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