A BIG Announcement!!!

Today is the day for an EXCITING announcement!

So far, we’ve had a wonderful experience as a house church community, journeying together in an attempt to figure out how to radically follow Jesus as individuals and as a community. Just as every person’s story shifts and flows and changes, our has as well. As a community, we feel God moving us toward some exciting new dreams that we hope to embark together.

Wanna hear about these exciting new dreams?

We have a new name that we think is very fitting for our community…. Embark Staunton! As a community, Embark will continue to chase after God’s dream here in Staunton. Instead of meeting weekly in a house, we will meet twice a month at the Groovecat Comedy Studio downtown for worship and discussion. We will also begin to have Dream Parties, monthly gatherings that will allow us to dream about what can be in Staunton and will move us to action! Our monthly mission adventures will continue and we hope to engage more consistent, ongoing community building. We also will hold a group that meets during the week to dig deep together, allowing us to grow as individuals and work toward God’s dream for all of creation.

We will kick-off our new dreams during a celebration on Sunday, September 29th from 5pm-8pm at the Groovecat Studio (217 W. Beverly). If you’ve been a part of our journey, have dreams for Staunton, have questions about Embark or simply love to celebrate, please join us at Embark: A Celebration!

More information can be found on our website, Embark Staunton. We look forward to dreaming with you and seeing what God has in store for this place!

Peace.

Update and An Exciting Announcement is Coming…

Hello dear friends!

I am back from Denver and excited to start/continue some awesome things in Staunton!

Don’t forget about EMBARK the Park this Saturday from 2:00-5:00, it will be a fun event where you can help families in need.

This Sunday we will begin a four week series focused around Nooma videos. Also, we’ve decided to move from dinner-ish food to snack-ish food. So bring a snack to share and at 6:30 we will eat our goodies, watch a video, engage in discussion, share in communion and participate in creative worship. Here is a teaser for this Sunday…

And lastly, stay tuned for an excitement announcement about this community that’s coming your way next week!

Questions? Want to join us (because you’re totally invited)?

Sometimes helping helps. Sometimes helping doesn’t help. Sometimes helping hurts.

My seminary experience and particularly my cross-cultural course have made me extra-aware of the ways we do mission and the consequences our mission has on those we attempt to serve. As far as how to figure out my impact during this trip, I’ve come back to this question many times as I attempt to discern the effects that my presence has had on the AfterHours community.

I believe this topic is difficult for several reasons. One reason is that I’m doing work that has already been set in motion by the community here at AfterHours, so, as a short-term intern, there isn’t much wiggle room when it comes to actual programming and procedure. A person performing short-term mission or service usually doesn’t have the opportunity to change the mission. I appreciate the mission at AfterHours and would not look to change it, but I realize I would have a difficult time enacting change if I wished to do so.

Since I’m joining others in a continued mission, it’s easy to assume that my presence and my actions aren’t greatly affecting anyone. However, I was reminded today that every interaction can have a significant impact.

Today at the park we handed out lunches to the entire line and had some left over, so we waited a bit since some days we will have friends show up a bit later and ask for lunch. We were down to the last lunch and a man approached and asked if we had anything left. I gave him a lunch and a water and he thanked me with deep gratitude. It seemed as though he was having a rough day but he continued to express his appreciation for our presence in the park. I engaged in typical conversation and without any prompting he told me that he had turned away from God and he began to cry. I learned about his struggles with alcohol and the difficulties within his marriage and his hopes for his wife and daughter. He asked me to pray with him and I held his arm and asked God for good things such as courage and hope and reconciliation. I had a difficult time holding back tears as I experienced this stranger’s sorrow and vulnerability. As he left I reminded him that he’s not alone and I hope to God that I wasn’t lying.

I appreciated the connection I had today but upon reflection I realize that in that simple moment, I held an abundance of undeserved power. In that conversation I represented AfterHours, but I also represented God. A stranger handed me his heartache and I could do with it as I pleased. I could have done so much harm. And I pray that I did more good than not.

