Sometimes, as the saying goes, you really do need to hit rock bottom before you can start climbing … or crawling … your way upwards.
Yesterday at Helping Up Mission in east Baltimore, where hundreds of men fighting homelessness and addiction find hope every day and night of the week, a number of us from Redeemer heard one man’s testimony.
As he tells his story, Matt had given his life to the Air Force — his days and weeks lay ordered and planned before him — until he suffered an accident in which he broke his sternum. His injury made it impossible for him to continue the work he loved with the Air Force, and he found himself without a job, without a career, sinking into desolation and despair, consumed in physical and emotional pain. Alcohol became his one consistent, dependable source of solace and relief; eventually, he found himself consuming 2-3 liters a day, while his body weight dwindled to 117 lbs.
It wasn’t until he found himself living in a shed in the backyard of an acquaintance that something inside of him stirred. He realized, he told us, that he had come to a point in his life where he had burned all his bridges; and that anyone he might have thought of, to call for help, would no longer return his call.
“And I don’t do homelessness well,” he smiled. So after 3 days of shed-living, and having identified Helping Up Mission as the closest shelter to him, he walked the 12 miles from the shed to the Mission’s doors, in the cold and rain.
The first words he heard, upon entering Helping Up, were: “Welcome home.”
“Sure,” he confessed he thought to himself with annoyance and skepticism, back then.
Three months later, Matt is a new man. He has found a community of brothers who understand his pain and what it takes to lift one another up. He is surrounded by a dedicated web of staff and volunteers, supporting him to identify and meet his physical, medical, psychological, emotional, educational, and spiritual needs; he has also been connected with the Veterans’ Administration, to receive benefits and training for a new job in the military that he can, in fact, do. Following the 12 steps of spiritual recovery, he recently reached out to his parents to make amends with them (Step 9); he told us it wasn’t as “dramatic” as he had thought it would be, they simply encouraged him to stay on the current path he is on. He is now working on taking Step 11: to seek through prayer and meditation God’s will and to have the power to carry it out. He seemed to enjoy speaking to us and sharing his story of hope and redemption.
Thanks to Matt and others at Helping Up Mission, our group from Redeemer was reminded yesterday that hope and redemption are indeed ever present and all around us, if we take the time to stop, look and listen.
P.S. Helping Up Mission is expanding to also serve women and children. Click here to learn more about their current campaign to make this new vision a reality: https://helpingupmission.org/inspiringhope/
When I listen to my running mates who are in their twenties, they tell me the church is irrelevant. “To tell you the truth,” one friend told me, “I don’t even think about organized religion anymore. My generation has moved on to other things.” A neighbor recounted similar thoughts: “When I came to Baltimore three years ago, I went to an event that combined information about community engagement, meeting other young folks, and beer tasting, and that led me to THREAD. Have you ever heard of that organization,” he asked me. “I’m not sure religion understands what’s meaningful to people my age,” he continued. The team captain at Back on My Feet said to me one morning before dawn, as we rounded Mt. Vernon Square, “When I was a teenager, the church missed the boat on human sexuality and gender identity—good friends of mine felt excluded—so I gave up on religion in solidarity with them.” My whole block near Patterson Park is taking concrete steps toward making Baltimore more inclusive, more vibrant, better at educating its children, and safer for everybody, but only one family calls themselves religious. “The Christians I grew up with were talkers not doers, and that seemed wrong,” my friend across the street told me last week, “So I’m really interested to know how you and your wife have stayed in the church and kept your integrity.”
I don’t think the young people I’m listening to are unusual. Their movement away from organized religion is not reactive—it is a thoughtful, considered response to how the tradition inadvertently got stuck propping itself up instead of running to connect with what matters, which sometimes beats most strongly in the hearts of teenagers and young adults. The movement that crystallized around Jesus 2000 years ago found its energy then in reforming the good but misguided intentions of the power structure, which had lost touch with the living spirit of God on the margins of polite society: with women and the poor, with the sick and the lost, with the stranger and the refugee. Jesus’s vision was to recreate God’s beloved community, and he did that by reminding the religious community that their work was justice, not piety. So it seems possible that the palpable rejection of our “old ways” by 15-to-30-year-olds today is in fact a call to discover again what following the living God really means.
The Vestry and I are responding to this call by creating a new Associate for Youth position, an additional full time person to be added to our clergy team. This exciting vision is to add a young leader who will re-imagine ministry to and for young people, from 6th grade to 30 years. I have interviewed candidates by phone and in person, and an advisory committee will now consider five individuals and make a recommendation to me. Each of the applicants is currently employed and is not available until the new year, most likely after Easter. To create program continuity between Paul Smith’s departure and the new position, parishioner Vivian Campagna will act as interim youth director during the 2018-19 program year.
