Dear Folks,

Three times this week, small groups gathered for worship.

On Tuesday and Thursday morning, we drew into a close circle in front of Redeemer with just enough chairs and benches to keep us safe, put a placemat on a borrowed table with wafers and a bottle of Purell, and broke open our hearts to each other.  For the sermon, I asked each person to “share something that’s good and something that’s hard.”  Several spoke of the gift of racial reckoning and the difficult work of change.  Three grandparents rejoiced at the arrival of new babies and managing the loss of not being able to hold them.  One mom heard that morning that her daughter has the virus.  Another wept in thanksgiving over her son’s movement toward well-being.  A senior talked about wishing to go to the store to buy buttons, and the frustration with non-mask-wearers who don’t seem interested in the common good.  Most of us prayed for children and partners and friends and rest.  For a few minutes, the Spirit held the weight of our worries and gave voice to our thanks.  “It’s so good to see you,” said one after another.

On Saturday morning, we had a different kind of church in East Baltimore.  This time a dozen came together from the Johnston Square Community Association, Redeemer, Parks and People, and Troop 35 to clean up an empty lot.  We removed old bushes and pots, cut down a couple of trees, moved a very heavy sign, and created a meandering walkway that folks might use to imagine a new way to be neighbors.  “It’s the beginning of our Miracle Mile!” said BUILD organizer Regina Hammonds.  It was hot, but it felt so good to kindle old relationships and make some new ones.  One community leader prayed, “Open our minds.  Open our hearts.  Open our wounds, O God, that we might one day be well.”

Is worship what we do inside a building, the Hebrew people wondered, 2500 years ago, as they returned from their lonely exile to Jerusalem?  If we can’t gather for feasts and fasts, have we lost our way?  Why is this so hard, they cried aloud, as they confronted their missteps, tried to reconcile their differences, and prayed that God would help them fix the mess.  Sound familiar?  What they were desperate to know was whether God and grace are equal to their hard reality, whether there was strength for the struggles in which daily faith operates.  Can you heal us, God?

God’s answer to them, through the prophet Isaiah, was probably not what they were expecting.   If you want to be well, he says, loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the wanderer. That is true worship, he offered.  (What about this magnificent edifice, you can hear them saying… what about the altar and the trumpets, our liturgy and feasts?  We’ve been in the wilderness, and we want to go back inside.) The prophet goes on, When you do away with the yoke of oppression and spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry, your healing will quickly appear.  If your people will rebuild the ruins of the city, and raise up the old streets and foundations, together you will be called repairers of the breach, healers of the broken places.

They were being called outside, into the streets and into the hearts of strangers and neighbors, and so are we.  It felt just right to worship and work that way this week, to gather together with old friends and new friends and reimagine a new way to be church.  In the courtyard at Redeemer, the Spirit is breathing new life within us.  With our partners at ReBuild Metro in Johnston Square, we are making a way where there was no way.  Construction on new homes has not stopped, and Redeemer has responded to the call with $170,000 from the Covenant fund for affordable housing.  83,888 meals have been served to 2700 people in the last 15 weeks, door to door, and the Covenant Fund has supported that effort, too.  And with every knock, volunteers have asked, “Are you well? Does your family need to be tested? Does your child have access to wifi for school?  Have you lost your job?”  It’s not what we would have expected, but relationships have been built and individuals strengthened through the exile of coronavirus.

Will you be a healer of broken places?  O God, open our minds, open our hearts, open our wounds to the light of your truth, and make us well.


Ahhhh, the things of which we are blissfully unaware and completely ignorant, as children …

As some of you know, I was a “12-year girl” at The Bryn Mawr School, just down the street from Redeemer. My family and I carpooled with a few other families who also lived in Timonium. I remember the daily treks up and down Charles Street; I knew we were getting close to school when we passed by the huge convent at Bellona & Charles.

Depending on buses and public transportation to get to school, or to any place, would not have registered anywhere on my brain, back then. Huh? What? Here in Baltimore?

