This summer, the Youth Group from St. George’s Episcopal Church, Glenn Dale went on a mission trip to Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Below is a reflection of their time there, in their own words.
Looking back now, none of us anticipated how life-changing and impactful our 2018 mission trip would be. For several years St. George’s Youth Group discussed going to Puerto Rico, but the amount of money required discouraged us. When Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017, we feared that chaotic events occurring on the mainland would overshadow the devastation taking place in Puerto Rico the following months. We then decided we were going to make reaching Puerto Rico a priority. To bring all 11 members, we needed to raise $10,000. At first, this number was daunting, but the generous support from our Parish amazed us all. Throughout the year, we worked to put together several fundraising events which displayed just how compassionate our parish is as a community and a family. Events included raking leaves, putting on a pancake supper, selling flowers for Mother’s Day (and many more). Our most successful event was the post-trip dinner which 100 people attended, including the bishop.
When we first arrived in Puerto Rico, we were taken aback by the lack of progress, because we came 7 months after Hurricane Maria. We were anxious to help with the rebuilding process; however, we learned once we arrived in Arecibo that we would be split into different groups, some helping with manual reconstruction and others with emotional and relational work. At first, those who were sent to relational work sites were afraid that we weren’t contributing enough, but as the week progressed we formed incredible relationships that would change our perspective. It was amazing to see how, in such a short time, we were able to create unforgettable bonds with the children. The group who worked at the manual labor sites not only helped construction, including repairing the sanctuary in an Episcopal Church, but also built meaningful relationships with the congregation and construction workers at their sites.
During our trip, we witnessed genuine happiness in a community that we expected to be disheartened. It was uplifting to see the community’s positivity despite their circumstances and taught us that the strength of faith would overcome even in the darkest of times. Throughout our experiences, we learned many things, but the people of Puerto Rico taught us one of the most meaningful lessons, which is to persevere and remain compassionate. We came back from the trip being more appreciative both of what we have and the significance of our faith. We all anticipated that this trip would bring us closer to God, but our expectations were surpassed. It is easy to feel a connection with God through the action of service but what surprised us was that we saw the face of God more through the people we encountered. In a quote by Staff member and friend, Danny, “Different languages may divide us, but our hearts speak to us as a universal language.” We were struck by how much this quote resembled our experience. Despite the language barrier, our love and faith in God are what ultimately brought us together. No matter how different we may be, God will always connect us in unexpected ways.
Marilyn Prosser Yang
Speaking on behalf of the St. George’s, Glenn Dale Youth Group
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.
Let us love one another, for love is from God. Those who love are born of God and know God, for God is love.Those who dwell in love, are dwelling in God and God in them. There is no room for fear in love, for love which is perfect banishes fear. We love because God first loved us; we cannot hate another and say, ‘I love God.’ If we do not love those whom we have seen, it cannot be that we love God whom we have not seen. This commandment we have from God, that those who love God must also love their neighbor.
Each of the institutions on the Cathedral Close are in the midst of the rituals of new beginnings. What a gift for us to be all together today, to lift our collective voices in prayer and song, take a breath, and enjoy each other’s company before we are sorely outnumbered by younger generations. A special welcome to all who are new to the Close and thanks to National Cathedral School for hosting us.
A bit of history to remind us all how we are connected: St. Alban’s Parish was here first, established in 1854 as a worshipping congregation of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. It would go on to establish a number of the Episcopal churches in the city, including St. Columba’s just up the way, and St. Patrick’s, home of one of our sister Episcopal schools. The Diocese of Washington was carved out of the Diocese of Maryland in 1895, right around the time that the U.S. Congress established the charter for the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation. The first Cathedral stone was laid in 1907. Were it not for the Cathedral, it’s not clear to me that the Diocese of Washington would exist, at least not in its present form. Our office building, known on the Close as “Church House,” was originally the Bishop’s residence, and the “Bishop’s Garden,” was once the bishop’s garden–or more accurately, the garden of the bishop’s wife. It was the wife of the cathedral’s first dean, Florence Bratenahl, who in 1916 established All Hallows Guild to nurture and protect the natural beauty of the Cathedral Close. National Cathedral School was established in 1900; St. Albans School in 1909, and Beauvoir in 1933.
