories.

Fast forward to week 8, our last week of the summer. There were a few reasons why I was excited for this week. The most important reasons were that I got to work with Dickey Memorial, and my church was coming for a second year. I had been waiting for this week for the majority of the summer. I was having incredible experiences throughout the summer and I couldn’t wait to share that with my church.

On Monday, I was eager to see all the kids from last year again. However, I was a little worried that they would not remember me. As kids started to arrive, I was able to recall their names and say good morning to them. The mentee that I had last year arrived and I got a huge smile and a hug from her. This made my heart so happy and I knew that our bond that we made last year was still there. Some of the youth were a little sad that some of the kids didn’t remember them right away. I had to remind them that just like these kids have grown up, they have also grown up and changed. As camp started, the kids and the youth quickly bonded and picked up their relationships from last year. It was amazing to see how despite being apart for a year, the relationships they made were still there. As the week continued, these relationships continued to grow. I was able to build my relationship with my mentee from last year, as well as build relationships with two new mentees. We had fun building relationships, water sliding, screen painting and hanging out at the beach. As this week finished, I was both sad and excited. Sad because I was leaving this church and this internship, but excited to see what my future after this job holds.

Just like the quote above says, “All good things must come to an end.” This internship has been so much more than I expected it to be. I met some really great people and made so many new friendships. I pushed myself and got outside of comfort zone by teaching curriculum and leading devotions, and by not being afraid to make changes and accommodations to it depending on the group. Being in Baltimore and this internship have shown me how I am being called to do mission back in my own community and church in Burke, Virginia.

As a teacher, this curriculum has taught me how I want to bring the practice of "crossing boundaries" to be in relationship into my classroom. I always want my classroom to be a safe and trusting space for my students. When people cross boundaries, relationships are built and you are able to understand each other on a deeper and more personal level. Having a classroom like this gives students a space where they don’t feel judged and can truly be themselves.

My big project for the upcoming school year is to bring the crossing boundaries curriculum to the rest of my youth group. Since a small group of middle schoolers has come to The Center for the past 2 years, I figure that expanding this curriculum to my whole youth group would be easy and effective. We are also always looking for new mission experiences to be apart of. A big thing that is part of my youth group and The Center curriculum is one-on-one meetings. As per the homework assignment we give groups, they have to complete one-on-one meetings in their congregation. My plan is to use this assignment as a starting point for mission this year as a youth group. I want to find out where my youth feel called in their community and our church. There are many boundaries, as identified by my church during our Thursday night program, in Burke that can be crossed. The hard part is figuring out how to cross those boundaries in a respectful way that can build trusting relationships. However, that is also the fun and interesting part. I am looking forward to working with my youth group and figuring this out together. I am thankful for The Center and this experience for providing me the tools that I need to make a difference and a change back home in my community and church.

Stay tuned for an update on this journey of crossing boundaries.

-Laura

Centern Stories: Week 5 with Shelby

This past week the Centerns got a break from the hustle and bustle of Baltimore to stay in a quaint Annapolis beach bunkhouse (thanks to the awesome hospitality of some church friends). Our week in Annapolis was spent with our partners at First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis and STAIR (Start the Adventure in Reading) and our group from Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia. FPC Annapolis was kind enough to provide lodging for our group from Alexandria during their stay. We spent our mornings volunteering at the STAIR Summer Reader’s Theater camp at the Robinwood Community Center, one of ten of STAIR’s locations during the school year. The week was full of enthusiastic kids, all kinds of books, and plays about bugs, mummies, not-so-traditional fairytales, and very needy mice.

The week started with some reluctance from the campers and some awkward introductions. It is always interesting to go to a new place on day one and spend all day with people you’ve never met. However our group from Alexandria embraced the kids with open minds, ready smiles, and plenty of encouragement. By day two, they were old pros. It was such a gift to see the ways the kids opened their hearts to new volunteers while also meeting the more familiar volunteers with hugs and laughter. The Annapolis Police Department has volunteered with the STAIR summer camp for two years now and they know a lot of the kids from activities and mentoring throughout the year with various community programs.

Another consistent presence with the kids is Linda Barbour, who has been the Executive Director of the STAIR program in Annapolis for a few years now. She works year round to help kids across the city know that they are cared for and that reading can be FUN! Her passion for children and for theater makes for a great combination each summer during the Reader’s Theater camp. Linda (along with a team of great volunteers) turns books into plays for the kids to read, sets up tables of craft materials for the kids to get creative with props and costumes, and applauds the kids as they transform from nervous readers to budding actors in just one week. It was such an honor to get to join in such amazing work.

The youth and adults from Mount Vernon Presbyterian certainly thought so as well. Throughout the week they built relationships with kids - from the quiet ones to the rabble-rousers. These relationships were formative for both the youth and the children. The campers had consistent encouragement to help them improve their literacy and their confidence and the youth had the benefit of learning about kids from different backgrounds and perspectives than their own. The camp overall was a huge success, culminating in a performance for family and friends on Friday. Each of the actors and actresses beamed with pride as they read their lines and received their applause from the audience. The week went by quickly in flashes of smiles, laughter, singing, dancing, crafting, and reading. STAIR does some really good work in Annapolis and participating alongside the group from Mt. Vernon reminded me that what we teach at The Center is true: God really is at work in communities and neighborhoods. What a gift it is to be invited to take part.

-Shelby