Round 2

Well the summer has come and gone. The staff took the rest of August off to recuperate from a fun-filled and busy nine weeks of summer. September is ending with cool mornings and warm afternoons. Liv and I have officially been living in Baltimore for a full year! There are days I still feel so new to the city and yet, I can drive to a good 90% of our local partners and neighborhoods without using navigation. Now, I may not know exactly where I am, but a quick view of the directions and I am like, “oh, right, I know where that is!” and I am off. I have begun to venture out into new parts of the city and experience Baltimore specific things like duckpin bowling and locally crafted food and drink. 

This fall is slow in terms of groups coming for mission service, but very packed for us as a staff. The Center is in a unique position for growth with room to develop and think ahead to the future. In the midst of visioning and reflecting on the last year, we are also organizing and strategizing as we prep for General Assembly (GA) 224 here in Baltimore. In 8 short months we will be completing the final touches of the sacred object art project; finishing meetings and prep for summer camps to begin with our partners; moving offices to our downtown location at First and Franklin Presbyterian Church; and making sure we have all the things needed to welcome groups, commissioners, visiting families, partners, reporters, etc. into the life and work of The Center. So we welcome this time to focus in on the details and prep work needed to make this all happen. 

Note: Registration for winter and spring groups is open as well as summer registration! Visit our serving information page for more information and calendar. Stay tuned for a special announcement about registering for a service day(s) during the week of GA 224 coming soon in October!


-Mel

Final Reflections from Emma Kate

Baltimore is a beautiful, twisted, powerful, and intense city to spend time in. It has a dark history, full of hatred and heartbreak; heartbreak which is seen in the abandoned and boarded up buildings with trees growing out of the caved in roofs, the people walking up and down the street at every traffic light asking for anything you can spare, the balloons and stuffed animals on street corners signaling that something bad has happened there, trash on the streets and the sidewalks. And, yes, we have rats. But, amid all this heartbreak, there is so much beauty in this city, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it this summer.  

Throughout the summer, Baltimore has grown on me. I have found a certain comfort in this city that never sleeps, in the sounds and the lights and even in the compactness of the buildings. I’ve even reached a place where I don’t hate driving or parallel parking! While I am excited for the upcoming year and all the incredible things and big decisions I have ahead of me, a piece of my heart will always belong to Baltimore.

This job has been one of the most exhausting experiences of my life; there are early mornings, late nights, days spent in the hot and humid weather, last-minute schedule changes, and kids who spill their water on you (not once, not twice, but THREE times). But this job has also proved to be one of the most rewarding and enlightening experiences I could have asked for. This has truly been a learning experience for me, as I have learned about the history of the city, the people who call it home, what I want out of my future career in ministry, and about myself as a human being.

The Center programming and the partners that I got to spend my time with this summer have taught me to view mission through different eyes. They have taught me that mission is not about helping people, but it is about building relationships and being vulnerable with the people in your community. Mission is about paying attention to what God is already doing in the community and understanding that we are not there to act as Saviors. We are simply there to love and learn as we have been called to.

This summer has been intense in the best way. I have learned how to love fiercely, how to put my heart and soul into any task I am presented with, and how to be confident in my teaching abilities. I have also learned that one of the requirements for any future church I am employed at is that they grow grapes so that we can make our own juice for Communion. I have been overwhelmed by the grace I have experienced from the visiting groups and from the people I have talked to on the street.

Baltimore is a hard city to live in, but once you let go of the premonitions and stereotypes of city living and let yourself look deeper into the neighborhoods you’re surrounded by, you can begin to truly see the beauty. There is beauty in the murals scattered on the sides of buildings and in the gardens being planted and taken care of to provide life in this concrete jungle. There is beauty in the 1st grader who offers to share his breakfast with you on the first day of summer camp. There is beauty in watching campers get excited about reading or get excited about bowling for the first time in their lives. There is beauty in bonding with someone receiving food from a food pantry because you both have red hair. There is beauty in this city, but you must be willing to open your heart and your mind and your soul to the places and the people that God is calling you to. You must be willing to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8), no matter where that takes you, because the journey is not always easy, but the destination is so emotional and so incredible and so worth the exhaustion.

