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Monday, October 31, 2016

A Missionary in a First World Country

So, here we are.  I have been in Liverpool for almost two months now and it is incredible.  I don't think that I will ever get over the size and beauty of the cathedral.  It is magnificent.  Everyone here has been wonderful. They are so excited that we are here and have welcomed us with open arms.  This post is about something that I have been thinking about for a while and I hope will answer some questions a few of you may have.  Hopefully another post will be out soonish, regarding all of the interesting things we have done/seen and all of the fun I have been having while working here.
Before I left and since I’ve been here the same question seems to keep popping up.
Why is a missionary in a first world country?
England doesn’t really seem like the first place someone thinks of when they think of a missionary.  I have had a lot of people ask me why I was sent to Liverpool.  They have running water and traffic lights, and the church seems to be everywhere (It’s called the Church of England, for heaven’s sake).
So here I go to try and shed some light on these questions.  I guess the best way to do this is to start with faith and then throw in some numbers and statistics.
Well first of all, let’s talk about what mission is.  Somehow this has become a harder question to answer than it should be.  We have allowed people to monopolize the definition of this word to fit their work, and while that work and sacrifice is something that should be recognized it is not the complete definition of mission as Christ identified it to be.  The Anglican Communion identifies the definition of mission with five “Marks”.  The Five Marks are meant to serve as a summary of what mission is truly about based on Christ’s own summary of his mission.

The Five Marks of Mission are:
1.       To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
2.       To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
3.       To respond to human need by loving service
4.       To see to transform unjust structure of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue   peace and reconciliation
5.       To strive to safeguard the integrity of creating and sustain and renew the life of the earth

These begin to build a much bigger picture of mission than the small box we sometimes put it in.  Mission is following in the path laid out by Christ who has gone ahead of us and has given us the opportunity to serve others through love.
For a lot of Episcopalians and Anglicans (however you want to identify yourself) these are nothing new, but maybe they are something that has been forgotten about from time to time, I know that’s happened to me.  
OK, great, but how are we doing this in Liverpool? I think part of mission is figuring out how to live out the marks just as much as doing the act itself.  I do believe however that these can all be accomplished by simply being with people.  We are here to rejoice, work, love, and suffer with people as Christ would.  To strive to be a better person and hopefully help others grow as children of God as well.
So much of what Christ preached was silence and communion.  We are told not to brag about what we have done and to share our blessings with others who have not been given as much.
So how does this tie back into living in England? The first answer to this is that as the Five Marks show, mission can be done anywhere.  It is not something with a geographic restriction.  Mission is something that we are meant to live.
During the seven weeks that I have been here I have been able to begin to build relationships with so many wonderful people.  Some of the adults and kids that I work with seemed to be unsure of me at first, almost as if they were waiting on me to try and change who they are or judge them.  Honestly I was worried about what other people thought of me too and I’m sure that did not help anything to begin with.  But now that has changed.  Not because I have helped them take some giant leap with their faith, or anything like that, but because I have simply joined them where they are at this very moment.  I love the time between events where I get to sit and talk with people about whatever is going on in our lives and to simply ‘be’ together.   
That being said, there are things that I think people should know about Liverpool and the city’s unfortunate relationship with poverty.  Just like in the United States, being a “first world country” doesn’t mean that everyone lives above the poverty line.  Liverpool is home to some of the most deprived areas in this country.  Large sections of the area are within the most deprived 1%-10% of the nation.  The Diocese of Liverpool is large, larger than a lot of our dioceses in the states, and still the diocesan averages for things such as child poverty, lone parenthood, and life expectancy are all below the national average.
Like any area there are places where these numbers do not apply.  The thing that people need to remember though is that the others still need help.  We aren’t here to be superheroes or to try and save the day.  We are here to help connect some dots and to help others realize that they can serve too.  We are here in communion, to be with our community through the highs and lows and to learn from what they teach us just as much as we hope to aid them.
Some of the work that I do is on the diocesan level and some is with individual parishes.  One church that I work with on a regular basis is St. Luke’s the Evangelist in Walton.  It is a small parish with wonderful people.  They run programs for the adults and children of their community regardless of where they attend church.  The spirit of those who work and volunteer there is strong and their commitment is clear.  With a population of 5,396, it ranks 22 out of 12,599, where 1 is the most deprived parish.  This means that St. Luke’s is among the most deprived in the country.  Yet, this does not deter those who have chosen to commit to their parish.  Their decision to stand firm in a time of uncertainty, both for the parish and possibly themselves, is inspiring.  I love getting to spend time with the people of St. Luke’s.  They prove that mission is just as needed in our own homes and that service to others is necessary for the growth of God’s communion.
I’ve included some links and attachments with more information about poverty levels in England and the Diocese of Liverpool.  I hope you check them out, and maybe even explore what else this information has to offer.  Again, thank you so much for all of your support and I always love to hear from you.

