After some consideration of the poor turnout we had for our Lenten retreats, we’ve decided to postpone the May “Easter Presence” retreat until Advent (don’t worry, we’ll rename it appropriately to avoid confusion). Stay tuned.
Every Thursday night a group of very different people gather around a table and share a bit of life together. They take turns cooking, setting the table, and inviting God’s presence into their midst. As they talk, laugh, share stories week after week, they are changed. Each of these young people is a member of one of our Episcopal Service Corps communities. They spend over 30 hours a week in volunteer service to a church or not for profit and also spend time in formation activities and prayer together. This shared life involves real commitment and a willingness to be transformed through the experience.
Episcopal Service Corps has over 200 young adults living together in 25 communities across the US each year. The mission of Episcopal Service Corps is to develop and support a national network of intentional communities in the Episcopal Church. These communities are marked by young adults serving others in solidarity, promoting justice, deepening their own spiritual awareness and vocational discernment while living simply in intentional Christian community.
In Southern Ohio, the Confluence Year program was launched by St. John’s Columbus in 2013. The diocese founded Brendan’s Crossing in 2012 (originally called Floral House) as an independent young adult intentional community. As of 2017, Brendan’s Crossing has officially become a member organization of Episcopal Service Corps and we are partnering with Confluence under the umbrella of ESC Southern Ohio. In the last 6 years we have had over 40 young adults in these two communities. Each has discovered something different about themselves but each has grown and changed and continue to find their life shaped by the time they spent in community.
One young adult shared, “Being a young adult in the modern world is hard. You’re constantly battling the mental picture of the life you’re “supposed” to have. You feel you’re supposed to be farther along, like you’re not doing it right, like you’re not good enough. Being in community makes it a little easier…we have people with whom we can share our fears, share our uncertainties, and share a meal together as well. People to talk with, cry with, laugh with. People to remind us of the divinity that permeates our world. And that makes picturing the future a little easier.”
A year of service working among the poor asking questions about the life God is calling you to, can be overwhelming. However, as one of our former members stated, having community to “share one another’s joys, burdens, stresses, questions, meals, activities and extraordinary hospitality was the keystone of my year in this program. That bond, forged through days, evenings and nights of many kinds of formation, held together not only our community but also our spiritual and mental health during the course of that year.”
We believe that the formation of young adults for service in the world and in the church is something God has called us to do. The church needs lay and ordained young people as leaders. Many in the church are frustrated by or have even given up on “millennials.” However, my experience over the last six years helping to build and support these programs and young adults has given me an incredible hope for the future and the leaders who have emerged from these programs. Our alumni have gone on to become amazing leaders serving in the church and the world. Meet some of our alumni here.
To find out more about Episcopal Service Corps or to apply to join one of the programs around the country or right here in our diocese: http://episcopalservicecorps.org/
Or reach out to one of the program directors, Monica Payne (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Emma Helms – Steinmetz (email@example.com) to learn more about the unique opportunities these programs offer. We are always looking for parish partners to share meals with us, for opportunities for placement sites, to support our young adults in their discernment or help us recruit for the coming year. Supporting ESC is one way to support young adults in the church!
A bit about each program:
Brendan’s Crossing: The community of Brendan’s Crossing invites you to enter into a Christ-centered community that is focused on serving and helping in the neighborhoods that need it most. It’s a community that values vocational discernment, spiritual formation and shared meals as the heart of all they do. Located just blocks from the campus of the University of Cincinnati, the community house has a large urban garden in the backyard that supplies much of the food that is enjoyed at the shared meals. Brendan’s Crossing is a program deeply rooted in the desire to see young adults seek after God’s call on their lives with all their might, and for them to learn about God and themselves by serving those around them. To learn more about this program, please visit www.brendanscrossing.org .
Confluence: Confluence is hosted by St. John’s Episcopal Church in the neighborhood of Franklinton, in Columbus, Ohio. Confluence offers an immersion into urban poverty and invites young adults to serve full in direct-care, advocacy or administrative positions at some of Columbus’ most innovative and caring social service agencies. St. John’s has had a long history of service in the neighborhood, specifically among the homeless community through Street Church, a weekly Eucharistic service held in an abandoned parking lot and in partnership with other not-for-profits addressing systemic injustice and health issues in this community. Confluence volunteers live in intentional community and receive support and educational enrichment through Confluence staff, neighborhood partners, and the congregational community of this historic church in Franklinton. Confluence is a year of intentional living in incarnational community offering yourself in service to the poor. To learn more about this program, please visit www.confluenceyear.org.
