Reflections from the Reception Desk

Reflections from the Reception Desk

I volunteer at the New London Homeless Hospitality Resource Center on 727 Bank Street in New London. I serve as a receptionist at the center and am able to give witness to those experiencing poverty – the poor walk through our door. I’ve looked into their eyes; heard their voices; and listened to their pleas.

Holy Week.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13) Holy Week is upon us. I don’t know how you all do it. But I’m about to find out.

Poverty As a Mystery to Be Entered Into

This blog post has been submitted on behalf of the ECCT Poor People’s Campaign Working Group. Learn more about The Poor People’s Campaign and the upcoming Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington June 18.

Offered by the Rev. Deacon Ronald Steed

I work at the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, an emergency shelter and housing agency, alongside neighbors who are experiencing homelessness and poverty. I used to think that poverty was a problem to be solved and I found that my ego could not help but to get thoroughly immersed in it.

As a “Problem”, poverty was something I could walk around and consider at a distance… it was a challenge… one my mind was eager to solve. Over time, I felt frustration, anger, and rage at the problem, its intractability, its injustice. And… I began to regard the people experiencing this problem as a problem themselves. My language changed: “you should do this” or “you need to do that”. Poverty as a problem-to-be-solved became de-humanizing to them… and to me.

Now, I see poverty more as a spiritual force in the world and a mystery to be entered into… more as a work of the heart rather than the head. And since it IS a mystery, I have to enter into it WITH the person who is experiencing it. To see it as THEY see it… to respond to it in the ways that THEY want to respond. I have to let go of my solutions for them… let go of my “expertise”… let go of outcomes. Rather, to scatter seeds… to be a midwife.

There are completely different emotions that come with heart-work: empathy, heart-break, hope, contemplation… joy. These are some of the cross-shaped emotions of coming alongside. I invite the Spirit into the heart-space… ask her to be with us… invite Jesus in as well, asking for his healing power to be brought to bear.

One of our Community Navigators was telling me about her heart-break as a person described the INDIGNITY of poverty… of constantly having to ask for help, and then having to ask again, over and over. She has begun to see her work, not so much as finding a house and employment and healthcare for them, but as restoring their dignity, as an act of resistance against a spiritual force. There is a mystery in that to be entered into…

My name is Marc, and I prefer Lent.

The Rev. Marc G. Eames, Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s, Vernon

It seems a strange thing to admit, rather like confessing to a class of sixth graders that you enjoy homework, but Lent is my favorite liturgical season.  Other seasons are beloved with good reason, and many of us tell stories of Easter egg hunts, the singing of Christmas Carols, or even visiting diocesan camps or seaside chapels during summer’s ordinary time. I do love Advent, but it is a season continually squashed by the behemoth of Christmas.  Christmas is full of joy, but it also carries a lot of materialistic baggage and gives free rein to the antics of a patron saint, the legalistic troll known as the Elf on the Shelf.  I love Easter Sunday, one of my favorite days of the year, but I will never forget the disappointment I felt during my curacy seeing a nearly empty church the following Sunday.  Easter, as a season, never seems to live up to its promise. 

So, despite its lack of flash, I appreciate the depth of Lent. Lent is humble and unassuming.  It preaches simplicity to a culture steeped in excess.  While I exult in joy, and I was spiritually raised with the great Anglo-Catholic lesson that “anything worth doing is worth overdoing”, Lent advises restraint.  The season guides us to choose less instead of more and counsels teaching through silence over erudite elocution.  The truth is that I need Lent.  Lenten Sundays combine the message of preparing for Easter while celebrating the reality of Easter in the Eucharist.  This practice suits our time.  We live in a period that is already and not yet, the kept promises of God surrounding and uplifting us while other hopes remain unfulfilled.  

I confess to needing the seriousness of Lent, focusing on something deep and true to avoid becoming a thoughtless dilettante of the liturgical world.  I need to reflect on those old commandments that I have read thousands of times and consider:  What idols have I exchanged for the ancient Asherah and Baal? 