While each institution on the Close has its unique vision, charism, and rhythms–each so absorbing that we sometimes lose sight of one another–the deeper reality is that we are organically and relationally connected.
Among the things we have in common, we adults who work on the Close, is that for 9 months of the year, we are surrounded by more than 1600 children and their families. Whatever our role–be it in the classroom or administration, in worship or sports; whether we come to know them over years or meet them in passing on the grounds, standing in line at the Cafe, or waiting for the go-ahead from a police officer to cross the street, we all have a role not only in their education, but their becoming. Educating children and adolescents isn’t a sprint but a lifelong journey, taken mostly in small steps, with a few giant leaps; with more than a few setbacks and at least one or two colossal failures on their part, or ours.
We all know this but let me say it aloud as a reminder:
How we treat children and young people teaches them far more than whatever knowledge we impart.
How we treat one another, others who cross our paths, and those whose lives we touch from afar communicates far more than our words about what we believe about the intrinsic worth and dignity of every human being.
How we disagree with one another, and express our disagreements with others in the wider society, teaches them more about living among their fellow human beings than anything they would read in a book.
How we respond when they make mistakes, and we make mistakes, and when other people we don’t particularly like make mistakes teaches them how we want them to live with the imperfections of human beings and of our relationships, and tells them how safe they really are–no matter how many security guards we have to protect them–to be themselves in our midst.
Now I’m of an age where I’m mostly invisible to anyone under 30, but the truth is–and you remember this from your own youth–young people watch adults like hawks. They see us better than we see ourselves. Think back now–how you were drawn to the adults who actually cared about you, and who lived lives that you admired; how you were inspired by those whom you saw mostly from a distance but who always seemed to see you as a person worthy of their attention and concern, and how a well-placed smile or word of encouragement could make your day or week. How we live and engage with one another and care–genuinely care–for those entrusted to this Close in the formative years of childhood and adolescence–matters more than we will ever know.
In the time I have left, I’d like to speak directly to the spiritual and religious dimension of our work:
First a story: A friend of mine married into a wealthy family and when she was in her 50s, she was invited to sit on the grant selection committee of their family foundation, which served as a major funding source for non-profits serving under-resourced neighborhoods and working for social change in the midwestern city where we lived (Toledo, Ohio) She told me of a time when members of this selection committee sat around a table, discussing proposals. One of the younger family members held up a proposal from a faith-based organization and asked, “Why on earth would we consider funding a church?” Another chimed in. “No kidding. The last thing the world needs is more Christians.”
My friend, a practicing Christian, told me of this exchange with real sadness, which I felt as I heard it, but we both understood why her younger family members felt the way they did. The appalling behavior of some Christians in the name of Jesus is the primary reason why many leave the faith or are repelled by it.
And so when I, as a Christian leader, ask myself if the world needs more Christians, as a Jewish leader might ask about the world needing more Jews or a Muslim leader about the world needing more Muslims, the answer would surely be, “Well, it depends on what kind of Christians we are talking about. What kind of Jew, what kind of Muslim?” Some would argue with plenty of data to support their argument, as did the young person my friend spoke of, that the last thing the world needs is more of us.
The sad truth is that being a religious people in no way assures that we will be good people, kind, caring, generous, loving people, although that’s what every one of our faith traditions–and speaking as a Christian, certainly what I know Jesus wants those who feel called to follow him–to be. We are all far more complicit in the evils and hypocrisies we decry than we are comfortable admitting. There’s a gap between the aspirations of our faith and how most of live; for some, the gap is so wide as to create havoc and cruelty around them, all in the name of a loving God.
Yes, it’s enough to make people of conscience and goodwill want to walk away or to stay away from religion entirely. Or to go deeper. To walk with even greater intention and commitment to personal and societal transformation that every spiritual tradition known to humankind calls us to.