Sacred journeys bring transformation. We return home indelibly affected by the experiences of the journey. After I returned home from my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I experienced Scripture in an entirely new way. While I was traveling the land of the Bible, walking past the valley of Gehinnom (Hell), exploring the maze-like alleys of the old city of Jerusalem, and swimming in the Sea of Galilee, I felt as if I had not only traveled thousands of miles, but that I had also traveled back in time. Not that Israel isn’t a modern country; it has all of the infrastructure, commerce, and culture of a major modern, industrialized society. But juxtaposed with their modern skyscrapers, malls, and museums are churches that were built during the Roman Empire, remnants of the Second Temple, some of the holiest Jewish/Muslim/Christian sites in all the world, and, my favorite, some of the best reconstructed archaeological sites. And it also has the same mountains, wadis (dry riverbeds), and wildlife that the biblical characters like Abraham, Ruth, Naomi, Ishmael, John the Baptist, and St. Paul experienced. I had experienced and walked through the physical land on which God in human form walked. When I eventually returned home a month later, I never experienced a liturgical reading from the Law, the Prophets, or the Gospels the same way again. The sites, sounds, and emotions of that sacred journey still fill out the story every time and bring me into the Word of God in a way that I could never have imagined before. What might you bring back?
All pilgrimages invite us to some form of spiritual renewal or a deeper relationship with God. However, the power of pilgrimage is that it is not just an individual experience, our communities are changed as well. We may find new spiritual community and companions on the trip itself, but pilgrims often return from their journey with a “boon,” something good that will enrich their lives in the everyday world back home. When we see the movement of God in another place, we learn to see the world and our communities anew upon our return. And our changed perspective can enrich our communities of faith and practice.
We invite you to join us for a pilgrimage to the land of Israel with others from the Diocese of Southern Ohio and Praxis Communities October 15-27, 2018. The journey will include experiences in Galilee, Bethlehem, Petra, the Dead Sea, St. George Monastery, and the many sacred places in and around Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, Upper Room, Western Wall, Garden of Gethsemane, and more. You will have opportunities to explore the culture and land of the biblical story and to enrich your knowledge of biblical history, geography, and archeology. We will learn about Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and the explore the themes of land, covenant, exile, and hope and their link to the centuries old political unrest in the region. We will pray together, celebrate Eucharist, and renew our baptismal vows in the Holy Land. We will experience the transformation that occurs through a pilgrimage experience to this sacred land.
Cost: $4000 includes airfare, local guide, hotels, land tour, breakfast, dinners, entrance fees, and tips. Registration and deposit are needed by February 15, 2018 to secure your spot on the trip. To register with a $200 refundable deposit, visit https://secure.tutkutours.com/tours/181015ISR.
We will also host an nformation session on January 16, 2018 at 7:00 pm at St. Barnabas in Montgomery or join us by video-conference!
Jason Oden: Before becoming a postulant in the Diocese of Southern Ohio in 2017, Jason was a high school religion studies teacher and an adjunct professor of world religions in the local Cincinnati area. Currently, he is serving a local parish as Director of Christian Formation and completing courses as a low residential seminary student at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Since 2007, Jason has regularly led both students and adults on multiple educational and pilgrimage trips to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. This will be his second time in Israel; his first experience in the Holy Land was in the summer of 2000 where he studied biblical languages, history, and geography. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rev. Jane Gerdsen: Jane is an Episcopal priest serving as Missioner for Fresh Expressions and Praxis Communities in the Diocese of Southern Ohio working to encourage new forms of Christian community. She is currently chair of the Episcopal Church’s Advisory Group on Church Planting and Missional Initiatives. Prior to her work with Praxis Communities, she served for five years at St. Andrew’s in Dayton, Ohio. She is a wife and mother of two young children. Jane enjoys being a pilgrim and has made a variety of pilgrimages from Taize, to Scotland, and in 2015 led a pilgrimage to the UK to explore fresh expressions of church. Jane is looking forward to discovering the Holy Land and sharing in song, prayer, and reflection in these sacred places. Contact her at email@example.com.