We all do the best we can with what we have and what we know. However, I hope that we, the people who try to help others and attempt to follow Jesus, realize the infinite consequences of every helping action and every helping word. I pray that we realize our own customs and ideas and behaviors and morals and truths are not one-size-fits-all. And most of all I pray that God shows up to help a sister out, because damn, helping is heavy and I can’t handle that on my own.

Sometimes helping helps. Sometimes helping doesn’t help. Sometimes helping hurts. I believe the best way for us to figure out the difference is through our presence, our presence without agenda. We can’t assume need, and we cannot know need unless we honestly listen. As ministers, missionaries, followers of Jesus or people who simply want to do good, we must recognize our positions of power and work toward relationships that level the playing field and put us in the place of listener, learner, disciple. Because oh girl(!) do we have a lot to learn from those whom we think we can help!

What have I learned?

Three weeks is a very short time to build relationships and understand a particular context. However, I feel like I have been able to glean quite a bit from the AfterHours communities (those who meet on Monday evenings and those who I’ve met at the park).

First, being in a new place helped to reinforce some things I already understood but had a difficult time enacting in the comfort of my home community:

  • Every person has a story and sometimes the best thing I can do is listen.
  • I must push myself to engage; watching from the sidelines or from a pedestal is easy.
  • Most of the time, simple is better. Ministry isn’t (or shouldn’t be) Walmart.

Also, being in a new situation has allowed me to learn a lot about myself. I’ve realized more about how I function, what my strengths are, what I dislike and my dreams for the future. Thankfully, I’ve also gleaned ideas for ministry at home and hopefully have gained more insight into respectfully interacting with those who don’t have a permanent residence.

I’m hesitant to claim that I’ve learned a lot about the homeless community, since each new friend represents a different story and I’m sure my homeless friends in Denver are different than my homeless friends in Staunton. However, there are some common threads that I’ve noticed during my time here:

  • Many of my friends have mental or emotional illness. It’s hard to delineate the cause and effect; did homelessness cause mental illness or did mental illness contribute to homelessness? But it’s obvious that many of them have not received the support they need and aren’t capable of stability without a lot more support.
  • While some decline communion, a lot of my friends will receive communion in the park. Many of them are quite religious, while others run from the idea of God. Faith seems to take on extremes when basic neccesities are stripped away. I believe I have more appreciation for a theology that claims spiritual deliverance after death; when your life is hell, what else can you believe?
  • I’ve found that most of my friends will never beg for anything, and are really grateful for peanut butter and jelly.
  • Some people are really confused that we give them lunch with no strings attached. Many of the church groups that hand out lunches in the park make people pray or listen to a sermon before receiving food. For heaven’s sake, stop trying to spread the good news and BE the good news.

I’ve learned a lot. I’ve been required to process my experiences and I have a hunch that if I’m more aware and intentional at home, I’ll learn a lot there too.

Releasing Presuppositions

There have been times in my life when I’ve done a better job of releasing stereotypes and presuppositions. One such time was when I first began with RISE and started to understand the importance of story. I realized that each person has a unique, tragic, wonderful story and that we all are part of God’s grand story. During that period in life I could walk down the street and see someone and my first thought was always, “What’s that person’s story?”

Since that time I’ve become a bit more cynical and busy and self-focused and have l greatly lost that skill. Thankfully, I believe this experience in Denver has helped to reshape me toward a stance of wonder, grace and embrace. I’ve encountered so many people here who challenge the status quo and look really different from what most people consider “normal.”

I’ve had the opportunity to hear a lot of stories and thus wonder about the stories of those who receive lunches, those who show up to the bar, those who walk through town in their suits and those who won’t ever look me in the eye.

I believe I can reduce the presuppositions and incorrect/negative attitudes I have toward others by attempting to remember their divine imprints, their God-breathed goodness. I need to remind myself that the person I see has hopes and dreams and short-comings and an intricate story that has caused her/him to be right here, right now.

