It’s a hard question to answer. I struggle with finding the answer every day. Being in the Episcopal Service Corps, I have met many different people who have walked many paths in life. While being in service to these people I have asked them this question and the answers varied widely: Self satisfaction, being with your friends, having no worries, living an average life. These are just some of the answers I received. In my struggle to find my own answer I asked others, hoping to get inspiration. While I didn’t find what happiness meant to me, I may have found something far better. I found the courage to choose my own path.
In the two years prior to my acceptance to the ESC, I was enrolled in community college. I did not do well, and I did not want to be there. I was going because it was what I thought I should be doing. But after 5 months of my service, these people who were not able to make any choices at all changed my outlook. I’ve realized that I want to be happy in this life. I may not know what happiness means to me yet, but from here on out, I am making choices toward the happiness that I choose and not the happiness that others think I should have. I’ve decided that when my term of service comes to an end, I will return to school to study computer science. For the first time in a long time I know that everything will work out. I would not have this clarity without being a part of the ESC, and for that I am grateful. And to whomever may be reading this I ask: What does happiness mean to you?
Like many college graduates, after graduating I still had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and was unsuccessful at finding a new job to go along with my shiny new degree. But one thing is for sure, I felt a deep need or calling if you will to go out and see the world and to serve. After attending an informational presentation on the Peace Corps, I was hooked. It was going to be the perfect way for me to see the world and use my degree in Biology to help serve people. As time went on I became more apprehensive about applying, two years was a huge commitment to go live in some foreign country by myself and I wasn’t quite ready for that. Nearly a year went by of unemployment and then working odd jobs until I finally worked up the courage to start looking for jobs that I actually wanted to work.
Late one night while searching random job boards I happened across a posting for the Episcopal Service Corps. I had momentarily given up my dream to join the Peace Corps, but this new Service Corps I had never heard of seemed even more perfect for me. It still gave me the chance to get out of my small town life while dedicating a year to service. The thing that drew me in was that not only was the ESC a service corps but you also had the chance to live in intentional community with others your age who are going through the same things in life as you. It was this kind of unspoken support system that I subconsciously craved.
I had always lived in a small town in Montana, and grew up at my grandparents’ house in the country miles away from another human being, so I often considered myself a hermit and one who loved to be in solitude. As I have gotten older, a more adventurous side of me has peeked through, longing to see the world after a trip to Italy and wanting to experience different people from all walks of life. I lived in community in my dorm as a freshman and sophomore in college and since experiencing that, I learned that maybe I wasn’t such a hermit after all and craved to have that kind of support system again. I was very happy to know that with the ESC, even though I would be away from home for a year and moving to a completely new region of the country it would not be like the Peace Corps where I would have to go on my journey mostly alone.
Here in Houston with TX-ESC, I have a great community with my 3 new brothers. Some days are more stressful than others at our host sites, but at the end of the day we can all come home and vent to each other and offer up support and prayer, something that would not happen if the program was not set up for us to live in community.
I am slowly but surely figuring out the next direction I want to go in and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year has in store for me. I look forward to building on our relationships within our little ESC community.
Last January, I was scrambling to figure out my next move. I’d recently graduated, spent some time traveling, and was finding “the real world” to be just that real. There were no re-do’s, no extra-credits, no apologies permitted. If you didn’t have a plan or a support system, life would chew you up and spit you out. My plans had fallen through and I’d found myself back home, hitting the internet every day, desperately posting my resume to find some form of meaningful work.
I stumbled upon the Episcopal Service Corps by happenstance, googling something like “Spiritual-based service years.” When I read the TX-ESC mission statement, “Living in Community- Seeking Justice- Searching for Truth,” I was hooked, but honestly a bit skeptical. I’m queer identifying, with a history of divisive run-ins with the Christian church. My college years had been painful stretches in identity as I found my True Self conflicting drastically with the overall culture of my hometown and the familial belief structures I was raised on.
What I’ve found since moving to Austin is a space of radical inclusion and acceptance. Our ESC community, along with my place of service, operates off the unspoken maxim of “come as you are and you will be loved.” Here in Austin, we’re learning to face what’s real in both our community lives and service placements. As a community, we talk about the intersections of privilege: race, gender, socio-economic status, etc., while also applying these conversations to real world, practical experiences. This year, I was fortunate enough to be placed at a non-profit known as Casa Marianella, a shelter that seeks to build community with political asylum-seekers and international immigrants. At Casa, I connect with people from all walks of life, many of whom have overcome impossible adversity yet still find something worth smiling about.