Going deeper is what these institutions stand for, and we, collectively affirm: that there is a way to live in this world steeped and schooled in the best of what it means to be human and personally touched by the spiritual mysteries that surround us and call us into relationship with the all encompassing mystery we call God.
This is a really interesting time to belong to the Episcopal Church, to teach in an Episcopal school, or work for an Episcopal institution. Because we have at the helm now a bit of a rock star. Those of us who knew Presiding Bishop Michael Curry before he catapulted onto the world stage with a sermon he preached at a wedding you might have heard of know how consistent his message is. His is the message of Jesus, one of radical love, the all encompassing, transformative love of God that Christians believe Jesus came into the world to manifest. We believe that Jesus came into the world to show us how to live, and how to love.
Bishop Curry has been preaching essentially the same sermon he preached at the Royal Wedding for over 30 years. But now that he has our attention, he is calling anyone who is listening, and especially those of us in the Episcopal Church to intentionally walk and grow in this way of love, to be the kind of Christians, he would say, that actually follow Jesus.
He’s given us a rule of life, summarized in the small card before you, with specific spiritual practices that make up what he calls a Jesus-focused life. There is nothing new here–these practices align with ancient practices of all faiths and also with modern insights on how to live well. If you’re not a Christian, you can easily substitute your faith or sources of inspiration wherever you see the word “Jesus.”
Let’s look at them together:
Turn–Pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus.
Learn–Reflect on Scriptures each day, especially Jesus’ life and teachings.
Pray–Dwell intentionally with God each day.
Worship–Gather in community weekly to thank, praise, and draw near to God.
Bless–Share faith and unselfishly give and serve.
Go–Cross boundaries, listen deeply, and live like Jesus.
Rest–Receive the gift of God’s grace, peace, and restoration.
I was talking to a colleague who worked for years as chaplain at one of our great rival schools across the Potomac that will go unnamed, and she said that these practices are at the heart of Episcopal education. I leave that to your further reflection to see if you concur.
I will be preaching and writing and reflecting on the Way of Love for the foreseeable future, taking each practice in turn and all them together, committing myself to them and encouraging others to remember how important it is to engage in simple but transformative daily practices that open and expand our hearts, enable us to be more present to one another, and receive the grace and mercy of God.
I leave you now simply with a word of encouragement to consider the gift and the call of your own lives, the ways of love to which you are already committed. You might review these practices to see which ones speak to you, which ones are challenging. Ponder what it might look like for all of us, together, to intentionally commit to a way of love that is both robust and compassionate, humble and confident, focused on the highest aspirations that human beings are called to, in full recognition of how often we fail to meet them and how quick the God of love is to forgive and help us to begin again.
What an example that would be for the Close students and their families, giving them the greatest gifts of Episcopal education, which is a way to live with love and compassion in this world. May we aspire to be the kind of people, leaders and teachers who raise up young people walking in way of love so fully that while others may never know what faith they practice, they will surely say, “The world needs more people like them.”
Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
This summer, members of your diocesan staff and I have crafted an 8-week lectionary based on Presiding Bishop Curry’s call for all Episcopalians to commit to a common path of spiritual growth. Beginning on September 9th I will preach a sermon series on The Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life, using the biblical texts of this lectionary. Each week we’ll also provide, via email, suggested Scripture readings for daily prayer.
All diocesan clergy are welcome to use the Way of Love lectionary this fall or another time. Across the Episcopal Church, others are also generating Way of Love resources which we will curate and post on our website.
As I’ve committed to the Way of Love this summer, I find myself thinking my memories of Jesus, how the significant people in my life spoke about him and how my image of him has changed from when I was a child, then a teenager, and throughout my adulthood.