-Emma Kate Lander

Week 9: At Golden Eagles

That’s a wrap! 

I spent the last week of The Center’s summer programming with Burke Presbyterian Church from Burke, VA and Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Dickeyville. Together we joined in to put on Golden Eagles camp. Each camp day was full of exciting activities diligently planned by a brilliant lead staff. We went to a CrossFit for kids class, tried our best to solve some escape room puzzles, took part in a neighborhood-wide scavenger hunt, played water games outside every day (!), tie-dyed socks, and, for the whole day on Friday, went to the beach! There was a perfect balance between unstructured play time and pre-planned activities that kept both campers and mentors really engaged.  

There were a couple of special things about this week’s camp. First, this is the third year that folks from Burke have come back to participate in Golden Eagles camp. The youth from Burke and the youth at camp, mostly students from Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle, have watched each other grow up! This was my first time at this camp and, from a third party perspective, it was lovely to see them check in on each other and pick up the relationships and connections where they’d left off the previous year. Also, from a staffing position, it was so handy to have a bunch of experts around who already had an idea of how camp runs, what each kid is like and needs, and could clue me in on questions I had about what was coming next. 

Just as Burke has made an intentional decision to return to Dickey Memorial year after year, the members at Dickey have known these kids since they were in kindergarten! That’s incredible. This year’s camp and celebration banquet on the last day of camp marked the 6th year of their connection to one another. Just like much of Baltimore, boundaries were created to separate the Dickeyville community from the surrounding communities, namely communities of color. While walking through Dickeyville on Sunday afternoon after church, one of the first days Burke folks were in town, Pastor Jennifer pointed out ways that Dickeyville was sending signals to surrounding neighborhoods that they’d prefer if they stayed in their place. One of the roads in Dickeyville abruptly ends before reaching an apartment complex and there are quite a few security company and ‘crime watch’ signs facing those folks’ communities. Dickey Memorial members have committed to getting to know their neighbors and, along with hosting two weeks of camp every summer, several members (known lovingly as The Matriarchy) go to Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle every Tuesday to have snacks, play games, work on homework, and just spend time together. 

Each of the mentors from Burke were paired with one or two campers to spend extra time with during mentor time. I was really happy to discover that my mentees also love art. We spent some good time together making each other pictures. On one of the final days of camp, one of my mentees gave me a drawing of balloons surrounding a heart with my name inside. Of course, I couldn’t help but tear up. Trust that it has a special place on my fridge at home. 

A final reflection from my week at Golden Eagles camp came to be with the help of a close friend of The Center, Tracy Watts. A documentary photographer out of Charlotte, NC, and generally incredible person, Tracy spent the whole week documenting Center camps and programming. On Thursday before heading out of town, she offered the kids at Golden Eagles Camp the opportunity to have their portraits taken. She encouraged them, if they were interested, to pick a place around the church to have their photos taken. Some kids were inclined and some not so much. One young woman who I’d been getting to know that week decided that she wanted her portrait taken but only if she could have me and two of the Burke mentors in the shot with her. Of course we obliged! She then led us through the fellowship hall, down the stairs, outside, through the undercroft and up the stairs to the sanctuary. As we walked through the sanctuary she led us up the couple of stairs in front of the altar. We encouraged her to access her artist-self and position us how she wanted. She centered us on the altar and asked us to hold hands. Tracy took our photos. 

While this moment felt in some ways like goofy fun, it also felt profoundly sacred as it unfolded.

When given the opportunity to put herself anywhere in the church, she put herself, alongside friends, in the most conventionally adorned, holy part of the church. Right up front and center in the sanctuary.


-Liv

Photo by Tracy Watts

Photo by Tracy Watts

PCUSA - Welcome to Baltimore!

Last week, The Center was at Big Tent to welcome our PCUSA friends to our city. Mel and Liv were asked to speak before the gathering and share about this city. We recorded it and are posting the text just in case you missed it - or want to hear it again!

_________________________________________________________

Baltimore’s received quite the press recently, haven’t we? 

I think the words were “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess”.... “NO human being would want to live there.”