https://www.cuf.org.uk/diocesan-briefings (Select Liverpool Diocese to read about where I am)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Safe and Sound: A Quick Update

Here I am! I have officially been in Liverpool for a week.  How crazy is that?  So much has happened that I can't wait to share with you all.  Right now I just wanted to give a quick update that I am happy and safe.  Everyone here has been wonderful.  They are all so excited and want to do anything that they can to help.  Tonight the house was blessed by the Bishop and we celebrated with him and others who have played a role in this community becoming what it is.  For now here are some pictures of my room, the view from my window, and a couple other miscellaneous things. Like always I would love to hear from you all and I appreciate all of the prayers and support.  Look back soon for a newer, longer post about how these first days have gone and where I will go from here.  Thanks!!!

The inside of my room after it was mostly unpacked

the other half of my room

Liverpool Cathedral
I am lucky enough to live on Cathedral Property so I get to look at this beauty every morning
St. Luke's Church
I will be spending a lot of time here, funny fact that big blue building next to the church is the Everton Football Club Stadium

a view from the waterfront, tides were low so the beaches were stretched way far out

Friday, July 29, 2016

A Man Twice My Height, With a Booming Voice

First and foremost here is a more logistical update:

I will be departing for Liverpool around September 10th-12th.  Once I am there I will be working with the Diocese, Cathedral, and St. Luke’s Church with a focus on social justice, church in an urban context, leading small groups, families and children in a parish, and fundraising.  These updates are so exciting and as my departure date gets closer and closer the reality of the amazing work I will be doing sinks in even more.

On a totally different note, I have been trying to figure out what to say for my next blog post.  I’ve worked on one for a while but it still doesn’t feel quite ready.  So while that post simmers on the back burner I’ll turn to something else that I think plays an important part in my decision to go on this journey.  

Our personal history does not define us but it it does have a lasting effect.  Middle school religion class is not something that most people might identify as a game changer.

In my case it was.  As a child I was always religious and like a good Cradle Episcopalian had Rite II just about memorized and knew my bible stories.  Then came 6th grade religion class at the Episcopal School of Knoxville.  After getting over the initial period of shock and horror that was a man twice my height with a booming voice and what us 11 year olds thought were unreasonable expectations, I realized that I was interested in the subject matter.
*also, he was a coach for the school soccer team, so it was a double whammy!

Religion class was only once a week and there were times when I was doing my homework in the class before but once the teacher started to talk about the subject matter I was hooked.  I would have the same teacher all three years of middle school and boy was that a blessing.  We went from Judaism and Christianity in 6th grade, to World Religions in 7th, and then in 8th grade our teacher handed the reigns over to us and we, a gaggle of 13 and 14 years olds, discussed what was going on in the world and how it was connected to the religions we had previously studied.  We were able to figure out how they all are connected and form informed opinions about what had happened in the big bad adult world three days before.  We were encouraged to be strong in what we believed and to recognize when we were wrong.  

Of course, like any teenager, I took all of this for granted and thought that this was how all adults functioned.  My world was rattled when I went to Catholic school for high school.  It took some time for me to adjust my view of religion class.  I had to start looking at it as an academic study of the Catholic faith and not a commentary on what I had been taught for the previous three years.  I am thankful that I have an understanding of Catholicism because it has helped to form my understanding of those around me and ask questions about my own tradition and faith.  

