Watercoloring from the Font

Watercoloring prayers from the font
Watercoloring prayers from the font

We watercolored from the font on January 18th.

Our theme this Epiphany season is "what does the Kingdom of God look like?" This builds off our Advent themes/candles of vulnerability, courage, resiliency, and empowerment.

Rachel Pacheco, our Pilgrimage Program Manager, preached on a miracle story in Mark---the one with Jesus calling out a demon--and the Wedding in Cana. Rachel focused on imagination as a key piece to kingdom building.

After Rachel's sermon we were invited into our Epiphany practice of creating a mosaic, putting the pieces together, of what the kingdom looks like. Emily invited folks to imagine something new, let our imaginations take hold of us and picture transformation and holy change.

People were then invited to create a mosaic square by drawing, painting, or writing what has been sparked in their imagination. People could use charcoal pencils, cray-pas, and markers to create their paper tile. They came forward to the table and glued their prayers on to foam board.

One station was watercoloring and we filled the font with water so folks could use the water as a means of creating their prayer with paints. Emily gave this a context: the font is an experience of new beginnings, of transformation. Our imaginations can take us to new beginnings, call forth something new and sacred.

I avoid like hell taking pictures of people IN worship. But this I couldn't pass up. Watching our kids stretch themselves on a stool to reach in and get some water to use for coloring was......amazing. The water, the font, the use of color, imagination, the facial expressions, the improv, the creativity....

A Cake of Imagination
A Cake of Imagination

THEN....during the last hymn we brought out a cake---The Cake of Imagination. I started cutting up the cake and those folks who cut-cake-better bumped me aside to take over. We ate cake ("was that the host?" someone asked?) and celebrated imagination as a expression of the Kingdom.

Powerful People: Karina Saunders, Popular Education, and Service Trips Part 2

Karina Saunders
Karina Saunders

This is an occasional column on powerful people doing powerful things. The Church of the 1950′s is done and dead. People talk about how the Church needs to change. This column highlights people living that change now through creative thoughts, methods, and endeavors. In sharing stories of power people,  I hope that radical change and the dismantling of domination is seen as having unlimited possibilities.

Karina is my co-worker in The Pilgrimage, the principle outreach ministry at Church of the Pilgrims, that focuses on the experience of the hungry, homeless, and working poor. The Pilgrimage welcome mostly college and youth groups to engage in service learning and popular education to envision a world made new.  This is part 2 in a 2 part post. 

Changing the Narrative of a Service Trip PART TWO

 The Tina Jones Project is a small attempt to remember the lives of people who affect our daily lives but are often invisible. The hope is by giving group participants the name and brief bio of someone living in poverty; they will begin to understand the structural injustice that keeps millions of people in constant struggle.

Tina Jones

Your name is Tina Jones, and you are a single mother of two children Mandy, 8, and Tim, 4. Recently you were laid off from your job, and consequently you missed a rent payment on your apartment and were evicted. Your sister lives in the area and has been letting you and your children stay in her extra room until you get your feet back on the ground.

The group arrives from __(fill in university/ school)____, and during orientation I ask them to think through a typical day. Who are the invisible people in your life? Who are the people behind the scenes—the working poor that make your everyday easier? They write down the names of the school janitor, the cafeteria workers, the people who reshelf fruit at the grocery store, the bus driver, the sanitation worker, and all the other people who work like stage hands in their daily world. What does their typical day look like? What would the world look like through their eyes? Then I introduce the theme.

Throughout the week as they’re building relationships, serving, and learning about the needs of this city (going to places that meet immediate needs), I ask the groups to think about the bigger story. What are the systemic problems that cause the existence of these social service agencies?

Each member of the group then gets the story of a person living in poverty in the city. I ask them to write this person a letter, wondering what their life might be like. Questions like: What does your daily routine look like? What community is most important to you? If you get sick what happens? Can you take off work? What makes you feel proud/shame?

In this way, the lens is created and groups continue on with their week of learning and serving, while observing and looking for where their “person” might be. One day during the week, they visit a transitioning neighborhood (NOMA) and walk around uncovering the many stories and layers that exist in this community. Would my “person” live in this neighborhood?How might they feel about the new development?

action reflection model of popular education
action reflection model of popular education

I want them to see the effects of change on a neighborhood full of long term residences. Each morning the group is given a focus word, and asked to look for how the word plays out in their day and in their person’s story. I want to give students a chance to narrow and process the universe.

At the end of the week things look different. We share as a group new noticings, and we begin to understand the lives of the invisible people that affect us on a daily basis. Solutions are more complicated than starting a food drive. The weight of the stories and the daily realities of so many people is heavy. But, hopefully these stories of struggle and structural injustices now have names. The names are of people met in DC during a service project, the name of the character the students walked with all week, and the names on the list of invisible people in their daily life.

My hope is that with these stories and names, group members can no longer cross service off their list of obligations for the year. They must now be more aware and invested in fighting the injustices that cause poverty.

Powerful People: Karina Saunders, Popular Education, and Service Trips

Karina Saunders
Karina Saunders

This is an occasional column on powerful people doing powerful things. The Church of the 1950′s is done and dead. People talk about how the Church needs to change. This column highlights people living that change now through creative thoughts, methods, and endeavors. In sharing stories of power people,  I hope that radical change and the dismantling of domination is seen as having unlimited possibilities. Karina is my co-worker in The Pilgrimage, the principle outreach ministry at Church of the Pilgrims, that focuses on the experience of the hungry, homeless, and working poor. The Pilgrimage welcome mostly college and youth groups to engage in service learning and popular education to envision a world made new.  This is part 1 in a 2 part post. 

“But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams” – William Butler Yeats

 Changing the Narrative of a Service Trip PART ONE

One of the best parts of my job is creating frameworks for students to see bigger contexts that shatter stereotypes and build bigger stories. As the program manager at a service-learning center in DC, I develop schedules and programming for groups that come to learn about the gap between the rich and the poor.

Through service, learning, and reflection, I hope to engage groups in questions about poverty, charity, and justice.  The hope being that by the end of their time here, they will have more tools to create change in their home communities.

 However, in reality, most groups come to “do service” often missing the context and background to why there is a need for service in the first place. During my time here I’ve become increasingly aware of the misconceptions groups carry with them about poverty in the city and in their own home communities.

They often come hoping to be shocked by the disparity that exists only in the nation’s capital. They want to give food to “them” at a soup kitchen, and then cross off their volunteer hours or social obligation of community service for the year.

DC Central Kitchen
DC Central Kitchen

 Often in a closing reflection I would hear wonderful stories that broke barriers, and reminded participants that people living on the street were really no different than themselves.  They could share the story of Jeff, outside CVS who taught them the importance of acknowledging the human dignity of people. Or they would boast in the number of lunches or meals they prepared at DC Central Kitchen. The trouble comes when I ask what they will do with their new revelations, the “now what?” question. The group would be silent. Breaking stereotypes of homelessness is important work.

Cutting vegetables, serving a meal, helping someone apply for a job, donating clothes to an employment training program—These are all important pieces to ending poverty. But, the story is bigger. If I want a group to be affective agents of changing the reality of poverty, they need to be familiar with the differences between charity work and justice work. They need to understand a glimpse of the challenges affecting those living in the poverty.

I believe we can’t just do service work and we can’t just do justice work, we need to do both. We need to meet the immediate needs of people, but we also need to create structures that prevent poverty. And so, to respond to the need for groups to zoom out a little, and see the bigger story of poverty in this country we started the Tina Jones Project. Meeting a person’s immediate needs for one week out of the year---is great, but what needs to happen is a shift in the narrative.