It is time to say good bye to ECS …..for now. A new year of seminary classes has already started. Fishing on a Saturday with J and the residents of Downtown Safe Haven have been replaced with courses on the prophets, church history, Anglicanism and ethics. Tuesday nights reflecting with G on what I had just experienced whilst helping with a DUI group have been replaced with reading and Thursday night shared meals and conversation at DTSH have been replaced with writing school papers.
On one hand so many things have changed. But the work of ECS’s ACCORD program continues. The residents of DTSH still continue to try and do the best they can in the world.
One thing for sure is that I have changed. My placement with ECS was much more than just a placement. It was never a case of simply racking up two hundred hours. I am reminded of the words of Proverbs
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.
I truly am richer, enriched and watered. I am transformed. With so many good experiences it is on one hand hard to let go. But that very same struggle is made easier when I ask myself what should I do with the transformation that I have experienced?
Like a house built on rock and not on sand, I will use that transformation as a foundation from which to further build on. The passion in my heart for service beats stronger now than ever before.
I bow my head to God in prayer, and place my future in His hands. I know I will spend more time with ECS at some stage in the future, but for now, for a brief time, it’s time to let go.
Earlier this week I had lunch with a good friend who is also a fellow blogger (see his blog – Karl’s Questions here). After checking in with each other the topic of conversation turned to my summer field placement at ECS. Before long we got talking about our attitudes toward the homeless, people with mental illness and people with addictions. During my time at ECS, whether it be at the ACCORD DUI program or at the Downtown Safe Haven transitional housing facility, I have been spending time with people who are suffering from homelessness, mental illness and addictions. As I get to know folk at ECS I am learning more about their lives and as I do so it is much easier to see the person within rather than the presenting issue. The more time I spend the deeper each relationship grows and the more I see brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling with life and their ability to cope.
I find myself challenging myself: when a homeless person or someone battling an illness wanders into the back of the church do I see a person or a cause? If I am being brutally honest, many a time in the past I have seen the issue/cause and not the full human being. If you ask yourself that same question and strip yourself down to full honesty how would you answer the question?
I believe that an important part of my calling is to fulfill a promise that we make whenever we reaffirm the Baptismal Covenant:
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
My field placement is teaching me that I can only fulfill this promise when I walk along side my neighbor and accept them for all that they are. This is the model that Jesus gave us when he called Zacchaeus down from the tree:
He (Jesus) entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10.
Jesus did the unthinkable, he broke the rules in order to be inclusive to all, and to everyone who accepted his call he gives salvation. Jesus called the sinner by name and insisted to stay at his house.
I pray that I continue to learn to look beyond the issue, to see a human instead of a cause. Because an issue or cause is something that we ‘give to’ or ‘solve’. A fellow human is someone who we love and in our love, Christ is manifested.
Next time I am asked if I will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself. I hope I can say with conviction
I will with God’s help.
My first academic year at the School for Ministry has finished, the final paper written and the last exam completed. I’ve said a sad goodbye to the good folk of St. Timothy’s where I spent my first Spring Field Placement. Now it is time for the summer and that means two hundred hours volunteering with my summer placement agency and for me that is Episcopal Community Services (ECS). Over the next eleven weeks I plan to share, on this blog, my own reflections, stories that touched me and hopefully signs of growth in my emerging ministry skills.
On a Tuesday night I’m going to be with the ACCORD program (ECS’ ACCORD Driving Under the Influence Program (DUIP) strives to reduce the incidence and prevalence of driving under the influence and the negative impact of this behavior on our families, residents and community*). On a Thursday night and Saturday daytime I’m going to be with the Downtown Safe Haven Transitional Housing (DTSH) program (The Safe Havens are transitional housing residences serving mentally ill, chronically homeless single adults in the metro San Diego area**).
To help my own reflection process, I’m also reading “Stories from the Shelter” by Blake W. Barrow. Blake answered the call of God to leave a successful career as a trial lawyer and run the Rescue Mission of El Paso, a Christian shelter for homeless men, women, and children. The book not only tells the stories of the people who call the shelter home but also it chronicles Blake’s own spiritual journey.
In Blake’s second chapter of his book he describes his early day’s as the shelter’s manager. He describes the first time that he had to preach and give a sermon to the residents and visitors. Without any time for preparation he found himself thrust into the pulpit. He reflects on the experience:
I was like the little kid approaching the cold swimming pool and thinking about dipping one toe into the water. Then Pappy came along and just picked me up and threw me directly into the deep end – swim or sink and adjust very quickly to the temperature of the water.
On Thursday night I walked into the Safe Haven house and immediately bumped into ChrisH, another of the postulants who had been there for the past few hours. He took me to the office so that I could introduce myself top the staff. I was told go be with the residents, build relationships. Chris showed me around, we had dinner with everyone and sat through a house meeting. Then it was time for Chris to leave, and suddenly I was alone. I walked into the room where people were sitting and watching TV, sat down and tried to strike up a conversation. It was a bit forced, folk wanted to watch the basketball and not talk to the newbie volunteer. In those first few minutes I discovered that relationship building in that place at that time consisted mainly of sitting and making dumb British comments based on my lack of knowledge of American sports. I noticed a middle aged man, who I later found out was called George** who seemed shy and almost dismissive. The evening continued and I learnt quite a bit about basketball.
During one of the longer commercial breaks most of the residents headed to the garden to smoke, George and I were left. To be honest I can’t even remember how the conversation started but it did. Soon everyone came back for the next installment of the playoffs – Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, George offered to show me around the garden. The tour was’t too extensive as George sat down as soon as we were outside in the cooler evening air. Then he began to talk, he talked a lot, he described his life, his depression cycles, his past, his hopes for the future, his fears. It just kept coming out. In class we had practiced role playing. Role playing always felt false because getting them started seemed to be so artificial. But here in real life, it was like the start of a role play – this guys life just came out. I hadn’t thought about how I would handle a situation like this. Luckily I didn’t have to do much talking I mainly just listened. I felt truly thrown in at the deep end but it was a hot night and so God had pre-warmed the water. This was ministry in action and I felt, even if slightly uncomfortable, that I was exactly where God wanted me to be.
Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
I know that my time with ECS will not be just another task that I have to do as part of my formation. It will, and is, a sacred time to be blessed by building relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ that find themselves with particular challenges in their lives. It is an honor to be given a chance to build those relationships. I’m glad that George threw me in at the deep-end. Maybe next week I will come with my swimming trunks.
** All resident and staff names have been changed.