These days, among the many things I notice and think about as an adult, that I never did as a child, is this very issue: public transportation here in Baltimore. I find myself asking, “What if I had to depend on public transportation, to get to work?” Having now had the experience of traveling to and living in other cities in our country and around the world, I find myself shaking my head at the comparison of what we have — and don’t have — here in my own hometown. And I find myself seeing and registering all the people waiting at the bus stops along Northern Parkway and around town, almost always black.

I cannot not see, anymore.

This past week, two items landed in my inbox. One is an article that helped me to learn and better understand why we are where we are, in terms of public transit here in Baltimore. The other link is about a public petition drive to get a question on the November ballot which, if passed, would create a commission to begin the process of forming a regional transit authority for Baltimore.

I share these links with you below, along with a quotation that also landed in my inbox this week, words spoken at the 1985 United Nations Decade for Women conference by Dr. Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal elder, Gangulu activist, artist and scholar from Queensland, Australia:

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Let us indeed work together so together we may all obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.


Charter Amendment – Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition

Segregated and Poor


It has been almost one year since The Church of the Redeemer initiated The Center for WellBeing as a part of its’ mission to provide resources and education for both the congregation and the Baltimore community in areas for spiritual, emotional and physical health. David’s vision was to create and expand an innovative program that would build upon the momentum of the Mental Health First Aid Training that had been offered for the last 3 years. He and I were in one accord that we wanted to be very open to areas that generated energy and curiosity from the congregation as well as meet with community leaders to hear of their needs and how The Church of the Redeemer through The Center might respond. In hindsight, that approach has been such a key to our success. We did not limit our thinking or our goals. There is a wonderful quote from an old Spanish Poet: “Walker there is no road, the road is made by walking”. That perspective has mirrored the events of the last year!

So….that ‘road’ has led The Center to the following ‘destinations’:

  • Maintaining a resource table in the narthex for articles of interest to our topics.
  • Meeting with several well-known members of the Johns Hopkins Department of Psychiatry to form relationships that would give us access to their expertise to collaborate on a variety of programs in the future.
  • Meeting with several key people at The Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary to explore future collaborations.
  • Partner with Rabbi Nina Cardin to apply for and receive funding for a teaching program to Jewish ‘adult learners’ focused on pastoral issues. The grant came from the Johns Hopkins Foundation of Spirituality and Medicine.
  • Outreach to several congregations who wanted training for their pastoral care teams.
  • Prior to the pandemic, The Center hosted Mental Health First Aid Training for 4 classes that included both members of the congregation and staff from a number of local nonprofits.
  • Offered group spiritual formation for 6 weeks each to 3 separate groups.
  • Individual spiritual direction is being offered to 12 people, half of whom are Redeemer members and the others are in the discernment process for ordained ministry in the diocese.
  • Cristina has been offering breathing workshops through The Center.
  • Hosted a lay led workshop on death and dying.
  • I have been offering ongoing pastoral support and mental health education via Zoom to Chaplain interns and residents at both Bayview and Johns Hopkins Hospitals.
  • I am part of a planning team at Bayview to host a Substance Abuse Awareness Week this fall.
  • Provided a speaker for Adult Ed on trauma and another one on advance directives/Five Wishes.
  • Initiated a Monday edition of e-Redeemer to provide emotional support during the lockdown.
  • Initiated a Monday afternoon gathering via Zoom for the parish as a way to remain in touch.

On a personal level, what has been thrilling is the freedom to follow where the current interest is for The Center. While the pandemic ‘interrupted’ some plans in the near term, in a way, it also played right into the real need for The Center. You, the congregation, were already so comfortable speaking about issues of mental health and wellness that we could continue the conversation with vigor and truth telling. I am aware of other churches who have been timid speaking about depression, suicide, anxiety, etc.….topics that are so important in the chaos of today’s world.

Another favorite expression is: “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” As we look forward to the 2nd year of The Center, I think that is a good foreshadowing for the future. We will continue to be open to being a resource for the congregation and the community. I welcome your thoughts and reflections as the journey towards our wellbeing continues!


The Rev. Caroline R. Stewart
Executive Director
The Center for WellBeing