Contrary to the many homogenizing experiences I’ve had in Christian community, my Austin communities seek to see difference, embrace difference, and love difference. It’s unquantifiable, uncanonizable- a vibe felt and experienced through courageous vulnerability and a strong commitment to self and community growth. I truly can’t think of an experience more healing than TX-ESC Austin. I feel grateful for the support I’ve found and the people I’ve meant willing to face what’s real and walk with me on the road ahead.
This is currently my third term of dedicating my life to a year of service. I chose TX-ESC with the intention of building relationships with others on the same spiritual path as me and being involved in a community where I am allowed the open space to express myself as I am, free of judgement. In hindsight, the previous two years that I served I was in a constant struggle trying to find exactly what it is I’m good at and want to pursue (which I still am), I had not taken advantage of the resources available to me but now with the guidance and support from fellow ESC members and my second family here in Austin I’ve been able to gain large strides towards that enlightenment.
I’ve been privileged to be chosen to advocate for something so special, genuine and unique; I hope to be able to explain the opportunity available through ESC to others around me but the experience I’ve had so far cannot be justified by words, only felt by the heart. What makes this opportunity so special is that it teaches you to be grateful for what you already have and for not just being alive but also feeling alive. Big shout out to my director Christy Martin for helping me realize my potential and strengths I already possess. It’s important to always know that we are surrounded by those willing to lend a helping hand.
There is no day throughout the year that I look forward to more than Christmas day. From the time I was very young, Christmas has meant coming together as a family and enjoying the love that we have for each other. Christmas has always been the time were all the burdens of life and negative emotions are abandoned for one day, and happiness and appreciation are allowed to govern with impunity. As a child, it seemed as if a shield existed around the day; no matter what else has happened in the year, Christmas always remained undefiled as that one guaranteed “good day” that I could always count on. Even as a newly minted “adult”, much of that mystic remained intact for me. As a college student, Christmas was the time to retreat from the stress of final exams and from collegiate social dynamics, confident that my family would be there to shelter me from whatever trails that had fatigued me.
As thankful as I am though, for the temporary sanctuary and serenity that Christmas offers, in recent years I find myself focusing more and more on the implications of the celebration. Christmas marks end of the season of Advent where liturgical Christians focus on the anticipation of Christ’s return to earth. To aid in that, we relive the act of waiting for Christ’s initial incarnation. From Mary and Joseph, to the Wise Men of the East, to the shepherds outside Bethlehem, we experience the act of hearing this amazing proclamation, and then waiting to see it ourselves. Now though, Advent is over, that thing we have been waiting to see is before us, in all its beauty and glory. Now what? What is the implication of Christmas? What does it means that God chose to became part of mankind?
My personal answer is this: it is time to get moving. God’s plan for salvation is in motion. The Messiah who was promised has come. Things are happening around us and it’s time to be more than bystanders. While God is the author and guarantor of our salvation, his favorite tool for bringing about that ultimate perfect ending is us, the people of the Church. How readily are we making ourselves available to God? How receptive are we to serving the Kingdom of Heaven, especially when in means we have to stop serving the kingdoms of men?
I hope everyone this season has taken joy and comfort from all the holidays have to offer. I pray that you reveled in God’s promise to redeem the world, and celebrated the beginning of that fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Hopefully you found comfort in the love and charity of your friends and family members, and took joy from the opportunity to be united with them, even if only briefly. If the holiday served as a sanctuary for you, then I hope you are now revitalized for the work of God’s Kingdom. If the Holiday was a fount of joy, then I hope you take that joy and harness it spreading love to all people in this new season. Remember, as you come out of this period of joy and celebration, that God’s plan for salvation is in motion, and our time to participate in that plan is now.
In the past, the holidays meant so much to me because it forced my family together in one room for a couple of hours so we could stuff our faces and tummy’s as a family. Since moving to Texas, I knew I would be missing the opportunity to do so this Thanksgiving, but I was totally wrong.
The holidays for me are a time for family to come together and be as greedy as you want, to share things, and catch up. This year, I decided to share my traditions with my roommate and his friends and family instead of sulking at the fact that I wouldn’t be home for the holidays. This is how Friends-giving 2.0 was born!
Even though I was not going home for Thanksgiving, I still wanted to celebrate everything I am grateful for since moving to Houston, like my host site at Interfaith Ministries, the ability to spend my free time at Christ Cathedral during the week with an autistic teen who attends Sunday school at their “Lighthouse Program,” and the opportunities this program offers me so that I can be closer to God. Grateful does not even come close to how I feel since being here in Houston.
