Confluence is hosted by St. John’s Episcopal Church in Franklinton, Ohio in partnership with the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Confluence is an Episcopal Service Corps program for recent college graduates or young adults with comparable experience who commit to a year of spiritual formation, vocational discernment, social justice and intentional community. Starting in late August, corps members work 35 hours per week in direct-care or administrative positions at some of Columbus’ most innovative and caring social service agencies. The members live in intentional community, sharing the Hospitality House in Franklinton owned by St. John’s Episcopal Church. They will receive support and educational enrichment through Confluence staff, neighborhood partners, and the congregational community of this historic church in Franklinton.
by Katharin Blodgett
I grew up in a pretty diverse area in an Indianapolis suburb. But it wasn’t until I was 24 years old that I actually started grasping the truth, history, and scope of everything that had happened and was still happening in 2015. I worked for a summer with a racially diverse staff in racially diverse areas, including St. Louis, MO. But man I had so much to learn and listen to and experience. I remember seeing name after name of young black men who were killed by police brutality show up on the news; I was disgusted with it all. No longer could I think of that community as “other” and that the things happening were “their fault.” I was coming to understand systemic racism, white privilege, and how the definition of racism I’d been taught to understand all throughout school didn’t even touch the evil that racism really is. As long as I was nice and respectful of everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, racism didn’t exist and we were in a postracial America, right?
I went through the feelings of white guilt. I wrestled with my privilege and had to start really looking at race in America and in my life. I naively thought the only difference between blacks and whites was our skin color. How simplistic of me. Thankfully I had friends this summer who were patient and open with me. So now, fastforward to our retreat last week to Ferguson. It was amazing to be back in St. Louis, a place I’d spent 4 weeks in this past summer. The whole weekend was a great experience, but there are a few moments that really stuck out to me. We were able to attend a service at St. John’s Church (the Beloved Community), a church that is racially diverse, and seeks to care for the north side of St. Louis because they know their future depends on that community. There was a guest speaker, Rahiel Tesfamariam, who spoke a wonderful sermon about seeking validation from the right place, and continuing a fight for justice. This was an amazing sermon about racial justice and appropriation and captivity and intimacy. Towards the end of the sermon, she was talking to her black brothers and sisters. But then, she talked to her white brothers and sisters. It was actually refreshing to me, that she called me out by skin color, she recognized it and didn’t ignore it, and let me know that THIS IS MY FIGHT TOO. And it made me think of all the times I decided to ignore skin color, because it was easier, but when really I was missing an opportunity to recognize the purpose and value and passion in each of us.
Another part of her sermon that really stuck with me was when she said something along the lines that “so often we lose the capacity to see the world as God sees the world.” I mean, we’re living in PostRacial America after all, right?! But I’ve lately been struck by how much of God’s creativity and beauty and individuality we’re missing out on when we say that. For me specifically, a blonde haired white 25 year old, I know that my life is so much richer having friends who are from different cultures than me. I’m not saying that we all need to have our certain “token” friends. Because that’s a whole other issue in itself. But I do believe that God created us all how we are. And that every body has value, regardless of skin color. We can learn so much from each other and, as iron sharpens iron, really mold each other. We are doing each other and our communities a disservice when we don’t recognize those differences, understand where we differ, but more importantly see how we are so much more similar than we think, and are in this fight for justice together.
So for me, I know some practical steps I took at the beginning of my journey and I’m still taking now are reading and educating myself about my privilege. About systemic racism. Listening to other people. Shutting my mouth because a lot of times, it’s the better thing to do. I think we are a people who like to ignore what makes us uncomfortable. But it’s great, because the more you read and learn and meet more people, the less uncomfortable you’ll get and the more fired up and passionate you’ll get about everyone’s value.
by Katie Guy
Our team from urban Columbus Ohio arrived in Dilley and made several turns down dusty roads and into the ranch that the CARA staff lives and works out of when they are not working out of the visitation trailer of the Dilley Detention Center. It became clear very quickly that this was a grass roots initiative that was doing some important work that not enough people know about. The CARA staff was able to cram masses of information into our heads in a 3 hour time span that would allow us to legally assist the women and children that are detained in the Dilley Detention Center.