“The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men and women often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In a moment of dedication they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges and to kindle a hope that inspires.” – Howard Thurman
Join us for our annual young adult gathering — a space for reconnecting with God, friends, and your own story. This year, we will explore how to kindle hope in a broken world. We will have opportunities to lament and to laugh together as we respond to God’s dream through conversation, music making, writing poetry, yoga, and art. We invite you to join us and bring your playful and creative spirit with you as we dream together of what is possible. We will also spend time in prayer and reflection on how God’s spirit is moving through us!
This event will take place at Procter Camp and Conference Center. We begin on Friday night, December 15th at 5 pm and will conclude on Saturday, December 16th around 3 pm. This retreat is free for young adults ages 18-35, however you need to register at the link below! http://diosohio.org/
“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing; Tune my heart to sing Thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise”
In June, we hosted a training with the amazing team from Music that Makes Community. We spent 3 days learning how to engage our faith communities in singing as a spiritual practice. During the training, we explored the ancient and new practice of paperless music leadership, sharing songs as people did before music or words were written down. We learned new songs, practiced improvising our own tunes, and sang and laughed and played and prayed.
One afternoon, my small group spontaneously began singing “Come Thou Fount” during our time together. And when I got in my car to drive home that night, the words and music were still lingering there, and I began singing it to myself as I drove home.
I began wondering….how do we tune our hearts? I recently watched a video of a teacher demonstrating how a gong should be played. The students kept asking for specifics of where to hit the gong, and in what order and the teacher simply said, that is the art. He went on to explain that the only way to tune a gong is to play it. Most instruments you tune them first and then you play them, but the gong finds the right pitch and vibration only through being played.
I wonder if our voices and our hearts are not the same. We only find the right pitch by playing, by singing, by practicing, by trying. And in fact, perhaps that is not work that we do alone, but work that is done only in community – we hear the vibrations differently when they come together with other voices and what if that in turn tunes our hearts?
What if we learn to listen, really listen, as we tune in to each other’s voices and to the sound at the center, a sound that can only be created together. What happens when we tune in? When we hear and find our own voices which as we discovered is not just something we do with our vocal chords. It starts with breathing in, and opening up and releasing back to the world. Tuning in isn’t just a physical body thing (although it happens in our bodies – we feel it), it is a spiritual experience, a place of transformation. Because when we tune in to our own breath, we begin to notice our emotions and to pay attention to our anxiety and our tears, our anger and our fear. We discover how to hold space for all of ourselves and we learn to use the MMC mantra, “what did you notice.” This isn’t just a way to learn, it’s a way to wake up to our true selves, to really notice what God is doing in us and through us. To allow all of ourselves to be part of God’s holy work of transformation – of making us new.
I struggle to carry a tune and feel incredibly nervous stepping in front of a group to share a song, but I love to sing, I love the experience of grace that I find in bringing my voice into relationship with other voices and of hearing myself differently in community than I do when I am alone. I come to Music that Makes Community, because I am offered this grace and encouraged to share it, give it away to others. I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a world with a lot more of that. I think Jesus came among us to remind us that is what God wants too. I pray that this work will continue to resound in my innermost being, to sense the way that my heart has been tuned, and that I will find opportunities to continue to gather with others to sing God’s grace.
To find out more about the work of Music that Makes Community – check out their website! I’m immensely grateful to Paul Vasile, Emily Scott, Ana Hernandez, and Charles Murphy for the gifts they shared with our community during their time in Cincinnati!
Our own Karl Stevens, continues to blog on his website Prayerbook Art, where you can purchase his amazing art as well! His latest post is called “Midwives” and is a beautiful reflection on the work of the midwives in the Book of Exodus, which we are reading this year for our diocesan “Big Read” and also on what we are being called to midwife in our own spiritual lives. Here are his words:
Birth has always been perilous. For most of our history, conceiving meant reconciling oneself with the possibility of death, even in the act of bringing forth new life. Death and life sat very close together on the birthing bed. Midwives, or wise women, would accompany women in labor into that liminal space between life and death, and would guide them through it with their rituals and plant lore and coaxing hands. They have always been the ones who ensured the human future.