These were the President’s remarks about the city we call home. 

If you didn’t know, and goodness I hope you do know, you’re in Baltimore City. And, you’re in the section of the city where investment has been most dense and is really pretty visible. It’s lovely around here, right? You can see the Domino Sugar sign across the way, the water’s beautiful, shops and great restaurants all over. Life all around.

It’s the piece of Baltimore that city leaders, developers, and investors have decided to make beautiful, but it’s only a very small slice of Baltimore. So, for the next couple of minutes, we’d like to share a bit about what we’ve seen and experienced since moving here about 10 months ago. 

_________________________________________________________

Baltimore City is the mother wailing over the death of her children 

and the children weeping to their mother’s for food. 

Baltimore City is the sirens crying out from wilderness places because blight has taken hold like leprosy. Can you see it? 

The man so close to the cleansing water and not one person will assist him in the few steps he would take to be healed. 

Can you see the trees growing from the rooftops of abandoned houses interspersed by the few with the will and the hope to survive?

The hardest thing about Baltimore is not Baltimore, but learning how to live in exile when your neighbors are free. 

The captive and the captor dwell together, just turn the corner and you’ll see something different. Look across the street and depending on what side you are standing on you’ll see hope deferred or a dream realized. 

The streets get cleaned or garbage cans are left overflowing. 

The hardest things about being in Baltimore City is seeing how the rest of Maryland treats Baltimore. 

A step-child, an orphan. 

The hardest thing about living in Baltimore City is becoming aware that I have become one of the exiled, yet I have lived parts of my life like a captor. 

The words spoken recently are not the first time I witnessed the harsh reality that Baltimore City is in exile to the rest of Maryland, Baltimore County and other surrounding areas. 

Baltimore City is a warning to the rest of the cities across America,

 “DO NOT ignore the weeping, the wailing, the shouts of injustice and the dead silence!” (or what?) Can you see it? 

Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? 

_________________________________________________________

Just last week, I was working in West Baltimore, the area being tweeted about, with part of a group of students who live just across the Baltimore County line.

3 young men, their adult advisor and I arrived at the gymnasium of St. Edwards Catholic Church to see what would become 50+ people---campers, counselors, and adults in this open space cooled off by a few industrial-sized fans and a slight breeze at the entryway. 

It was breakfast time. 

Cereal one day; rice crispy treats and applesauce another day because resilience is key

Mother sat in the corner near the back, Ms. Barbara was the timeout section of the camp.

Her Mahogany skin still smooth though she has reached the age of an elder. 

Her smile bright and sparse. I became her favorite. 

At times the movement of the camp would be so quick and chaotic, I’d go and put myself in timeout for a while. 

A hug and a laugh would revitalize my energy to make it through the next hour or so. 

I challenged her to keep showing up and she challenged me to do likewise. 

I learned she had 6 children and several grand. She bought a house just up the street from the camp, one of the few people I have met who own a home in the city. 

This camp mixed with science, bible study, and environmental awareness was daycare for working parents, a reprieve for tired grandparents, a safe zone for a growing generation, a place for learning to continue---reading, writing, and math. This one open space and the small corner church a block away that served as the emergency heat location is a balm to the exiled.

Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? 

_________________________________________________________

Baltimore does have rats, you know? Really well-fed rats, rats bigger than anywhere else’s rats. 

I’ve seen some. Accidentally picked up a gigantic frozen one once when I was picking up candy wrappers, broken bottles, and old newspaper in a local garden one day this past winter. 

Can’t really say all of the kids I spend time with here in Baltimore enjoy that rat-level of food access. At some of the camp days The Center has helped support this summer, lunch and snacks are provided for the campers and, most times, pockets are stuffed with granola bars and pop tart packets…for later.  

At that same camp, actually just last week, I was drawing with chalk with a couple of neighborhood kids. We were outside in their local park on a section of road between a field and a playground that felt like the surface of the sun. As we were kicking around chalk-drawing ideas and picking out colors, I noticed a couple needle caps around. Before I knew it, I caught myself trying to cover them up with my feet, not wanting the kids to see them. In all likelihood, they probably already had. 

Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? 