These women are from Central American and have crossed the Mexican border seeking asylum and are now being detained in Dilley, Texas (population about 4,000) where there is no legal assistance available. In response to the huge need the CARA Project has a team of advocates and lawyers that live full time in Dilley and handle the cases that come through the detention center. They also take all the help they can get from volunteers like our team. A large part of what we did is prepare the women for their Credible Fear Interview, the interview that decides whether they can stay in the US or if they are deported back to their home country. If they are deported, they will most likely be returned to a country that is run by gangs.
All of the women that we encountered had horrible and heroic stories. They faced abuse from their partners, or gangs in their neighborhood that have driven them to leave their families and their home country. These are not women that are here in the United States to ‘take our jobs’. They are here running from a life that is full of fear and by no fault of their own. I found it most frustrating that not all the women that were living in fear had a case to receive asylum. One women in particular fled because she was fearful that her son would get recruited into the gangs. Her son went to a school where he was guaranteed to join the gang if he attended, but his mother kept him out for fear of the gangs. She was proactive and fled before her son had the chance to be recruited. Because her family was not threatened personally, her case was weak. I find it quite appalling that a women that was solely looking out for her family is not able seek asylum because she didn’t allow anything to happen to her son. Essentially, for any women to have a case they have to have to let a severe trauma happen to them or their child. I keep telling myself that there has to be a better way. Join me in asking these questions of ourselves and of our law makers.
by Katie Guy
It has been a new experience to live with a group of people and to have the specific intentionality that we have living together. At the beginning of our service year we came up with a Rule of Life that organized our intentions for the year. I’ve always been someone that appreciated honesty from the beginning and no beating around the bush. I loved that we were able to start our year together thinking about ways that we could grow and learn together.
Living together has also helped me to see how similar we are when we give each other the chance to get to know each other. When we get down to the heart of it my roommates and I are all 20 somethings that are searching for more meaning, for that purpose and for that sense of belonging. When I was going through my undergrad at Ohio State I was looking for purpose, but in a more specific way. I was searching for my purpose through a job title, not through my relationship with God.
I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of different people over my time in Franklinton and what I have come to learn is that no matter where we come from we all face the same fundamental questions and longings. Jerry that loves to walk, Bruce that hitchhiked a crossed America and Sharon who mows lawns in the neighborhood. We are all children of God and we long to be in fellowship with Him, in whatever way that may look like. For Jerry it may be sharing a walk and conversation with a friend. Bruce seeks fellowship with people by his positivity and kind spirit. Sharon shows her love for God’s children through giving what little she has and making sure everyone is taken care of. I see God in each of these people whether they recognize that or not. I’ve learned to find the consistency of God in the people around me when my own future feels so unsure. That consistency brings me so much peace, comfort and strength to keep dreaming and to not give up on what God has for me and the people around me.
by Nora Anderson
I had the privilege of attending an event led by one of America’s most needed Catholic voices, Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK Lobby, or “The Nuns on the Bus.” I had the opportunity to speak about community issues with fellow Catholics concerned with the willful ignorance of other Catholics in positions of power who seem to be turning a blind eye to Christ’s greatest commandment—to love your neighbor as yourself. We spoke about a wide array of concerns, ranging from economic inequality to closing generational gaps.
But unlike many community meetings, this one ended with a call to action that spoke to all of us, or at least me. Sr. Simone gave us three commandments for the twenty-first century that will allow us to have open conversations about issues facing our neighbors and ourselves.
1. Holy Curiosity—seek out those who are different from you.
I have a pretty uniform group of friends. Like me, most of my friends are white, college-educated (many in graduate or professional school), upper-middle class, and queer-identified. There are some outliers, but overwhelmingly, the people I spend my time with share similar views and life experiences. We spend our lives in echo chambers, and many times, we aren’t aware of the lives of our neighbors who aren’t like us. Sr. Simone calls us to not only find those who are different than we are, but to listen to them as they share the struggles they face navigating through life.