The midwives in Exodus have names, Shiphrah and Puah. Pharaoh is known only by his position, not by his name. His dominance would suppress life and bring about death. He is the opposite of a midwife. When the midwives oppose him, it is life opposing death, the named and specific opposing the general and indifferent.
The spiritual life is about putting away the old and welcoming the new. It is about coming through death into new life. It is about discovering ourselves – finding our true names. And it is about standing with God in opposition to dominance and indifference. This is a journey we undertake many times. Again and again, old selves die so that new selves can be born. It is always perilous. And it is when we are faced with this peril that we might cry out for a midwife. We might hope for someone wise to come and aid us with rituals and lore and kindness.
What has died in you? Do you feel the empty spaces where the dead thing used to be?
What has been trying to be born in you? Are you struggling with a new birth of self?
Who are the midwives in your life right now? Who is helping you?
Check out Karl’s other art and reflections on the Prayerbook Art site!
The Campus Ministry community is preparing to allocate its budget, with many thoughts of thanksgiving directed at Diocesan Convention, which supports our work. We use a collaborative process to allocate the funds. To apply for a grant, please fill out the attached form and return it and all supplementary materials by June 30th to:
The Reverend Deborah Woolsey
c/o Church of the Good Shepherd
64 University Terrace, Athens, OH 45701
or, preferably, by e-mail to
I have been sitting with death these past few weeks. My uncle died two weeks ago, our family gathered around his bedside and said prayers and told stories and wept. We honored him and said goodbye and had a service and a celebration. And yet, grief is a strange creature. It seems to wind its way into your heart and take up residence, and then it overflows in the most unlikely moments. I have found myself weeping in the shower and oversharing in front of colleagues – I’m noticing how my own family story plays out in other relationships at work and at home, and the things I’m mourning are more than one person but layers and layers of unexpressed emotions and frustrations with myself, my family, the church, and our society at large.
A week after my uncle died, I attended a Dia de los Muertos service at the Latino Ministry Center in Forest Park. Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead is a time of joy to celebrate the lives of our loved ones who are no longer here with us but to remember them as part of that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ who surround us in prayer and community throughout time. I loved the opportunity to gather with more than 75 people and to pray in Spanish prayers of remembrance. My friend, Maggie, asked us to share stories of loved ones and a few people did, but mostly there was an awkward silence – one woman just shook her head and said “I can’t, it’s too sad.” I found beauty and holiness there that night. Praying those prayers in Spanish, trying to sing and respond in a foreign language reminded me that grief is a foreign language. It feels awkward and vulnerable and hard. You feel like you are saying and doing everything wrong. And yet, it’s all we have – we show up and speak words that can’t be fully formed because we don’t know the words, we laugh awkwardly because we don’t know what to say, we sit in silence and hope that our presence and leaky eyes somehow give honor to what our jumbled words and emotions can’t adequately express.
Something else has happened during these weeks of grief, as I think through endings not just of physical life, but death in all forms – shifting collegial relationships, our dog is living out his final days, and this election season has for me been a reminder of the dying of systems of influence and power that all too often the church has been complicit in creating and re-creating instead of transcending. I have been wondering what we leave behind when things die. What is our inheritance – what seeds will fall to the earth, the hope of a future re-birth not yet seen? I have been afraid that our inheritance is fear and anxiety. That we care more about preserving ourselves, our money, and power, and egos than we do about our common humanity. What if we care more about self-preservation than about love poured out for others?
But I am realizing that it is all bound up together – this grief and fear and anxiety is mixed in with joy and hope and beauty. We are our best, when we stand together in our grief. In the moments after my uncle died, my dad and aunt and cousins and my cousin’s three year old son were sitting in my uncle’s hospital room. My uncle had always loved tennis, so they had put tennis balls under his hands as he lay dying. My aunt handed her grandson, one of the balls and asked if he would like to have it. He nodded and with a big smile stretching over his face – he took the ball and raised it over his head and sent it bouncing across the slick floors of the hospital room and his laughter rang out – we couldn’t help ourselves, we laughed with him and began bouncing balls back and forth over and under my uncle’s body – life lived in the midst of death. Our tears and laughter, life and death these things cannot be unwound or compartmentalized.
