Recently, I was part of the group who participated in a poverty simulation, sponsored by Brightpoint and held here at Trinity. Everyone was assigned a character within a family unit—some families were large, some small, some had two parents, some were staying in a homeless shelter---the scenario covered a lot of possibilities.
Throughout the morning, we were directed to different situations ---maybe a parent lost a job or a car broke down. We had to continue with the expectations of living under a roof with enough food and heat, getting kids to school or childcare, and going through all the rigmarole of applying for various benefits and assistance.
Once the simulation was finished, participants were kind of shell-shocked. “I’m exhausted,” some said. “I’m irritated and confused,” said others. “How can they expect me to get to work when I have to get kids to doctors’ appointments and a car to the shop?” said one. One of the social service agency representatives noticed that as the simulation progressed, those of us portraying family members spoke more quickly, behaved more rudely, and became more desperate in our demeanor.
That was just after SIMULATING living in poverty for one morning. We realized a little sliver of the challenge it must be to live this way, day after day, when the weekends fly by so quickly and it’s impossible to get everything done you need to do for your family. The resources you need aren’t even available at the time you could access them. And no matter how much you may want to sit and ‘bond’ as a family, there is absolutely no time to be still and read to children or, in many cases, even to have a meal together. There is simply too much that must be done, must be figured out, in order to keep life moving fairly reliably. A great “unfairness” most of us experienced was the challenge of how expensive it is to be poor. If you received a shut off notice because you hadn’t paid your gas bill, you found that you owed that amount, PLUS re-connection fees and fines---so the money you didn’t have to pay for that heat bill is now increased… which made no sense.
We quickly understood how easy it would be to feel angry and worried and unheard. And for those of us in mock-family scenarios, we saw how much stress and worry the children could see and feel, and how much the adults wanted to keep them from seeing it. The smallest kindness or moment of grace was noticed and welcomed by those of us “in the trenches.”
The Brightpoint leaders were careful not to call this “a game,” ever mindful that life is difficult for many of our neighbors and making it into a “game” demeans and disrespects their experiences. The 45 or so participants that day seemed to leave with new insight, even of just being aware that we are not all living life under the same circumstances. Pastor Erdos, who participated in the simulation, volunteered almost immediately to host another session of the simulation as soon as it is feasible, to allow more people to experience life as many of our neighbors experience it. We learned a lot, but the most meaningful aspect of the day to me was witnessing how participants inhabited the roles they were playing, and assumed families were doing their best and trying hard. We don’t often get the opportunity to live life in someone else’s shoes, but my advice would be to take the chance if you get it. You learn about other people, but you learn more about yourself.
The chilly temperatures and gray, drizzly days are a sharp reminder that seasons are changing. Time is passing. The world is turning. It doesn’t seem so long ago that I didn’t give a lot of thought to the passage of time. That must have been because it was easier to lie about my age!
Yes, I said “lie.”
Yes, I work in a church.
Oh yeah, I lie (not often). I might even slip in a swear word now and then. I sure as heck struggle with making good choices on a consistent basis.
Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to a brunch where about a dozen people were there with the intention of talking about Religion. Faith. Church. God.
Some of the folks around the table were disconnected from organized religion, and I think some had been really damaged by past experiences with church. I might have been a bit of a curiosity for them: maybe I didn’t talk or act like what they expected a “Christian” to be. I hope they saw that I know I am a flawed human being, but that I am trying to love people the way I think Jesus wants us to do. Frequently I find myself thinking (and occasionally, saying out loud), "I’m not that kind of Christian." I get it: people hear things in the news and assume all of us who call ourselves Christian think, believe and behave alike.
Well, that just isn’t true.
I’m beyond trying to tell you why someone else is doing something in the name of Jesus. That’s for them to figure out. I will say that I think Jesus wants me to listen to people, to try to understand the things they say that confuse me, and to live into the love he has for them . My understanding of his expectation is that we don’t have “excepts”….. We are to love everyone, no exception. We welcome everyone, no exception. We see each other as equals, no exceptions. Each of us is deserving of God’s love, no exceptions. Everyone gets a seat at the table, no exceptions. It gets tricky, what with politics and prejudice and misunderstandings and old hurts, and fear.
So maybe, start small. Want to try an experiment with me?
Smile at everyone, no exceptions. See how that goes for you. Look people in the eye. It’s hard to ignore our shared humanity when we look into each other’s eyes. Let me know how it goes. I’m doing the same thing.
When we thought about a “back to school” effort for Trinity, we first contemplated how we could raise funds for back to school shoes---something we know every parent has to figure out for every student at this time of year. The logistics of the challenge overwhelmed us, however, and we tried to come up with another idea.
Since we are trying to focus on building and sustaining relationships, it made sense to think about our Study Connection partner school, South Wayne Elementary. We all have heard the stories of how public school teachers use their own personal money to pay for classroom items, so we figured that would be the case at South Wayne, too. Probably bulletin board decorations, crayons and tissues, was my thought, to be perfectly honest.
We contacted the principal (a dynamo, Brenda West; just the sort of compassionate and creative soul you would want overseeing your staff or students). Brenda told us that they do try to keep a small fund for teachers to use for ‘extras’, but it’s never enough, of course. And then she shared the three top items teachers had purchased with those funds last year: shoes, underwear and socks for students.