St. John’s in Vernon, my new call, uses Lent as its primary Stewardship season.  I have never experienced this arrangement before, but it has challenged me to devote more thought and prayer to how I am spending my money.  What charities am I supporting, and what products am I buying?  Do they align with the values that I find in scripture and teach in my parish?  Can I find a simpler, more local option, or find a way of reusing something or going without?

Lent is challenging in its simplicity. It calls for focus and reflection.  It demands something of me, and it has become my favorite season.  

The Importance of Home

The Rev. Shancia Jarrett was recently featured in an article in the New Haven Independent featuring some of the important work she is doing as Affordable Housing Commission Consultant in New Haven. The article focused on Shancia’s work in developing a Below-Market Rental registry, and highlighted her focus on the need for affordable housing in Connecticut.

We wondered how Shancia’s experiences as a follower of Christ and a priest in The Episcopal Church have influenced and impacted her work in affordable housing…so we asked her.

How did you get started in this work?

During my latter years of seminary, I was intrigued by Aldo Leopard’s philosophy on Land Ethics and the theology of Creation. Through this understanding, I focused on four theological truths: (1) God created the Earth (land) prior to humanity (2) God bestowed blessings of goodness on Creation in its entirety and entrusted and equipped humanity with the virtuous wisdom to care for the Earth, (3) God is just and loving, (4) Out of Divine love each person is a bestowed the goodness of life and situated by the Divine in a place and that place for me embodied a home. With the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and of technology the idea of home has significantly evolved with human development through disciplines of architecture and sustainability.

Ironically, theological truths were further stimulated within economics courses where I developed educational resources on the disparate impact and the monetary and public costs of lead poisoning awareness efforts among children and youth development.  As a result of this project, I was invited by the city of New Haven to present my research and a proposed petition for the  Environmental Protection Agency. To my surprise, within this meeting, I was hired to convene New Haven’s Affordable Housing Commission. I never imagined that developers and versed housing advocates would validate and invest in the recommendations of a Divinity student. 

Where have you found joy in this work?

My engagement with housing extends beyond norms of typical work. Similarly to contemporary theologians, my engagement revolves on a “theology of work that does not begin with our understanding of what God wants us to do or even how to do it. It begins with the God who has revealed the Divine in Creation and Redemption, and who shows us how to follow Christ by being formed in the Divine character.” For me, the Divine character of God is love. I love what I am doing and the people with whom I collaborate to promote awareness.

Also, in light of this quotation, I acknowledge that many are on a quest to find their vocations, but housing found me. Somehow, my passion for Land Ethics and Creation revealed and prepared me to engage housing disparities within morally ethical and economic models of community development. As I reflect on the genesis of my career in housing, publications, and facilitation skills, I am overwhelmed with joy to efficiently collaborate with the commissioners whose expertise range from legal scholarship, development, housing advocacy, community members, formerly homeless individuals, parents, and activism. From these experiences and professional transitions, my colleagues and Commissioners have shaped my formation and challenged me to become an informed voice on housing.

What has broken your heart?

The challenges of uninformed opposition to affordable housing are disheartening. For instance, one of the greatest misconceptions is the belief that it is restricted to low income families, however, that is a dense interpretation of housing economics. Low-income families are indeed vulnerable to housing burdens; however, the government offers significant housing subsidies to assist such families. On the other hand, non-subsidized households such as those with an annual income of greater than $73,000 and non-disabled senior citizens have significant housing burdens and exhaust more than 50% of their income to compensate for the housing market’s increased rental and home purchasing rates.   

How do you see this work as participating in God’s Mission in Connecticut?

I strongly affirm that the church has a commitment to living out the ministries of the Gospel while administering its sacraments. For instance, during the first century, Early Christians worshiped in the homes of patrons and Apostles. Historically, the priesthood and my theological education is the spiritual and transformative home or the place where God situated me to participate in housing ministry. Without the theological training and support of the ECCT, I would not have had the versatility to become a bi-vocational priest and to share my ministries. It is an honor for ECCT to recognize and share my advocacy efforts.

What is one thing people could do to participate in this work?