_________________________________________________________

If you’ve spent any time around me these past 10 months, you’ve absolutely heard me talk about this one garden in particular, the Glenwood Life Recovery Garden which is located directly across the street from Glenwood Life Counseling Center. Glenwood Life is a methadone treatment facility for people in recovery from opioid addiction.

The garden and the treatment center are located in a Baltimore neighborhood that, five years ago, had a 60% vacancy rate. Since its beginning just a few years back, the garden has been a place for the neighborhood residents to sink their hands in soil, experience beauty, pick some fresh produce. But! I’m getting ahead of myself. 

I have ten months worth of falling in love with this place that I want to tell you all about but the change I’ve witnessed in above-ground planting beds, in an empty field full of cinder blocks, in others lives and in mine is truly a sermon-series all its own. So, I’ll just tell you about Monday! I was in the garden with Mel, a group of visitors from a Presbyterian Church in Maryland, a couple other local supporters of the garden, and, the woman who had the dream for the garden five years ago when it was an empty, buckled parking lot, Precious. It was a sunny, sunny day on Monday and after getting to know each other a bit we got to work watering the new native plant garden, harvesting carrots, filling carton after carton with these bright orange cherry tomatoes, and mixing in new nutrient-packed compost with the rocky soil of the beds. Toward the middle of the day, Mel and I were chatting during a water break when a couple of the clients at Glenwood life came over to the Garden to see what was going on. We introduced ourselves and heard a bit about them and they shared with us their ideas for which plants and trees the garden needed next. This couple shared that they’d love to see a peach tree and a pear tree one of these days. Mel and I agreed that peach tree and a pear tree would be a great addition to what the garden already has to offer. I found myself envisioning them just between the fence by the beds in the back near where the watermelon vines are stretching out. As we were wrapping up our conversation together and just before the couple turned  to walk off, the gentleman turned around and said to Mel and me, “you know something? There's a reason this Garden doesn't have rats. You know why that is?”

Mel and I looked at each other and admitted that, no, we didn't know why this beautiful garden full of yummy food and healthy plants wasn’t crawling with rats all the time. 

And, in a sentence that felt immediately affecting and so, so timely he said, “because y’all are here tending the land! People are always over here tending the land. Rats don’t like to go places that are well taken care of.”


Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention?  

_______________________________________

Baltimore embodies two polarities and smatterings of everything in between

One: vacant streets, boarded up houses, violence, needle caps, hunger. Loss and urgent desperation. 

Another: new life. A deep sense of pride. Creativity born of necessity. Kids playing. Folks sitting on their front stoops checking in on each other. 

The cigarette butts Mel and I, our visiting group, and community members picked up yesterday along the York Road corridor will be back in a matter of days. AND, the cherry tomatoes from Glenwood’s garden that we picked carton after carton of on Monday, little balls of orange sunshine, will be back in a matter of days, too. 

_________________________________________________________

We’d like to close our time by inviting you to close your eyes for a moment. 

We want you to travel with us for just a mile. 

In this mile there are tree-lined streets and several homes with planters of all sizes and shapes filled with flowers, grasses, and crawling vines. 

In the early morning and evening cars line the street bumper to bumper. 

Even the side streets are filled and adorned with party lights that shine like stars at night. 

Are you seeing all of this? 

Along this section of the mile, houses have painted mailboxes and the house numbers are each uniquely crafted. Political bumper stickers and yard signs are hard to miss.  

Blocks and blocks of green space, trees, ponds, and play areas. 

Now, we’re turning slightly westward and there are fewer cars, and not as many trees lining the street, the homes look a little smaller, and the residential areas are now peppered with corner stores. 

There aren’t planters or varieties of flowers that adorn the front steps, a few window boxes here and there, but mostly the vacancy or piles of trash catch your eye first. 

The side-streets are mostly narrow alleys and no lights are strung overhead. 

Keep your eyes closed, we still haven’t gone a full mile yet. 

Now we’ve come to the playground across from an elementary school. 

A large tree provides shade to a faded plastic blue slide and swing set. 

There’s a good amount of trash on the ground. If it’s closer to trash day the one corner can is filled to the brim. 