I kicked off my Thanksgiving with a little yoga at Moody Park. This was to prep my soul for a day filled with cooking and hosting. While I was outside, I couldn’t help but notice the perfect weather. The sun was bright and there was just enough of a breeze that made the weather just so comfortable to sit and relax. After that, I ran home to prepare the dinner. The menu consisted of garlic mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, collard greens, broiled asparagus, cornbread stuffing (Are you drooling yet?), Jolly rice (a Ghanian rice dish), turkey of course that Matt so kindly bought us, and I cannot forget the delicious Vanilla bundt cake he made as well. For a total of 7 hours I whipped, cracked, stirred, marinated, and danced my way around the kitchen.
Finally, around 5 o’clock, dinner was ready to be served! I remembered how beautiful it was outside and decided that dinner would be held outside. As my roommate Chris and his guest brought out the food, I could not help but watch and think about how proud my mother would have been to see that I could actually pull of a whole Thanksgiving meal on my own! I also noticed the smiles on everyone’s faces as we sat together and blessed the food. They weren’t the family I laughed and prayed with last year, but they were the new friends I got to stuff my face with. They are my friends that shared the same gratitude I shared with my family. I was able to share a piece of me with friends.
Upon entering the Texas Episcopal Service Corps I knew what was expected of me; I was to work 40 hours a week, serve a community, share the love of the Lord, and grow in my faith. Due to personal circumstances I have found that my expectations of this year: to serve a community and share the love of the Lord are the complete opposite from what has been occurring in my life. I have grown tremendously as a person in society and as a Christian, but not because I have helped others, rather because others have helped me, loved me, and shown me endless compassion and empathy. I have realized that me being in Houston and apart of this service corps, was not so that others would benefit from my love but more so, so that I would benefit from theirs. And in this, I can extend the love I have been shown to others whom are desperately in need of that love, just as I recently have been. For this I am grateful beyond words.
Going forward I don’t want to forget the work the Lord has done in me. I find that in times of joy I tend stray away from my faith and think I can stand on my one. I desperately call to the Lord in my greatest times of need. If I have learned nothing else in the past few months, it is that I must glorify the Lord at all times; He is there for sorrow and joy and everything in between. That being said, this holiday season I will take the time each day to mediate on the Lords word and not forget him in the time of joy but remember that only in him can I find true joy.
I can’t believe we have been here for 4 months now! Time truly is flying, but I am growing spiritually, personally, emotionally, and in Christ so I must say things are better for me now than they were beginning the BCSC program. I’ve been to some great places; Galveston for a retreat, as well as Austin at the University of Texas-Austin Episcopal Student Center for ESC recruiting. I’m really seeing what being a part of the Episcopalian community is really about. This community is about love, hospitality, outreach, and devotion.
The Episcopal Church to me, is one of the most loving clergy groups known to man simply because they have an “all are welcome” or “come as you are” attitude. Also, the church embodies hospitality in multiple ways. From what I’ve experienced personally the parishioners seem to really care for one another, almost like a giant family. Also, there’s the great element of southern hospitality I’ve received from my time spent with families at Christ Church Cathedral downtown. I’ve noticed outreach in the sense that the Episcopal Diocese of Texas truly ministers to the community in many different capacities.
You’ve got the Beacon, which provides food for homeless men and women as well as other basic humane services. Then there’s Lord of the Streets, which is a ministry run by the homeless. There just seems to be so many arms extending love amongst our community which, for me is often heard about but so much more beautiful to see in action.
I’ve learned a lot in my time in the Episcopal Service Corps. I’ve learned about where God is truly calling me in my future career endeavors as well as giving me the strength and courage to keep fighting for my dreams simply because they cannot die. I know that no matter how tough things get, Christ is with me and that has been more fulfilling than ever.
In the past, I’ve been very big on philosophy. Coming from a liberal arts university, I’ve been grounded in the ancient theses of Greek, Roman, Islamic, Hebrew, and even some Asian thought. All have enriched my higher consciousness in many ways but lately I’ve been reading a lot more writings from theologians. So far I’ve read “The Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster, a Quaker theologian as well as “The Wounded Healer” by Henri Nouwen, and “The Episcopal Way” by Eric Way and Stephanie Sellers. I’ve been enriched with the Holy Spirit so much from these 3 different types of Christian thought. Richard Foster enabled me to accept my flaws and become more focused and centered on what’s truly important. Henri Nouwen’s book has opened my eyes to some of the issues we face working in ministry (a field new to me) as shown me that a lot of my struggles are not exclusive to me. It re-centered me by reminding me that even though those working in ministry serve the oppressed or suffering, we too suffer sometimes with our own internal struggles.