I don’t need to find commonality with each person right from the beginning, but I must realize our common humanity and common God-ness and common need to be heard, loved, and respected. With such a stance, I believe I can release presuppositions and stereotypes and be better prepared to listen and love and care.

Lessons from the Inappropriate Homeless

While in Denver I’m doing some writing for my cross-cultural experiences course. I plan to post some of my ideas here as well. Here is a response to a question about interpersonal differences..

I’m finding these questions difficult as I attempt to compare my culture and the culture I’m visiting. I keep wanting to ask… which culture that I’m visiting? The people in Denver or the homeless or the church or those I see in the park each day who battle mental illness?

Today, some folks from the General Board of Discipleship (fancy Methodists) came to visit in the park. I’ve learned about the term, church tourism. That’s pretty much why they came. So we had a line of about 75 homeless friends who wanted lunch and a line of about 40 fancy Methodists handing stuff out. We had to go out and get extra stuff so all of the people could participate.

I had many cross-cultural experiences in that short time at the park today. Some of them were with powerful church people, and some of them were with people who don’t have a permanent residence. The conversation I liked the best was with a young woman who is serving on the GBOD board and going to college in Boston. She’s interested in mission and thinks outside of the box. Since her and I are similarly educated and have similar interests and views, our conversation was easy and fun. We both engaged equally.

Otherwise, I found that I was more comfortable with the homeless than with the older, powerful folks from GBOD. I’ve had many conversations with my new homeless friends, and they’ve gone in many directions. I’ve been told entire life stories without being able to get a word in myself and I’ve also received one word answers to my questions. I’ve also been told some pretty strange shit. Many of these friends have what we would consider “poor conversational skills.” However, I appreciate all of these conversations because they hold no judgement and aren’t laced with specific expectations. I tell them I’ve from Virginia and I’m hanging out with them for several weeks and they thank me for being there.

When I said the same things to the church folks I got questions like, “Why only for three weeks?” and “What do you do in Virginia?” and “Where are you going to church while you’re here?” Perhaps appropriate interpersonal dialogue isn’t really appropriate at all.

I’m trying to behave less like the church people and more like my inappropriate homeless friends.

A Note from Denver

Greetings from Denver! I’m a week into my internship with AfterHours and want to give an update on what I’ve been up to.

However, I want to first remind everyone in good ol’ Virginia that the house church is still going strong while I am away. This upcoming Sunday they will be taking a group hike and having dinner, communion and good times in the great outdoors! Meet at the house at 5:30. I’m sad to miss this because it’s sure to be a great time. You should go and tell me all about it! On Aug 11th and 18th they will continue the stories series, sharing personal stories and learning about how our stories are inter-connected with God’s story. And don’t forget EMBARK the Park on Saturday, August 24th! 

 

So…. Denver. It’s been an incredible experience thus far. I’ve been downtown in the park everyday handing out lunches, I attended my first AfterHours gathering at the Irish Snug, and I’ve had the opportunity to check out several other churches and organizations. In between these adventures I’ve had time to explore the city and bit of the mountains as well.

Here are a few experience that have struck me and made me ponder…

My first day at the park I was excited and a little unsure of what to expect. I travelled there with AJ, the previous intern, and we got there a bit early. A line had already formed for the lunches and I was able to chat with a few people. I met Tyrone, who used to be homeless and now comes to the park to help out. He told me all about his poetry and how much of a blessing it is to have interns like me helping people who are hungry. Tyrone gave me an incredible first interaction at the park.

That same day I met a woman named Mary Jane who drives over 45 minutes to bring lunches that she makes herself. She heard about AfterHours and really wanted to help out, so she started showing up once a week with a bunch of stuff. She is completely awesome and the moment I loved best was when she started talking to a man named Hill-Billy. She told him her name and he replied with a laugh, “Your name is Mary Jane! I smoke Mary Jane!” He thought it was hilarious, and obviously, I thought it was too. It was a beautiful, awkward moment where two of God’s children connected in an authentic way. That’s the stuff God’s dream is made of.