Someone’s asleep on that bench over there and I think I see another pair of legs sticking out from the awning that way. 

Can you see all of this? 

The alleys are pungent with waste and debris. 

In this section there are a few boarded up houses. 

We’re not in Baltimore. 

Maybe it takes you further than a mile to notice divisions back home. Maybe noticing only happens when you accidentally take the wrong freeway exit. Perhaps you cross train tracks. Maybe the division where you’re from is between who owns the land and who tends it. 

We’re not just talking about Baltimore. 

We’re any place where boundaries, red-lining, block-busting, segregation, voter suppression, food deserts, and cultural and social boundaries that divide us from one another have been permitted to be the norm.

We’re in your city, your town. 

How stark of a contrast do you encounter in your mile drive? 

Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? 

-Mel Lowry and Liv Thomas at Big Tent, Baltimore, August 2019

Week 8: Back Home

Precious, Precious oh wow, how your garden has grown

Tomatoes, herbs and native plants

And are those carrots all in a row!?!

Angels keep watch as sprouts rise up

To meet the air and sun

And another day of planting and harvest

Brings joy to everyone!

There is no greater joy than to be at Glenwood Life Counseling Center! It has truly become a home away from home, like many of our other partner locations. I have truly seen this site grow and change in the last 11 months. From the expansion done in May to add native plants that are thriving and blooming; to all the new plants Precious is trying out in the beds. There are sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes that are soooo sweet! Herbs are growing and three youth visiting from the Czech Republic helped to plant radishes, cucumbers, and composting soil into beds. There is never a dull moment around Glenwood Life. 

On our second day there, Precious wanted to clean up the street because it was supposed to rain that evening. She did not want the trash to flow down the street and into the sewer system so she organized with some young men who hangout on the corner, and a young woman, Angie Winder, running for council for that area to have a mass clean up. This was one of two that Precious organized. Liv and I walked up to The Hut, as it is called, to gather a few extra supplies. It was also the day of the market and so it was cool to meet a few interns helping set up for the market. They were about to head down to Glenwood Life to pick up the tomatoes, carrots and a few peppers we harvested the day before. Outside of getting to work with our partners for longer periods of time, this summer has been about connecting the dots between our partners and the community they are connected to. Liv saw a few of the youth that attended the McCabe camp down the street weeks before, and it was beautiful to see them get excited about worms and try a few things out of the garden. I am excited to see what grows next in this precious garden, next to an opioid treatment center in East Baltimore. 

-Mel Lowry

Week 7: Pushing Through It

We are almost to the finish line! What a summer it has truly been for me here in Baltimore and with The Center. I am grateful to have the chance to spend some extended time with our partners, a few I met briefly when I first arrived, but had yet gotten the chance to really deepen our connection. Running a summer camp for a week or multiple weeks really throws people together in a unique way. It is almost like being on a deserted island and the only way to survive is to bond together and work through the challenges that arise. Things definitely get messy and risky from day to day, but because at The Center we believe the definition of messy and risky is to be flexible, this week of camp had all of us stretching in unexpected ways.

The Rosemont Community Interfaith Coalition is an example of when mission calls for flexibility. It is a coalition of about 5 churches who have come together on the westside of Baltimore to provide 4 weeks of camp to kids in the surrounding community. This year with the help of Mr. Rob as the camp coordinator, we hosted up to 50 campers ranging in age from 4 (pre-k) to 11 (6th grade). There were also a team of young workers from the Youth Works Program that ranged in age from 14-18; and rising seniors from Loyola Blakefield, a high school located in Towson, that assisted with week 3 out of 4 of the RCIC Camp. The camp was run out of St. Edwards Catholic Church’s gym and on occasion we would walk the campers to Hope Community Church for afternoon programming and/or dismissal. 

