• Peace, Love, Joy
    by The Center Baltimore on February 27, 2019 at 7:51 pm

    Temperatures started at 10 degrees and cars are caked with ice and remnants of snow from the unexpected storm that blew in the day before. It is a typical winter Saturday, but for me and part of a group of 8th graders from Alexandria, VA, it was the first time assisting with the Harundale Presbyterian lunch program. A service that has been serving meals to the community in Glen Burnie for 30 years. During lunch I talked with Charlie, who at 73 years young, helps faithfully with the program and knows all of the people who come. The meal started with a trickle of folks and slowly a few more people started coming in. This allowed for the students, their adult leader and I to sit and eat with guests. Some went to another church to see what items they were handing out for the start of the month. A few told me that there are several churches who like Harundale assists the community with food, clothes, household items, toiletries etc. About a half hour into lunch Ms. Joanna walks in with a smile and greets Charlie, as many others have done also. She walks over to the table where I am sitting and with a deep breath of tiredness begins to take off her coat and sit next to me. Jason, who recently started attending Harundale and helps in the lunch program, began setting Ms. Joanna a place setting before going to prepare a plate. She greets the table with a smile and another deep breath. It is still cold outside and her voice was slightly horse. I don’t know exactly what we began our conversation with besides the cold weather and the reason she was out of breath and a bit horse, but for the next half hour or so I talked with Ms. Joanna about life. Joanna (Bloom) Clouse, 88 is originally from the area, though she had moved to Ohio for a while with her husband. She has been a widow for 53 years but has come to enjoy being single. Her theme is “peace, love, joy;” which is inscribed on purple plastic key chains she gives out whenever someone does something nice for her. She said it is her way for giving back. That if people see these words they should remember that there is nothing to be mad about. She is still finishing rehab after falling and breaking her femur. Ms. Joanna says she is grateful that she broke her femur. It had become a blessing to her personally and she is able to minister to the people at the nursing home while doing rehab on her leg. Every so often during our conversation she would stop and say how much she loves her life with the biggest smile that she almost seems moved to tears. She would pause and beam with such joy that one can truly feel how much she really means what she says. Ms. Joanna hasn’t had the easiest life. She has kids who don’t care to talk to her and a granddaughter who is about to move in with her. She does not seemed bothered by any of life’s setbacks and focuses on how she is able to see God’s goodness. Ms. Joanna works part-time at a local restaurant and comes in to the lunch program to make ends meet. Charlie came and sat with us before Ms. Joanna left. Afterwards I asked Charlie what brings in people to the lunch program. He told me he’s learned there are at least 25 different reasons people have consistently come to Harundale. Anything from not getting along with family to homelessness to just a way to make food stretch in the home. He says some find it easier to be homeless, some just barely make enough on the job. He believed that the low numbers on Saturday was because it was a pay weekend. People probably got some money to get the things needed for the time being. In total 29 plates of food were served; and I learned a valuable lesson on how to have peace, love and joy guide my outlook on life. -Melva, Hands and Feet Fellow […]

  • Winter at The Center
    by The Center Baltimore on February 7, 2019 at 8:38 pm

    It is the start of a new year, but still humbling to know that it has only been five months here in Baltimore. Though Liv and I have experienced so much in this short period of time, we know there is still much much more to experience. We started pretty quickly and very hands on. The holidays brought the expected slow down and reving back up into a new year. One might think with the start of true winter storms that things stop or slow down drastically. For The Center it is just another chance to see how congregations become creative in their mission work with the change of seasons. Visiting mission groups come willing to brace through whatever element(s) the weather presents that week; and The Center welcomes it all with excitement and expectation that God will move and show up as always. So we began this new year and start of winter with a group of college students completing a January intensive (j-term or jan-term) course looking at the intersection of faith and justice. We helped with the 2nd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Essay and Speech Contest in West Baltimore hosted by a partner congregation. We are preparing to help with a monthly feeding program and a new mission initiative that is meeting neighbors through providing firewood during these colder days. Liv and I are meeting with pastors throughout the Baltimore Presbytery, learning more about the neighborhoods and the people who live there. The diversity runs deep, not just from person to person, but from block to block. Each church has a unique perspective of Baltimore as it relates to the area and the street on which their church is located. I am grateful for a few churches that have extended preaching opportunities and look forward to sharing worship as a intimate way to understand how they gather as community and understand their church’s mission. January, February and March are definitely filled with opportunity for all of us here at The Center. We hope you will join us soon and thank you for your continued support!-Melva, Hands and Feet Fellow […]