2. Sacred Gossip – amplify the voices of the oppressed.
Talking about what problems your friends and neighbors are facing isn’t just something to be whispered to your neighbor at the PTA meeting. By interacting with those in our community who are facing poverty, racism, or gender inequality and sharing (with their permission, of course) their struggles with your neighbors humanizes many of the complex issues we are faced with in our society.
3. Pick one issue that speaks to you—and stick with it.
I often feel I am under immense pressure to be actively working in every arena in inequality. It gets exhausting, and then I feel bad for being exhausted, and then I have to take a break, and it all repeats. But we aren’t supposed to be able to fight every inequality present. She echoes Paul’s words from the first letter to the Corinthians; we cannot all be every part of the body of Christ. But even if we are just working as the inner ear bones, we are all still part of the body. Pick one fight to be a part of and stick with it. One person’s talents, concentrated, are much more effective than when they are spread out over many issues. Sister Simone believes she is part of the intestine—she makes the rest of the body uncomfortable, so that a problem can be addressed.
I shared this wonderful illustration from The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society with the Confluence Volunteers when I was introducing them to the idea of spiritual direction. The illustration is by Carrie Bergman. The only thing it leaves out, as far as I can see, is practices of self-knowledge such as the Ignatian Examinem and one-on-one meetings with a Spiritual Director. I hope you find it as valuable as I do.
I’m struck by the pictures painted in the scripture of two gardens. The Garden of Eden, an idyllic garden, certainly not without temptation, but a space filled with connection to God, each other, and the Earth. We have our moments in the Garden of Eden; creekside sunset strolls, sharing a birthday lunch at the diner with three generations of family, late nights dancing and laughing with loved ones, an unexpected encounter with the voice of God, and celebrations with the table overflowing with good food and drink.
However, this week as we journey with Jesus towards the cross, we find ourselves in the Garden of Gethsemane, a space laden with fear, trembling, sweat, blood, and tears. A moment where Jesus has the choice to either face his enemies with violent revolt or quietly retreat, and instead, he chooses a third way, entering into the suffering of the world, identifying with all who are oppressed, marginalized, betrayed, and forgotten, by taking on the cross.
In 2010, I walked down from my house to St. John’s Franklinton to participate in Stations of the Cross, a practice that I had experienced a few times in my evangelical past, but that was never a regular part of my religious experience. Instead of heading into the church, we loaded up into cars and left, driving to places of suffering in the neighborhood, reading and praying a Station of the Cross at each stop. This has since grounded the story of Jesus’s death in our neighborhood. It has become a reenactment of Jesus wrestling with God in the Garden of Gethsemane. A choice to not turn away from the suffering faced by our neighbors, but a moment to enter into it, to face it, to cry out to God, and to gather the strength to echo Jesus’ words as a community, ” Not my will but yours be done,” as we attempt to live in the way of Jesus.
All are invited to join St. John’s Franklinton this Friday, April 3rd at 6pm at 1003 W. Town St. Columbus, Ohio as we journey throughout the neighborhood to pray the “Stations of the Cross.” The Stations are followed by a traditional Good Friday service at 7:15 for those interested in participating.
This December the Confluence Volunteers developed and led the liturgy for St. John’s Wednesday night His Place Service. The liturgy was built around Luke Chapter 2. During the service Melanie Williams asked the congregation to write down on paper hearts the places they had experienced good news or were hopeful for good news. This post features reflections from the Confluence Volunteers, and moments of good news experienced or hoped for from the congregation.
PART 1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2:1-7
When I read this part of the Christmas story I am reminded that I often forget who God is. I think our society and even the church, tends to talk about a powerful god. A god who sits in the clouds and grants us wishes if only we pray hard enough, or long enough, or believe enough. I think those verses show that there is a lot wrong with that image of God. I think the Christmas story is beautiful because it turns things upside down it surprises us.