Finally, “The Episcopal Way” I’ve found most intriguing because it gave me an informal education on what it is to be an Episcopalian and how to live that walk of life. This is the way of walking with the Lord; this is the way of dedicating yourself in service for the betterment of the world. That is the Episcopal Way, which is truly embodying and living out the Great Commandment. I see this first hand in action with this Anglican community especially.
Three years ago I knew exactly where I wanted to go with my life. I knew, with near absolute certainty, that I wanted to work for the US government or a Washington DC “think tank” focusing on international politics and American foreign policy. You see, my focus in school was “National Security” which is simply a nicer way saying “war”. For four years it was my job to learn why countries went to war, how they went to war, and how they won/lost those wars. In school I was fascinated with the dynamic personalities of the great generals, the might of history’s most famous armies, and the emotion and context behind mankind’s most colossal wars. Three years ago I was set. I knew what I was interested in, what I was good at, and I thought I knew what that meant for my vocation. However, as is often the case in life, things didn’t end up unfolding along those lines.
The summer before my senior year at the Pennsylvania State University I began spending a great deal of time at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in State College, PA. I had been a confirmed Episcopalian for several years at that point, but my church attendance had waned during school as I gave in to the worldly distractions that are ever-present on a massive university campus. My reasons for walking into that church are rather complex and personal, but what I will say is that once I got there, what I thought I knew about the world and who I was as a person fundamentally changed. I became uniquely acquainted with a God that I thought existed, but had not yet intentionally tried to get to know. As I began to finally undertake the process of trying to get to know God, I learned that He said a lot of things in the person of Jesus Christ and through the Bible authors that were not compatible with how I viewed the world. He said that war and violence was a product of our sin and wickedness, he said that we as humans had no right to feel the emotions of vengeance and anger, and he said that one day all the countries and armies and ideologies would be swept away forever. These realizations had (and continue to have) a massive impact on me. I could no longer be comfortable with my original vocation, and I became determined to put myself in a place where, instead of following my own passions, I could be free for God to use me as he would intend.
So enter the Episcopal Service Corps. Enter a year in a new city. Enter a year away from my family and established friends. Enter a year with 5 strangers I would have never interacted with otherwise. I don’t fully know what my “purpose” is in Houston. As comforting as it might be to have a sense of direction or a “path” to follow, these past three months have made it abundantly clear that God does not jive with many of mankind’s own preconceptions about the world and our place in it. All I have right now is the hope that God, as the omnipotent source of all existence, knows exactly what I am supposed to be. So in the absence of my own “wisdom” on the matter, I’ll leave the specifics to him.
I feel like Alice or Dorothy; I have traveled far away from the comforts of home and have entered a new realm of living. Though I didn’t fall down a rabbit hole and end up in Wonderland or get swept away by a Kansas twister, I am in a strange place and facing the prospect of new and majestic adventures.
August 4th 2014 marked the start of my Bayou City Service Corp (BCSC) service year. Unlike Alice or Dorothy, I made the deliberate decision to leave my family and affluent lifestyle (1500 miles northeast of the 5th ward of Houston) in Easton, Pennsylvania to embark on this journey. This was a choice many do not understand or simply cannot relate too. Sometimes, I too question what lead me to sitting down writing this journal entry on the front porch of my new home located in a rugged lower-income neighborhood. I try to remember where the inspiration or desire to serve came about but I cannot. This notion is disheartening to me but I can tell you that this is where I need to be. This service year is undoubtedly the path I was meant to follow.
During this year I wholeheartedly want to help those in need and work to rectify grave social injustices, but I must confess, my main motives are not as selfless as onlookers might perceive them to be. A slight guilt overwhelms me when I realize that I chose to do this service year, not for the people of Houston, but for me. Allow me to explain…
I have had my fair share of struggles and daunting experiences in my short 20-year lifetime, just as many young adults have. I went through stretches of pure darkness, where I thought I would never see the light again. I was self-destructive and my own worse enemy. As I sit on the porch looking out towards the street watching the rainfall I can’t help but think about that past. I can feel my chest clamming up and tears welling in my eyes, a feeling I once knew all too often. I used to be disconnected from the world around me, thinking that if I couldn’t save myself that nothing could save me. I believed in my own willpower over the power of the Lord. I was disconnected from the one thing that could save me, my faith. So you see, I have selfishly donated a year of my life to serve because of my own personal desire to grow with the Lord, or more so, my need to grow with the Lord.
First and foremost, from this year I hope to gain a happy heart because as Proverbs 17:22 reads… A happy heart is the best medicine.