One thing people could do to participate is to remember and to listen to God’s loving Divine character and the importance of having a home, a place to live, and how it shapes our understanding of the environment and development as an individual, a church, and a society.  It may sound harsh, but I do not encourage churches to naively advocate for affordable housing. Instead, I invite them to prayerfully discern its need and their willingness to listen to the testimonies of housing vulnerable populations.  Thus, allowing their advocacy to develop sustainability, and to establish internal support, and community partnerships. Churches and individuals interested in exploring affordable housing can contact me at sjarrett@edcnewhaven.com

A Whole Bunch of Thoughts That Took 5 Minutes to Think

A Whole Bunch of Thoughts That Took 5 Minutes to Think

The Rev. Matt Handi, St. Luke’s, South Glastonbury

It’s 4 am. Too soon to be awake, too late to fall back asleep; I keep fading in and out. I went to bed with tomorrow on my mind and now tomorrow is today, first day jitters. Finally, at around 6 am I rise and head to the shower, my imagined leap out of bed is measured by a lack of sleep and the anxiousness I feel about starting a new call, my first call, a new priest in a new church.

I drive the half hour from home to Glastonbury, the morning light brightens the edges of a thin cloud with a wonderful array of oranges and yellows, a welcomed display as I head northeast on 84.

I arrive at the church. I place the key in the lock.

It doesn’t work.

I try shaking it and pushing my shoulder to the door and shaking the handle while turning the key just so and! Nothing.

First day. I’m stuck outside the church and it’s early yet and the key just won’t budge. This is frustrating.

While fiddling with the lock, my mind wanders. Frustrated thoughts mix with a rehash of the years, an appreciation of time past.

Today is the dream fulfilled. A faint call that grew louder over time, over years; I thought the act of walking into a small parish church after many years away was me answering that call. But the urge for more persisted, the urge to do more lingered. I joined the vestry, I became the Treasurer, I taught kids in J2A, I even started working for the church and still the call persisted. Impossible.

I try bracing my hip against the door, relieving any pressure on the lock that might be holding it back. One more time into the breach, I try to turn the key and! Nothing.

While fiddling some more, I realize I am standing on the shoulders of giants. Commission folks who gave me their time, their help, sat with me in conference room conversations and library chats, their calm touch and their listening ears provided support. Committee folks who gave up Saturdays to listen to my nervous rationalizations around my call to be a priest. Bishop folks who were so dedicated to guiding me through, whose words and letters and lunches were a gift of reassurance and correction.

So, I’m thinking if I press my knee against the door and my hand just above the handle while pushing on the door at the same time, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to turn the key. I do so and! Nothing.

Frustration grumbles. It’s my first day and I can’t even get into the door. I’m not even sure I belong here. What about those others? Those giants? The ones who walk into the room and you think, wow! That woman is a priest! And she carries herself with such confidence and owns the room with knowledge and care, the collar is optional. How do I measure up? And doubt, well. Let’s put away doubt.

I am out of ideas. Until. Well, I’ve been standing outside this locked door for not too long now, there are other doors. The undercroft! I can get in through the basement! And so, I head around the corner.

I look once more towards the sky; the darker indigos of early dawn are giving way to the brighter blues of daylight. The colors though, remind me of a different sky in a different place.

The sky recalls my childhood yesterdays and the brook that flowed at the bottom of my street. I would build dams down there, ingenious constructions of the 10-year-old kind. Kid things that paused the flow but stopped nothing, those dams lasted no longer than Thomas doubted.

Hearing my mother’s voice calling into the dusk it was time to head back. I walked my bike up the hill from the brook. I saw home. Bright yellow lamplight shown through the bay window of our tiny raised ranch, white with black shutters and a red door. Walking up the driveway, I dropped the bike near the shed. I walked inside.

“Hey Mom”, I said. “I’m home. I heard you calling.”

I reach the undercroft door; the key turns and the door opens.

I step inside.

There are thresholds to be crossed.

The world is a fragile place.

The world is a fragile place.