I’ve also been pondering the meaning of conversion. Conversion experiences were a source of confusion for me as a teenager and young adult, a time when I sojourned through several different branches of the Christian family, each with a particular understanding of conversion. I had several conversion experiences myself, but never in quite the way others described them. I didn’t feel what I thought I was supposed to feel; nor did my life change in ways I hoped it would. While I never doubted the existence of God and was deeply drawn to Jesus, I doubted my experience. I marveled at those who seemed so certain about what was, surely, the greatest of all mysteries.
In a providential moment, I was given a book entitled Turning: Reflections on the Experience of Conversion by Emilie Griffin, Using her own experience and that of well known twentieth-century Christians (C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and others) Griffin described several different paths of conversion. Some were dramatic, other more gradual; some were emotional, others guided by intellect. She also suggested that conversion is more of a journey than an event, which came as a relief to me 30 years ago and remains a reassuring notion still. But, in a gentle, yet firm challenge to that part of us that would prefer to remain non-committal and content with caricatures of Jesus that we are then free to keep at arm’s length, Griffins also insists that there is a choice to be made in the conversion experience. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. We are free to decide if we will let him in and then follow where he leads.
To turn, Presiding Bishop Curry suggests, is the first and foundational spiritual practice in a Jesus focused life. I’ll write more about this and the other six practices beginning next month. For now, I offer you a few excerpts from Turning that I have found especially helpful:
By conversion, I mean the discovery, made gradually or suddenly, that God is real. It is the perception that this real God loves us personally and acts mercifully and justly toward us. Conversion is the direct experience of the saving power of God. As such, it is not an event, not an action, not an occurrence. Instead, it is a continuing revelation and transforming force.
Conversion begins with a longing or desire, a heart’s ache for something we have never quite experienced and cannot fully describe.
If our Christianity is to be visible—a light to the world—it must be because the Lord makes it visible, not because we ourselves seek to place it before the eyes of the world.
Christ, we are told, has come to heal the brokenhearted; that we may have life and have it to the full. At the same time, Christianity is not some emotional wonder drug, as the trials and difficulties of many Christians show. . . Those dearest to Jesus—in fact Jesus himself—had moments of sadness, discouragement, even despair. To pretend otherwise is to flee from reality rather than to face it as Christianity calls us to do.
And, quoting C.S. Lewis:
Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.
I am persuaded that it is not only the Presiding Bishop who is inviting us to us to walk in the way of love, but Christ himself. As we open the door for Jesus, daily turning our gaze toward him and committing ourselves to specific spiritual practices, we can rest assured that our congregations will be renewed, our communities transformed for the good, and our lives continually changed by his loving, liberating, and life-giving presence.
Join me in daring to believe that we have been called to this path by the God who is love. May we walk it together with kindness, curiosity, and whole-hearted intention.
Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred let us so love. . .
Prayer attributed to St. Francis
As the one year anniversary of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, approaches, tensions are mounting in Washington D.C. and Virginia. Last year’s rally exposed the racial hatred, Nazi admiration, and glorification of violence at the core of white supremacist groups. Those same groups plan to rally in front of the White House on Sunday after they were denied a permit to return to Charlottesville.
We are right to be dismayed and alarmed at such a gathering here. Or anywhere.
Many counter demonstrations are also being planned throughout the city. As your bishop, I ask that you pray, wherever you are, for the power of love to overcome hatred. Pray and speak out in faithfulness to our non-violent Lord and in the name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God.
Should you feel called to be physically present in your witness, please consider two prayerful gatherings for which we, as a diocese, are co-sponsors.
On Friday, August 10, Washington Hebrew Congregation (map) will host a teach-in followed by a special Shabbat Service.
From 3:00 – 5:45 p.m: A teach-In on White Supremacy, Racism, Anti-Semitism, and the Neo-Nazi Movement and a congressional town hall meeting. Organized by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, this informative session will feature leading experts in the from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Anti-Defamation League. The event will also feature a special presentation by the Reverend William Barber. This event is free. Register here
At 6:00 p.m. – Shabbat of Peace – A special Interfaith Shabbat service, open to all members of the community. Together we will embrace the unity of the human family and ask for prayers of peace. This service will conclude with a special candlelight vigil to honor and remember the lives lost in Charlottesville during the rallies and protests one year ago. Please visit Washington Hebrew Congregation’s website for more information and to RSVP for the service.