At Dia de los Muertos, the very best part for me, was the abundance of children, coloring, playing, talking, singing, praying, and making lots of noise. As a mother and a priest, it was so refreshing to see children welcomed with their exuberance and life into the midst of a service remembering and honoring those who have died. I think we want to protect young children (and maybe more ourselves) from realizing just how thin the veil is between life and death, that we are one body, one church, and that the saints here on earth and the saints at rest are united together both now and in the time to come.
Part of the Eucharistic Prayer that night was translated, “In the fullness of time, you sent your own Son, who emigrated from heaven to earth, and he who was in communion with you made himself one with us.” We are one. With God, with one another, with the living, and the dead. We are one. Which means if we are to live together, we have to be willing to die together.
On this morning after the election, when so many are feeling all is lost, my dear friend, Karl Stevens, gave me hope in posting this: “Giving up power is what Christians are called to do. There is no resurrection without death…it feels like something is dying. I can only hope and pray that this feeling of death will bear fruit, that there will be a resurrection which will, like all resurrections, be utterly surprising.”
May we learn to live with such hope, and may we let each other and the things of this world die with grace. And may we search out the seeds of joy that will bear fruit now and in the time to come! May it be so.
We are officially announcing our newest experiment! We are inviting you to join us in what we are calling Praxis School of Mission. The idea for this emerged during our pilgrimage to England last year as we noticed a series of learning hubs spring up around England to explore fresh expressions of church. We were inspired by these communities and got to spend some time with the students/pioneers/missioners while we were there. Our Praxis “School of Mission” is birthed out of a longing we have to have a more regular way to gather together, to deepen our learning, and to support each other in our various communities. We hope to provide a place of co-learning and a community of practice for missioners and spiritual entrepreneurs. It is our goal to help generative leaders (like you!) imagine new ways to engage God’s mission in the neighborhood and create a place to reflect together on what we are learning and doing to deepen our experiences.
Who is this for?
We are seeking people who can commit to meet one Saturday a month. Each session, we use half of the time for a speaker or an in depth study discussion on a book or other resource and half of the time is to be a cohort gathering where we might share case studies and practical applications for what we learned together. We plan to explore a theology of mission, learning about our contexts through topics such as asset based community development, ethnography and listening to non-dominant cultures, and ways of starting and sustaining missional endeavors. We hope to hear from practitioners who have done this in other places and to do some immersions in our own communities and even co-host these gatherings with you.
This year’s cohort has already launched. The dates for 2016-2017 are: September 17, October 8, November 19, December 10, January 7, February 11, March 4, April 8, May 6, June 2-3. We know not everyone will be able to attend each session but we hope you will commit to attend regularly. This will help us build a cohort community and support each other in our missional endeavors. This year is a pilot program, but we intend to open the School of Mission up more broadly in 2017-2018.
If you are interested in being part of the Praxis School of Mission or are beginning a new missional initiative, we invite you to fill out the registration form we have created. Register Here! It is our expectation that participants in the Praxis School of Mission will be actively leading or engaged in the formation of a community or missional context. We expect that in order to fully engage in this work you will be an active practitioner. Filling out the registration form also helps us to know more about what you hope to learn or what you are working on in your own context.
Join us in following Jesus into the Neighborhood!
Will you join us in creating a community of practitioners who will support, affirm, challenge and hold each other accountable to living out God’s dream together? Please feel free to call or email me, Jane, (or my co-conspirators, Aaron, Jed, and Karl) with any questions or suggestions about the School of Mission. I pray this dream speaks to your own hopes for what God is doing in your neighborhood and in your heart!
Join us for our annual young adult gathering — a space for reconnecting with God, friends, and your own story. This year, we will explore creativity as an expression of God’s glory in our midst. There will be opportunities to engage in the art of improv, visual art, music making, poetry, and whatever creative gifts you have to share. We invite you to join us and bring your playful and creative spirit with you. We will be joined by artists, musicians, and improv actors who will lead us in a variety of workshops and help us explore our own creative gifts. During the retreat, we will also spend time in prayer and reflection on how God is made manifest in us. Come ready to play!
The retreat will be take place at the Procter Center in London, Ohio. We begin on Friday night, December 16th at 5 pm and will conclude on Saturday, December 17th around 3 pm. This retreat is free for young adults ages 18-35. But you must register here to let us know you are coming!
We are inspired by this quote from Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”
What inspires you to be creative?