The Rev. Dr. Anita Schell, St. Ann’s, Old Lyme

Years ago while team teaching a course at Southern Vermont College in Bennington VT, I was struck by what one of the professors said about the critical role our imaginations play in our life as people of faith. In the Tuesday evening Comparative Religions course, my team teacher invited us to look at the imaginary games we played at ages 3 and 4. These games would give us clues as to the pursuits of our later adult years. What games did you play that highlighted your dreams? It’s such a great question!

And, our imaginations are more than pondering our own dreams. Our imaginations can help us to envision how others live, and by imagining, can increase in us greater compassion and the courage to work for change in making a better, just world for all, no matter what the consequences to our comfort levels.  Such imagining a better world for all and striving to create concrete steps toward that goal were in evidence last fall at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as “COP26.”

24 lay and clergy delegates from the Episcopal Church representing Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and The Episcopal Church  were led by Bishop Marc Andrus of California. Part of the delegates’ mission was to learn about the state of the climate crisis and efforts to address it, and to bring what they learned back to the wider church.

During COP26, the Episcopal delegates (as well as their Anglican counterparts) communicated their priorities to U.N. member states, participated in meetings and discussion forums, shared updates on social media and hosted events, including a “Liturgy for Planetary Crisis” and morning and evening prayer services. Episcopalians participated virtually from the United States, Europe and South America. Good intentions and work notwithstanding, advocacy to reduce the negative impacts of climate crisis is not felt equally among communities in the United States and around the globe. Fragility is not a uniform experience. As our   Presiding Bishop Curry said in a Nov. 12 ABC News interview., “The most impacted [are] Indigenous peoples, people who are tied to the land, poor people.”  And “We will see more mass migrations of people looking for food. … These will have an impact on the poorest of the poor.”

Added to the reality of such injustice is the Covid-19 pandemic. As the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wrote during COP26,

“The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the world to look at how we have been living and operating, when so much of what was considered ‘normal’ was not possible. We have been confronted by our behaviour: by our sin; our greed; our human fragility; our exploitation of the environment and encroachment on the natural world. For many this uncertainty is new. But many more around the world have been living with uncertainty for decades as the grim, real and present consequence of climate change.”

The Creation Care resolution #3 adopted at ECCT’s 2021 Convention specifically addressees this moral crisis with concrete action steps for every single one of us. As with addressing Covid-19 and racism, these resolves are intentional and mindful practices we as people of faith in CT can take in our Christian discipleship. While we know these unjust realities exist, concrete data received from the resolve steps of this resolution will enable us to better serve and support every community of our beloved ECCT, especially and particularly those for whom fragility is exacerbated by these multiple crises.

The world is a fragile place.  It has always been so. How can we confess where we have contributed to this fragility and turn to repair brokenness especially for those beings for whom fragility has always been a way of life?

Dr. King’s Work Lives on Today

Offered by the Rev. Whitney Altopp

Join the Rev. Canon Ranjit K. Mathews and the Rev. Whitney Altopp on Feb. 1 at 6 p.m. via Zoom to learn more about The Poor People’s Campaign and the upcoming Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington. Learn more.

The annual remembrance of Dr. King draws our attention to his call for unity across racial division. This message continues to resonate and inspire us today. However, in honor of him, we would do well to remember his other calls to action. At his death, Dr. King was fighting against what he called the “triplets of evil”– militarism, racism, and economic injustice– a combination which disregards human value. He and others committed themselves to solidarity with the poor of our nation to fight to close the economic gap by addressing the unholy trinity of these three features of American life. The effort was called The Poor People’s Campaign. It could be argued that this is ultimately what got him killed.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber and The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis have breathed new life into the Poor People’s Campaign. Beginning in 2018, “from Mother’s Day to the Summer Solstice, poor people and moral witnesses in 40 states committed themselves to a season of direct action to launch the Campaign. What ensued was the most expansive wave of nonviolent civil disobedience in the 21st century United States. More than a series of rallies and actions, a new organism of state-based movements was born. Now, in over 40 states, the groundwork for a mass poor people’s movement is emerging.” 1 This revival of the Poor People’s Campaign came 50 years after Dr. King died working on it.