You can already tell with so many people and locations there are a lot of moving parts to this camp. For the introvert in me, this was overwhelming at times. To have upwards of 70 people in a gym (which would happen during the overlap of youth workers around lunch) in organized chaos took a lot out of me each day. It was hard to separate some of the kids from their siblings so that tables could be divided out by grade. Friends wanted to sit with friends and particular youth works workers, so at times there were more people than a table could manage etc. All the chaos of camp was isolated into this one area and the kids loved it. Of course there were moments when it was a little harder to regain quiet and attention from the campers, but when it happened, that’s when you could see how much the campers connected and bonded to volunteers and workers. You could see conversations and smiles and feel the energy rise (in a positive way). Hunting Ridge Presbyterian Church was the lead for week 3 of camp, and the kids had an outing to an old plantation located in Carroll Park that has one of the oldest orchards still producing fruit in the city. 

This week at Rosemont was an experience in pushing through. Pushing through the heat, the tiredness of working 6 weeks at different locations around the city. It pushed my limits in ways that have not been pushed since I completed an internship in Yellowstone National Park four years ago. We all need a good push once in a while. I learned that the key to making it through was found in the relationships built prior to and in the midst of camp. Together we were able to push through another week of camp!

-Mel Lowry

Week 7: Not Throwing Away My Shot

For several years, I have had a special connection with my home congregation at the First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis. I have been inspired and encouraged and affirmed by the community that I have found there. Throughout the year, this congregation works to inspire youth in Annapolis through the STAIR (Start The Adventure In Reading) Program. In the summer, that inspiration shows itself in a different light. They host two different weeks of STAIR Summer Theater Camp where each day the campers learn a new play, make costumes, and perform their play for the rest of the camp.

I knew that this week was going to be one of my favorites right away. On the first day of camp, my group performed a version of “Where the Wild Things Are”, and during “Props” (the time the campers are given to make their costumes for their performances), one of the campers in my group, Ava, told me that I needed horns and set out on a mission to first make me horns and then make herself horns. We were #twins and it was such a special moment for me, so I wore those horns for the entire rest of the day, smiling each time I looked in the mirror. Each day was special – full of silly songs, books, acting, costume-making, and performing!

But Wednesday was a special day – Wednesday was Hamilton Day! Instead of doing a play with each group, we collectively performed a mash-up of “I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot” interspersed with lines from Barack Obama’s speeches and Michelle Obama’s book Becoming. One of the first things that we talked about when introducing this mash-up was the use of the word “shot” because to these campers that words means something very different than it does to those of us who have previously listened to or seen Hamilton and know the context of this song. We talked with them about how it meant that we weren’t throwing away our chance, that we weren’t giving up! The campers in my group put their energy into this performance, making up beats and stomping their feet, proving to me that they weren’t throwing away my shot. They were eager to learn something hip and modern.  

Growing up, I started reading at an early age – it was always something that was just a part of my life. For some of these campers, it hasn’t been. They don’t have the same opportunities or encouragement as other youth do. But experiences like a week at STAIR Summer Theater Camp and participating in STAIR during the year shows them that there is a world of opportunities for them out there. They have stories to read, and to tell, and to share with others, and they are absolutely not throwing away their shot.

-Emma Kate

Week 6: Howdy Partner!

Hello Friends!

Quick announcement: My preferred greeting is now “Howdy, Partner!” 

More on that later. 

I spent a week with real-life Olympians! Such an honor. Okay, not Tokyo 2020 Olympians, but they were athletic and it was still an honor! Last week I was in the Woodbourne-McCabe neighborhood with a combined youth group (Westminster Presbyterian and United Churches) visiting The Center all the way from Olympia, Washington. For several weeks every summer, Alhambra Park, once a block of vacant row homes now a spacious field and playground, becomes home to summer camp. 

These weeks of summer camp in the park are made possible through a network of partnerships and are informed by principles of community organizing. A group of Presbyterian churches pooling their energy and money called the North Baltimore Presbyterians have been consciously investing in the Woodbourne-McCabe neighborhood for around five years now. They began first with financial support for Habitat for Humanity builds in the area, later hiring and working with a community organizer, Christian, who had worked with Habitat. Soon after, the churches began hosting a multi-week summer camp every year. Initially, the churches were really only present in the neighborhood for those several weeks during the summer. However, after churchwide conversations regarding whiteness and privilege, the North Baltimore Presbyterian churches now maintain a year-round presence in the neighborhood with monthly kickball in order to invest more earnestly in the relationships with neighborhood adults and kids. These weeks of summer camp would not be possible without the support of the Neighborhood Association President, Ms. Phyllis and Christian, a local community organizer with Strong City. 