To afford this bold move, our annual giving will have to increase to meet the need. As you consider your 2019 pledge to Redeemer, pray about how you can help build the next generation and strengthen the church that will shape our grandchildren. And next weekend, October 27 and 28, please welcome with me our new stewardship chairs: Carrie Goldrick, Noel and Tom Morelli. Their vision is to support a relevant, faithful, courageous, church that is building God’s beloved community in Baltimore now.
Last Sunday at the 10 am service and later that afternoon with Evensong we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the building of our main sanctuary. It was a glorious blending of liturgy and music at both services. The purpose was twofold: to look back with gratitude and to look forward to the future.
In preparation for the celebration, I had the opportunity to speak with two current members of the parish whose fathers played significant roles in the decision to proceed with the building. Janet Evans Dunn remembers her father’s influence in both raising the money for the building and as well as being a statesman to bridge the differing opinions about the contemporary design. At the time it was a bit controversial. In addition during this period, Mr. Evans served as Head of the Building Committee. Relie Garland Bolton also remembers her father, Charles Garland, Sr., being in support of the new church. He expressed his progressive outlook saying that the new space was for the young people coming along and that perspective should be the deciding factor in the choice of architecture. Both men, among others, were clear visionaries for the future…and that “future” is now “our reality”.
But now “our reality,” like the congregation 60 years ago, compels us to look forward for our younger generation. That is why earlier this summer, David asked Molly Hathaway and me to coordinate an initiative to invite individuals to remember the Church of the Redeemer in their estate plans. That was the beginning of the Next Generation Campaign, a means to ensure that Redeemer remains vibrant and strong. We have been so pleased with the response. At this point, 55 individuals (or couples) have indicated that Redeemer is included in their will. In the afterglow of the events of this past weekend, we want to encourage others of you to join us. For your convenience the proper form is here. How wonderful if in the next 60 years, (2078!) there is another celebration that recognizes our collective vision for faithful stewardship of our church!
Should you have any questions, please contact the Rev. Caroline Stewart.
75 people came together last evening at Redeemer to make space, to carve out some silence in the midst of a noisy, disorienting two weeks created by the Supreme Court nomination process, to share pain and hope and rage, to pray. We followed the practice of a Quaker meeting, speaking out of the silence in response to the Spirit quaking within, believing as one person said “that God is in everything” and so, in everyone. Because we are Episcopalians, we started with a hymn, and I heard the lyrics in a way I’d never heard them before: “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty.” Politics feels very narrow right now… partisanship constrains us, paints us into corners, threatens to break old relationships, even within families… but mercy is the true measure of righteousness, the lyric said to me. Kindness is at the center of justice. The wideness of God’s love calls us as surely as the ocean meets the shore.
Several people wrote to tell me they were nervous about the gathering, and I admitted that I was, too. “I’ve got a pit in my stomach,” said one as we began. For me the anxiety turned on the seeming competition between women’s voices and men’s voices, and more pointedly, between the testimony of a sexual assault survivor and the testimony of a man defending his record and reputation. I’ve spent some time putting myself in Dr. Ford’s shoes, praying for her capacity to speak the deepest truth, giving thanks for her dignity and courage. I knew Judge Kavanaugh in college—he was a freshman when I was a freshman counselor, and we lived in the same dorm—and so I’ve been interviewed along with many from those days about what we knew and what we saw. I have spent some time putting myself in his shoes, praying that he can speak the deepest truth within him, praying that he can have the courage to stand for women in a society that still privileges male voices, to stand for every survivor of sexual assault, to speak with those who have been silenced by shame and circumstance, to be a man for others as he pleads his case. Mercy is the true measure of righteousness. Kindness is at the center of justice.
I don’t know what I expected last evening’s gathering to be, but it was a revelation in the truest sense. For an hour we shared with each other our deepest selves. The silence held us as person after person offered a wideness of vision that was paradoxically rooted in some narrow and intense pain or loss. We offered our frustration and our kindness and prayed for hope and change. It was gut-wrenching and beautiful, at once, to trust each other in this way, to hear how rare such honesty is right now in other parts of our lives, and to witness that even decades-old wounds can know healing. The difficulty of a very public debate called us to honor something very profound within each other and ourselves.
We ended by singing these words: And when human hearts are breaking under sorrow’s iron rod, then they find that selfsame aching deep within the heart of God.
Deep listening and wide loving, especially in the narrowest of corners, will help us find our way.