Our God is not a powerful God at least not powerful in the way we understand power to be. God is a baby. God is displaced – displaced from heaven to earth, Nazareth to Bethlehem, the inn to the manger. God is vulnerable – needing to be wrapped in bands of cloth by his mother. God is homeless.
This changes everything. God is no longer distant. God is no longer one with power to fear. God surprises us by showing up in a baby, by showing up in a stable, and now we can never know where God will appear. In coming in this humble way, God gives up God’s power and hands that power over to us. A theologian wrote that the Christmas story means that “God is never safe from us!” God comes and makes Godself able to be abandoned and even killed by human beings.
As I reflect on this part of the Christmas story I’m struck by the truth and beauty of what this all means. Because of this story, we can never be sure of God again.
As we continue to prepare for Christmas, I’d encourage all of us to let go of the image of a powerful God so that we can look to the manger – to the places we wouldn’t expect God to be – and be surprised by the power of love, humility and vulnerability.
PART 2 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:7-14
One of the things I love about reading the Bible are the little notes at the bottom of each page that tell you things you might not have known about the story you’re reading. That’s my favorite part of the Bible, because I’m familiar with pretty much all the good stories in there. And some of the weird ones, too.
And so when I was going through my Bible I began to understand that this part, with the angels, really shows who the message is for. You see, God sends angels to deliver the greatest message, and who do they talk to? Shepherds. Those little notes at the bottom of my Bible page tell me that a shepherd at this time was considered the worst job. People thought they were unclean and they weren’t even allowed to testify in court. But they were the first people to hear the good news of Christ’s birth. This announcement shows that at whatever place you might feel like in life, whether or not you feel good or smart or strong, our status never gets in the way of God’s good news to us. – Nora Anderson
PART 3 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:15-20
What I notice in this story is that the shepherds and all who hear them are amazed and glorify God for what they have seen and heard, but Mary responds differently. She treasures these events and ponders them in her heart. I don’t know what Mary was thinking at this time, but I can imagine she may have returned to a question she asked earlier in the Christmas story when the angel Gabriel came to her to tell her she would give birth to the Son of God. She asked, “How can this be?”
How can it be that God has come to us in this way – by becoming a baby, fully dependent on his mother. Could this really be God? Has God really come? Why does it seem that nothing has changed? There is still no room in the inn. We are still homeless. We are still suffering. We are still persecuted. What kind of savior is this? He is just a baby!
Jesus was not the savior that people expected. God did not swoop in and wipe out the wicked or make everything fair and just. Instead, God came and suffered with us, endured injustice with us, took on all our same pains, all our same experiences, all our same doubts, but also our same hopes. Even when we are unsure, like Mary pondering in her heart – how can this be? – the beauty of this Christmas story is that God has come and shares fully in our lives.
We do not often stop to look for God, especially not in the unexpected places, and we miss the good news that God has come. We’re going to do an activity now where we reflect on our lives and remember where we have seen God with us or among us. You have paper hearts and colored pencils, and as we sing the next couple songs, please take the time to reflect on where you have seen God among you, or what good news you have heard, or even what good news you wish to hear. You can then write on the heart a sentence or a word or even draw a picture as you ponder this in your heart. Afterwards, we will collect them and tape them to the walls downstairs so they can continue to remind us of the hope of God is with us. – Melanie Williams
The last installment in our three part series about Alternative Economics in the Episcopal Church. Our collection of farmers, bike repair people, and fair trade advocates critique the church and envision new directions for the faith.
Here is a beautiful video created by two talented filmmakers, Matthew and Elisa Leahy of Noonday Films and members of the Franklinton intentional community in Columbus. St. John’s Episcopal Church hosts street church every Sunday at 1 pm in a parking lot in Franklinton. It is perhaps one of the best examples of what a fresh expression of church really is. Wondering how we can create communities of faith in our neighborhood parking lots?