Then, as now, the Poor People’s Campaign called for attention to:

  • Systemic Racism
  • Poverty and Inequality
  • Ecological Devastation
  • War Economy and Militarism
  • National Morality

When the “triplets of evil”—militarism, racism, and economic injustice— come together, they create an environment of exploitation and disregard. Evil grows up around and through us, seemingly with ease. As the Poor People’s Campaign goes on to say:

“Today, 50 years after Rev. Dr. King and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign declared that “silence was betrayal,” we are coming together to break the silence and tell the truth about the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and our distorted moral narrative.
The truth is that systemic racism allows us to deny the humanity of others; by denying the humanity of others, we are given permission to exploit or exclude people economically; by exploiting and excluding people economically, we are emboldened to abuse our military powers and, through violence and war, control resources; this quest for the control of resources leads to the potential destruction of our entire ecosystem and everything living in it. And the current moral narrative of our nation both justifies this cycle and distracts us from it.” 2

In Dr. King’s final book, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community, published posthumously, we hear his prophetic words for that present moment speak to our present moment.

“We have ancient habits to deal with, vast structures of power, indescribably complicated problems to solve. But unless we abdicate our humanity all together and succumb to fear and impotence in the presence of the weapons we ourselves have created, it is as possible and as urgent to put an end to war and violence between nations as it is to put an end to poverty and racial injustice…I do not minimize the complexity of the problems that need to be faced in achieving disarmament and peace. But I am convinced that we shall not have the will, the courage and the insight to deal with such matters unless in this field we are prepared to undergo a mental and spiritual re-evaluation, a change of focus which will enable us to see that the things that seem most real and powerful are indeed now unreal and have come under sentence of death. We need to make a supreme effort to generate the readiness, indeed the eagerness, to enter into the new world which is now possible, ‘the city which hath foundation, whose Building and Maker is God.’”3

The Poor People’s Campaign in its current inception helps us have “the will, the courage and the insight to deal with such matters.” The Rev. Canon Ranjit K. Mathews and I are inviting interested persons to a planning meeting on Feb. 1 at 6 p.m. via Zoom, to begin to lay the groundwork for a Connecticut presence at the Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington on June 18, 2022. Learn more about how you can participate in this planning meeting.

We hope that you’ll be inspired by the closing words of Dr. King’s final book.

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’ There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. ‘The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…’ We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos or community.” 4

To Be Political

by the Rev. Canon Ranjit K. Mathews

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. displays the poster to be used during his Poor People’s Campaign on March 4, 1968. (Horace Cort / AP)

One of many teachings that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared through his life is that as baptized followers of Jesus, our ministry will inevitably be political. He didn’t necessarily name this; but he certainly embodied it.

As Episcopalians, however, it is important that we name politics and that as followers of Jesus, we will have to be political to move into the work that Jesus told us to do, in his name.

Episcopalians find the word “politics” within Church settings difficult because when we hear the word, we think of electoral partisanship. And of course, Churches should never be sites of political partisanship. However, by the very nature of following Jesus and how he called us to live:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

we will be political. And like renowned Rabbi Danya Ruttenburg says, “my tradition has policy implications.”

This is but one of the many ways, we can learn from the life of Dr. King.

If we are not able to acknowledge the deeply political dimension of the Gospel, we end up making the Dr. King holiday an idol we worship, celebrating the man, but evading the call to embody the work of Christ.

The reality is the holiday has become a national and even an ecclesial idol, a chance for a majority of the United States and people of faith to talk about a so called “post-racial society, pontificate in a book club about racial justice,” but stopping from taking the next collective step forward as a society to challenge systemic injustice. The holiday has become an opiate to embodied justice work.

Jesus never called us to worship him; but to follow him. It is always time to talk, ponder, and stretch our own moral imagination to the life of Dr. King; but we should not stop there. Our communal reality calls us to embody, to live a life that is radiant with justice. What we profess on a Sunday morning needs to live on, on a Monday.

In what ways can you take another step forward in embodying the Gospel? In a culture of silence, speak the Truth in Love. Do some research on the Poor People’s Campaign. There are endless opportunities and I invite you to take the next right step.