I was blessed enough to get to spend part of yesterday with that awesome middle school teacher.  Now, he is a priest on Lookout Mountain, is still taller than me and I call him Mac instead of Mr. Brown.  We see each other every once in awhile and everytime it is a blessing.  Now, 8 years after our last class he still inspires and pushes me to ask questions and then find the answers.  

So how does this all connect back to me spending a year away as a missionary in a foreign country?  Well, it was these religion classes that made me realize how much I wanted to learn about not just my faith, but the faith of others.  My time in Catholic school and later as an “adult” showed me how important it was that I had studied beyond my own religion.  Understanding allows for discussion, which opens the door to communion.  This reach towards communion is something, that I think, fuels me.  I want to go and love and serve and be with others because it’s what I have decided is right for me.  I studied, then I thought, then I prayed, then I talked, and prayed again, until I realized that this was my call and I am ready to answer it.  

So, Mr. Brown, in case you wondered, we did listen in class all those years ago.  We listened while you taught and then we grew, because you gave us the chance to do more than simply spew answers back onto a piece of paper; all while only having us for one hour a week.  So, on the chance that I never actually said the words, Thank You.

I think I’ve covered what I want to say, that other post is still simmering and hopefully I will get it out soon.  Please, sign up to receive updates whenever I post a new blog and continue to keep me in your prayers!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Let Me Introduce You To My Fellow Missionaries!

So I'm cooking dinner tonight for the family! It's gonna taste awesome, but at the moment I am waiting for my sauce to thicken. So while my cooking is put on pause I thought I'd pause in my personal story and introduce you to the rest of the 2016 Young Adult Service Corps. I just finished spending two weeks at Holy Cross Monastery with these amazing people and even though we will be going to different places I know that they will all be there to support me whenever I need it.

I guess the best way to do this is to just pick one and start.

Mitch and Eli are both going to Haiti! Mitch will be teaching English and will be a boss at it. He is a hard worker who wants to understand as much as he can about something and asks questions that don’t even occur to me. He is comfortable to fly solo when he needs to but makes any group that he is a part of that much more fun. He and Eli will be together in Haiti but won't be doing the same work. Eli, who doesn't have a mean bone in his body, will be doing project management.  He is my newest soccer buddy and somehow the two of us managed to steer a group to a place where we could watch the Copa America Final while we were in Manhattan. I think Eli has become everyone's favorite little engineering lamb.

Another duo of YASCers are Lexy and Alexa (cause that's not confusing). They are both going to work at a school in Costa Rica. During the Discernment Retreat I think I gave Alexa a cold and she still stayed my friend. I guess that just proves how awesome and nice she is. Lexy is hilarious! She is always laughing and knows how to make people smile, even if they don't want to.  The two of us keep finding mutual friends/people we know even though she lives in Florida. I know they are both super excited about their work as missionaries and I have no doubt that they will succeed with flying colors!

Someone who is going solo is Brooklyn. She is a beast! I have no doubt in my mind that Brooklyn would go to battle for the people she cares about and will do so much good in Panama where she will be working in a Girls Home. I can't think of anyone better to teach these girls how to be strong, smart, beautiful women who can change the world!

A little further down on the map is Jordan who will be in Brazil. Jordan and I were roommates in Manhattan and I am so blessed to have been able to spend that time with her.  She is so sweet and just wants everyone to love each other. She always seemed to know when to ask how I was doing and would listen to me ramble through my thoughts.  Jordan was a later addition to our group but I wouldn't trade my time with her for anything and I am so thankful to have met her.

Wil will(haha) be spending his year in Japan at an Agricultural College. He is living proof that sometimes God calls you to do new things and that you just need to dive in. Wil likes to make sure that everyone is having fun but knows how important the serious conversations are too. He and his brother Charles are both big lovable teddy bears who are embracing their call to mission at the same time, but not in the same place.

Charles is Wil’s younger brother. He will be working in South Africa at a school run by the order of the Holy Cross (they have a monastery there). Charles wants to be everyone's friend and won't stop until he is. He and I have had multiple conversations just about life and where we see ourselves as young adults in this world that seems to turn upside down at times.