One afternoon after serving lunch, I was walking down the 16th street mall, which is a fairly popular destination and nice part of town. A man in a wheelchair asked if I had any money. And, I lied. I said that I didn’t have anything for him. Every day that I’ve been here I’ve been asked for money. Sometimes I give a dollar or 25 cents, but that time, I straight-up lied. And it’s been eating at me because I so often don’t know what to do or how to respond. There are so many “Please help” signs and so many stories about losing jobs and feeding children and needing bus fare or medical treatment. And I don’t know what to do. Perhaps I should just stay in that space and listen.

Serving communion to a line of 50-75 homeless people is an incredible, rewarding, holy, slightly terrifying experience. The first day I served I had a man refuse communion and tell me that he himself was communion. After that, a very loud, boisterous, and theatrical man came up to the (folding) table, kneeled, grasped the table, and started shouting about the messiah. We picked up the cup so he wouldn’t spill it. Then, he opened his mouth wide. Yes, I will a little confused and a little hesitant. But I placed the bread on his tongue and reminded him how much God loves him.

One of my first adventures in Denver was to the Inner City Parish, which is an organization that focuses on eradicating hunger and supplying an education for those who need it. I went to a worship service there. It was in an interesting neighborhood that seems to be moving toward gentrification. That’s happening a lot here in Denver. And while I love cute coffee shops, trendy bars and upscale apartments, the poor are being pushed out or crammed together. But back to the Parish. The service was awesome. I loved it because it contained a traditional liturgical design, welcoming and grace-filled theology, Spanish songs of peace, communal sharing of joys and struggles, a laid back worship space and, best of all, banana splits! The people there had lots to mourn and lots to celebrate, but it was obvious that they enjoy being a part of a community that loves them.

I’ve had many other adventures and witnessed a lot of heartache, celebration, courage and hope. Most of all, I think I’m learning that sometimes, less is more. Perhaps God’s dream doesn’t require more meetings, or steering committees, or buildings, or well-designed plans, or even people talking about God. Perhaps it’s about showing up with a smile and a sandwich and saying, “Hey, I’m glad you’re here.”

What’s your story?

Is faith simply about finding and grasping on to truth? Is is about right and wrong?

Could faith be about story? Could we learn more about God by engaging the stories of others and sharing our own stories? And what about God’s over-arching story that continues around us, through us and in us? What if faith is less about right and wrong, and more about relationship? What if truth is less about facts and more about discovering the ways we are connected with God and one another?

 

Join us on Sunday as we begin a new series that focuses on story telling and why it matters. We will learn more about God’s story and engage the stories of different people in the community. We will begin with dinner at 6:30, then move into story sharing (Amanda is sharing this week!), discussion, communion and creative worship.

Everyone is welcome to join us on Sunday, and everyone means everyone, no matter what. No matter where you’re from, what you’ve done, what you believe, what you doubt, or who you love, your story matters and we welcome you.

Also, please bring an offering for EMBARK the Park! We are collecting toothpaste, toothbrushes, bars of soap, shampoo, deodorant and new socks. We also need money to pay for the different activities we will be holding at the park, so please give what you can to help us create a fun and missional event for kids! Let us know if you have questions or need help finding us on Sunday.

Peace!

Help us spread some love on Sunday!

Want to meet some new people and spread love in the community? Join us on Sunday as we serve dinner at Valley Mission. We’re making a taco bar! We’ll meet at 2:30, carpool to the mission at 3:00, and serve dinner to about 70 people at 4:00. We still need a bit of help purchasing all of the food items, so let us know if you can help with that.

Everyone is invited to help us spread the love!! Peace.

Hooray veggies!

We gave away the first vegetables from our garden! We’re extremely happy to supply food for the shelter at New Directions because we appreciate the amazing work they do for people who have been abused. Our first bag included a giant zucchini, two squash, two bags of lettuce and a green tomato… Hooray for growing and sharing!

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Also, we will be serving dinner at the Valley Mission on Sunday. We’ll start preparing at 3:00 and serve at 4:00. Please join us as we spread some love and make some new friends!