On Sunday, August 12, 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.: United to Love: Standing Together in Love and Resisting Hate: an ecumencial, interfaith rally on the National Mall
The Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church invites all persons of faith and goodwill to gather on the National Mall (4th Street NW) in public witness for peace, justice, and tolerance. Worship and music will be offered from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., followed by the rally and speakers from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Our Canon Missioner, the Rev. Leonard Hamlin, from Washington National Cathedral, will be addressing the rally on behalf of the Diocese of Washington and the Rev. Charles Allen Wynder, Jr. Staff Officer for Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement will be speaking on behalf of the wider Episcopal Church. For more information and to register
The Diocese of Washington will be well-represented at both gatherings, a testimony to the love, courage, and conviction that God has placed in our hearts. But wherever we find ourselves this weekend and beyond, may we be instruments of God’s peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love.
For many years the Claggett Center has been hosting successful summer camps for Maryland’s young people. This year for the first time, EDOW has partnered with Claggett and the Diocese of Maryland – a collaboration that supports Claggett Summer Camps as the destination for EDOW campers and staff, this summer and going forward.
Claggett Center provides an ideal camp setting – 268 acres that include a working farm and extensive facilities, including a junior Olympic-size pool, a ropes course and zipline, hiking trails, and canoeing. It is holy ground to be sure – with gorgeous views of Sugarloaf Mountain and the surrounding Monocacy River valley.
There were four sessions this summer – featuring three week-long camps: High School Week, Middle School Week, and Youth Week – each hosting 60 campers, including boys and girls from Washington. A fourth session brought participants in the Sutton Scholars High School Enrichment Program – 80 Baltimore City high students (grades 9-12).
I arrived at Claggett in mid-June to volunteer where helpful, accepting a gracious invite from the Rev. Spencer Hatcher, Director of Summer Programs. I was warmly welcomed by Spencer and our own Rita Yoe, who serves as Assistant Director – and by the first-rate counselors and staff at Claggett. I served as Co-Chaplain for Middle School Week and staff-at-large throughout – a role that included playing guitar in chapel, facilitating small groups, pastoral moments with kids and staff, leading several evenings of open mic and karaoke – and lots of relationship building in the Claggett community.
The spiritual heartbeat of community life was twice-daily chapel services and small groups, where campers wrestled with Scripture and explored their personal faith in a more intimate setting. Creativity flowed freely and Scripture was often presented in dynamic, engaging ways. The story of Ruth and Naomi, for example, was shared through biblical storytelling, with campers reading parts and everyone singing a refrain: “Wherever you go, I’ll go too. For you’ve got me, my friend, and I’ve got you…”
Chapel services offered times of unbridled joy as well as more reflective moments. There was always room for the Spirit to move! One memorable morning, the homily opened with a reflection on our freedom to love God and our neighbor – and then the band kicked in, and it became a full-throated roar as everyone stood and joyfully sang the Tom Petty song Free Fallin’ – “…well I’m freeeeeee! Free falling…”
Each day at camp was packed full of love and life and laughter. The God moments were powerful and numerous. Yet, it is camp – where some of the best times are unplanned. Lots of memorable moments to share – here’s one… On the last day of camp, a young Sutton Scholar asked Spencer to teach her to swim during our afternoon pool time. They spent some time in the shallow end, and soon she was paddling around with a big smile. That evening, everyone gathered around the final campfire – we sang, we swapped stories, and we danced. Spencer felt a tap on her shoulder – she turned to see her swim buddy who smiled and asked: “Miss Spencer, I want to teach you something. Do you know how to dance the dougie?” And so they danced. It was a beautiful and sacred moment, as they practiced the way of love – each sharing what they have with each other, and letting God’s love do the rest. Blessed be.
Written by the Rev. Kent Marcoux, rector of St. George’s, D.C.