Karen is not officially a part of YASC, she is going out as an ordained missionary to teach at a seminary in Tanzania. Karen is so caring and loving.  She will sit and let you cry or she'll buy you chicken wings. She has been an amazing addition to our little family and even though she is not technically a YASCer, we all consider her to be one.

Out in the Philippines we will have Kellan and Tristan.  They won't be serving together like some of the others who are going in pairs but they will both be doing awesome work with skills that I wish I had.  Kellan knows all about economics and will be helping with development while Tristan will be teaching music with all his fancy music talent.  Kellan is so caring and great to talk to.  I've called her a secret ninja more than once because in addition to her being so smart she also knows martial arts. Tristan is an amazing listener and is happy to just sit and talk. He still has a story that I haven't heard the end of so hopefully I won't have to wait till we are all back to hear it.

Over in JERUSALEM is where Jack will be working. I can't get over the fact that he is going to be JERUSALEM for a year. This isn't even his first time there either! Jack is a wordsmith who listens and listens and then is able to take what everyone has said to make it into a beautifully crafted statement. Talking to Jack is great because you know that he is completely focused on listening to what you are saying, which can be a hard thing to find in the real world.

I've gotta say Team Hong Kong is something else. Adrianne and Zach are both beyond words and will thrive in Hong Kong. Zach will be working with Mission to Seafarers and Adrianne will be helping domestic workers. Adrianne and I have already agreed to Skype each other at least once a month, if not more. Everything Adrianne does, she commits to completely. She is a great person to bounce ideas off of and I know I can ask her if I need to rethink something that just happened or to remind me to look at a situation from a different perspective. Zach makes me smile. He is everything I'm not. Tall, loud, all over the place and friends with everyone after 5 minutes. Zach is easy to talk to and laughs at my dumb jokes. I love talking to him about all the fun things but the tough stuff too. I'm sure he will make a few appearances during my time Skyping with Adrianne.

And finally we have the second half of team England, Kate. Kate is a boss! She knows something about everything and I joke that between the two of us she is the real adult. We will be living together in Liverpool and doing some amazing work. I don't want to say too much about what she will be doing because it'll give things away about my work and that is coming in a later post.  Just know that I am beyond excited to spend the next year with her and don't know if I could have picked a better person to go on this journey with.

I think that covers everyone! There are a few others who are about to start a second year in their placement, but I have not had the pleasure of meeting them.  Each and everyone of these people to holds a special place in my heart and while I will miss them beyond comprehension I am so excited to hear about the fantastic work that they will do during their year serving God and his Church.

Sign up for notifications or check back soon for more posts and updates on what I will be doing in Liverpool!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

It's Actually Happening!

It's happening! It’s actually happening! Here I am writing a post for my YASC blog.  Somehow this adds a new element of reality to it all.  As of today I have known my placement for a week.  For those of you I haven't had the pleasure of telling yet, I will be spending the upcoming year in Liverpool, England working with the Liverpool Cathedral and Liverpool Parish Church.  That's just about all I know right now but I still could not be more excited to go and serve!
I spend so much time stressing out about not knowing but now I realize that the timing could not have been better.  I have been at the beach with my family for the past few days and having this time to fully process what this means has been a blessing.  I’ve been able to sit down and reflect on how I feel about what is coming, and then sit down a day later and think about it again with a new perspective.  There is this odd mixture of calm, excitement, and fear that I have been living in for the past month and finding the words to describe it has not been easy.  I know that what I am doing is the right thing for me and what I am called to do; but that doesn't make it any less difficult.  I will be leaving my comfort zone on another continent! I mean who does that?!?! Oh wait, I will!
I will go back to New York for two weeks of training soon and will hopefully know more about my placement and departure then.  If you are reading this, and want to stay updated please subscribe! Also I would love to know if you are joining me through prayer or donations so that I can say thank you and pray for you as well.  All the information about donations can be found to the right of the page.  Again, I am so excited about this journey that I am about to go on and can't wait to see where it takes us!