  • A Brief Reflection from NEXT Church Training: Church? Really?
    by The Center Baltimore on January 14, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    In October, Mel and I were able to attend the NEXT Church community organizer training here in Baltimore! It was a weeklong experience in which leaders from the Industrial Area Foundation’s Baltimore chapter, BUILD, led programming on community organizing from a congregationally-centered perspective. The days were long and full, rewarding and challenging, comforting and alarming. As we discussed the foundational principles of organizing during the week: power, relational meetings, asking for money, running actions, examining one’s own self-interest, I felt at home. I mean, I love this stuff. I’ve had some practice using these skills before! I was feeling pretty good about myself, nice and comfortable. But, as we were asked to consider how we might apply these skills in our congregations when we return home after the training, I felt a pretty pressing sense of fright arise. It went something along these lines:I don’t have a home congregation! I’m new here! OMG, I’m so new here, how do I become un-new here? How do you even organize in a place that doesn’t trust you yet? And oh my word do I not want to be a pastor. That desire sits at a very solid, very heavy zero. But do I have to be a Rev. in order to organize within the structure of the church? What is my role in this church of ours, anyway? Do I even know anyone here? Who is God? So, welcome to my brain during (and still sorta after) NEXT training. Things tend to amp up rather quickly! Now, of course, part of my feeling adrift was because the training was designed specifically for clergy people and my status as a lay person still new to her area and still working to solidify her church home made answering some of the questions as they were posed rather difficult. Even still, a lot of the above anxiety is founded in genuine curiosity about what my role and relationship with church will evolve to look like-- both personally and professionally. I know myself to be an organizer and I feel increasingly at home in that role. But what about my identity as a person of faith? Do I feel increasingly at home in that identity? In summary, I suppose the big question I’m forever trying to answer is, “Why am I so committed to organizing within the context of church?” Full disclosure, sometimes I’m surprised at myself for so ardently committing to church. I mean, I don’t think it takes away from my credibility to own the fact that I’ve got lots (!) of questions about this ole’ church of ours. I’ve spent a fair amount of time disappointed with decisions the church has made and the way it’s elected to treat all types of hurting people. In my peak pastor’s kid angst days, I was mad at the church on a personal level-- I felt I’d been allowed a look behind the curtain and was not impressed with the way the structure of the church treated ministers and their families. And, yikes, do I even believe all of this bible stuff? NEXT training made these questions more clear and tangible but not necessarily their complementary answers. Rude. So, honestly, that’s where I am right now. Lots of questions about why my organizer self can never quite escape church and how my community-organizer-self and my person-of-faith self inform one another. Holy Spirit? Does she have something to do with this? Is this all her doing? Sneaky! Someone get me her number.-Liv , Hands and Feet Fellow […]

  • Hands and Feet
    by The Center Baltimore on January 14, 2019 at 9:36 pm

    For those who have begun following the adventures of Liv and I here in Baltimore we thank you for the support of giving our stories time and attention. As we wrap up the first 60 days of being official Hands and Feet Fellows, you can probably tell that the work is broad in its reach and makes for long days and short months. We have not stopped moving so to speak, but we have gotten days off and moments to steal away and do fun things. We also get along and have established a friendship, so the home life is fun and conversational as well. But, who are we and what is this Hands and Feet Initiative about really? By day 45 I finally felt like I knew what my job was really about. After completing a community organizing intensive training through NextChurch I realized the dual focus in the work that I do. One is to be the Hands and Feet Fellow as part of the Office of the General Assembly (OGA). An initiative that is really forward thinking for how the Presbyterian Church (USA) as a denomination engages with the communities where our churches reside and the cities we visit for large denominational meetings. This incite to intentionally build our local engagement and support of the ministries, work, and lives of those who are members of this denomination; and through ecumenical and civic partnership is huge. It is the Gospel of engagement, literally! The second focus of our work is to be the Hands and Feet Fellows for The Center. Liv and I get to be deeply involved with Churches within the Presbytery of Baltimore. We have begun this work by meeting with the congregations that are/or have partnered with The Center recently. We are moving towards reaching out to churches who have expressed some interest in partnership and/or are part of the Presbytery that we have yet to meet.  The Center’s focus on mission informs the depth and breadth of this OGA Initiative. The Center uses the concept of mission to empower local churches to engage with their surrounding communities. To function as not a separate organization, but to build and establish relationships with residents and other area organizations (if any) situated within the church’s radius. The Presbytery has set up its churches into ministry groups which broadens an individual church’s reach because the relationship with a community organization might be established with a sister congregation within the ministry group. Thus, some of the local churches have used their ministry group as a cohort to provide programming during the summer for kids in a centralized area. Some churches have partnered with other religious denominations and institutions within the area to provide activities and opportunities that support the needs of residents around the neighborhood. The work at The Center and with our partnering churches and local organizations varies from area to area. As you have seen in past posts, we have done many things: gardening, we have played kickball and have assisted in providing meals. As Hands and Feet Fellows Liv and I are part of organizing and building relationships through listening to partners and people we are meeting along the way. We have both started finding ways to get out the house beyond work that also builds and feeds our personal needs and interests, but is rooting us into Baltimore as residents. These moments also provide for new connections and places to network. For me they have been educational and conversational in nature. I realized that as a black woman I am coming into a new community that already has a heightened awareness of what it means to live in America that recognizes you as citizen second. I also knew that Baltimore is unlike any other city I have lived, and want to do my diligence to learn about this city and the underlying tensions. As you have seen in other posts there are many layers to Baltimore and its history. I am not a tourist that gets to step in and out of spaces with my captured Instagram memories. I am fastly invested in who are the residents I call neighbor, the neighborhoods that hold landmarks to help me navigate movement, and the policies that impact me just as much as the next person. I am a resident of the city working for both city and county based congregations. In Baltimore and in Maryland that means something to distinguish where you live. My past work and education is starting to integrate into my understanding of this work. Coming out of the organizer training I feel more confident that I am on the right path of seeing how my faith and passion work together. As I work through the layers of Baltimore, God is causing my own layers to be examined. It is exciting and vulnerable. I am grateful for this year and for what has already begun to change in my life in just the last 60+ days in Baltimore. I am excited to be part of this Initiative and to have a practical hands on role in it manifesting throughout the denomination. It is work that we have all been called to by accepting Jesus and baptizing ourselves into the Christian community, but it is work few are willing to accept and are hesitant to engage. I am grateful that I am charged to come alongside and meet them where they are and help them to meet their neighbors where they are as well. -Mel, Hands and Feet Fellow […]

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