Our days at camp began with greeting neighborhood kids who’d meet us in the park before camp started. As we pulled out and set up the tents, tables, chairs, gallons and gallons of water, board games, crafts, and lunch, other kids and adult volunteers arrived with sunscreen and more water. We spent our days at several different stations: board games, environmental science, recreation, art, the library tent, and of course the tried-and-true, swingset (no matter how hot it got on the playground or what was going on at outdoor recreation or at the art station, the swingset never lost its allure!)

A couple days out from camp and after bidding farewell to my new friends from Olympia, I’m reflecting on something I’ve been reminded of again and again since beginning work here at The Center--lasting connection and empowerment can happen by remembering each other by our chosen, sometimes silly, always unique, often dear names and nicknames. Since moving to Baltimore, I’ve been Liv rather than Olivia. Liv fits me tons better than Olivia (no offense mom!) and it’s felt empowering to be known in that way. The first day at camp when we were making our nametags that’d we’d wear all week, a sweet 7 year-old camper practicing her letters offered to make me my nametag. A fan of supporting local artists, I, of course, accepted the offer and for the week I was more than happy to become “Jiv.” L’s and J’s are very similar, okay? 

Over the course of the week as I got to know the campers and we became friends, I learned their names. Early on in the camp day, usually amidst setup time, I’d greet them before it was time to put our name tags on and each time the campers would ask with a smile and raised eyebrows, “How’d you know my name?!?”

 “Well, because we’re friends now and friends remember each other!”

On the first day of camp (after sneaking another piece of watermelon) I was headed back toward the swingset when a new friend ran up to me and yelled with absolute assuredness, “Howdy, Partner!,” as if we’d first met each other years ago on a cattle ranch and not a playground in Baltimore City. I returned the greeting and for the rest of the week, I was so excited to get to camp and spend time with my Howdy Partner and work on our square dancing routine. So silly, so good.

-Liv 

Week 5: Trying Something New

The Center is always open to and looking for new partnerships and connections within and around Baltimore. Just like we host visiting groups from all religious traditions, race, sexual orientation/identity, and from every part of the United States (and the Czech Republic through relationship with First of Annapolis Presbyterian Church), etc. The Center began conversation and build relationship with Epiphany Lutheran Church on the Northeast side of Baltimore. Epiphany has had a relationship with the kids in the neighborhood who occasionally would come to the church for events; or who attend the school that is housed within the churches gym and educational building. They saw these connections as an opportunity to try something new to get to know the kids and their parents better. Enter in Mar-Lu-Ridge and summer camp!

Mar-Lu-Ridge is a part of the Lutheran Church and is a camp located outside of Baltimore city near Frederick, Maryland. This mountain top camp host weeks of summer camps, but offers a mobile camp to churches at a distance who serve neighborhoods where access to camp for kids might be challenging. The camp sends a few of its counselors to help the area church run and lead camp and also provides a day for the campers to come out to Mar-Lu-Ridge and experience the outdoor space and activities. Epiphany reached out to The Center to see if we would be hosting a group that week to come help out. There were a few prospects that did not pan out and so for us at The Center we had to think creatively about how to support the camp and continue to build trust in this new relationship. Epiphany was able to have some of their teenagers come and help as counselor assistants for the camp, and I went as a volunteer to learn more about camp objectives and to honor The Center’s word that we would support the camp.

The first few days were a little awkward for me; it is not easy to establish trust and be in a role of leadership in a place unfamiliar. I understand what our visiting groups must feel when we ask them to step into this role as well when they are working at camp sites. Like any new thing there were a few “don’t do this again” and lots of “this worked better than we thought” moments. The kids had a great time and parents exchanged information and talked to one another while waiting to pick up their camper. Epiphany took a step to try something new and learned a new way to be church and neighbor to their community. I am sure this is the start of a beautiful new partnership between The Center and Epiphany Lutheran Church.

-Mel

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