Think on that.
Grade school children whose basic needs are unmet.
Many of the families are doing all they can, but their resources just don’t go far enough.
In the end, we created about 30 packages of items and experiences. Not sure whether this was going to work, we set up the displays and waited, hoped and prayed.
Trinity members came through in a big way. Thus far, we’re raised more than $4,300 for that teachers’ fund at South Wayne. That is going to buy a lot of socks, underwear and shoes for those students.
I truly didn’t know what to expect. I am so glad to be part of a community that supports teachers, students and families. I appreciate every one of our bidders and those who gave donations of items or cash. I am so proud to be part of a staff that pitches in and helps make things successful. I am so grateful to be reminded, almost daily, that we live in a good place where good things happen.
Summer days used to mean things slowed down at work, but that is not the case this year, at least not at Trinity. On top of several projects underway, we have nearly 100 Wellspring summer camp kiddos onsite every day. It’s fun to hear their voices and giggles. Somehow, hearing children’s laughter inside a big old church building makes my heart happy. It makes the building feel, literally, alive
Some of us recently toured the GE Campus and listened to the description of the amazing plans and hopes the community has for this abandoned industrial complex. Walking through the urban ruins gave us a chance to see the decrepit buildings in a way most of us never had a chance to observe. The company bowling alley still had shoes and scorecards, left behind whenever that final frame was bowled. It was a bit spooky, to see some of the signs of lives long gone.
It might be easy—too easy--- to envision our gorgeous building as it might look, abandoned and left to decay. Would future tour-takers know about the energy and activity that takes place here, every day? Would there be any remnant of those Wellspring children’s laughter? Or the commitment and dedication our staff pours into our work, day after day? Would someone peer into the shadows and envision the people who put together children’s worship bags and stuffed sermon letters into envelopes and printed weekly bulletins? What might echo in empty hallways? On this day, you can hear colleagues calling out to offer assistance or encouragement to each other. You can hear music from offices and conversations as small groups plan out opportunities for summer fun for the congregation. You can hear the soft whir of fans trying to stir the warm air that settles in some of the workspaces. The air handling is kind of funky because when our building was erected, no one envisioned the staff or the technology or the needs of today. We make it work . We modify. We make do. It’s all a process.
Whatever this building--- or any building--- holds, the most important thing it shelters is the humanity for a time under its roof. The souls who pour their limited time and precious energy into creating connections and opportunities, attending services and hosting events for members and neighbors are the real ‘lifeblood’ of Trinity. We’re all bound to one another through this experience as the body of Christ. It takes all of us. And since I’ve been listening to Hamilton, a phrase that comes to mind is, “oceans rise; empires fall…” and I see the inevitable cycle of creation and decay from a different viewpoint. I am just grateful to be a part of the creating. I am grateful I get to hear the laughter and the encouragement and the friendly voices that fill this space today.
How are you?
“Busy!” was probably your answer. (bonus points if you answered aloud) And it’s rarely said with gratitude, right?
Well, you’ve heard it before but I am saying it again: it isn’t the healthiest answer one could give.
Yes, we’re ALL busy. Life seems to be like that, right? Appointments and obligations and exercise classes and oil changes and haircuts… the list of “have to do” on our calendars gets longer all the time. And now it’s summer and we don’t want to waste a moment of the sunshine and warm weather and semi-vacation feel each day brings.
But what if we decided it wasn’t possible to “waste” a day? That whatever you did in the 24-hours we all have is exactly what you were supposed to be doing? Nothing wasted. You might look at a schedule full of housecleaning and chores and running children to dentist’s appointments as a day when ‘nothing got done,’ but what if you reframed it? What if you looked at that same day as a day when you were given the gift of showing up for your children’s well-being and an opportunity to create more peace and comfort inside your home? A time when you were allowed to gather the items your family needs to be well-fed and healthy for the coming week? All of the chores and errands are a type of service, aren’t they? Doing for others? If you managed to make one person’s life easier (spoiler alert: you did) and if you accomplished any tasks that benefited others’ lives (again: you did), then that day was not wasted. It was almost an offering to God, a thanksgiving for the people in your life. Does that change how you saw your day?
I am trying to re-frame this for myself, at home and at work. Sometimes we clean up messes we didn’t make, and sometimes someone else is cleaning up ours. Sometimes we’re invited to show a little patience and other times, we benefit from the grace of others. It’s all part of the dance, right? This dance of life?
I have a dear friend who talks about how to “orange” a situation. If you didn’t know what an orange was, how would you describe it? What would you do with it? Maybe it’s a toy, to toss to a child or a therapy ball to roll out the kinks in your sore feet. Whatever; you get the idea. A thing is not necessarily what we “know” it is. Nor is a situation. Nor is a person. I am trying, this week, to see people, places and things as they could be, not as I already “know” they are. I’m out to “orange” this week. Check back to see if I managed to accomplish anything.
One sure sign of summer’s warmer weather is the increase of activity along Wayne Street outside Trinity. People walking for exercise, leading dogs on leashes, heading to a business or other destination: it’s a bustling place. Occasionally I get to take my lunch break out in the Cloister Garden. I enjoy it, partly because I feel like I can observe without being observed----eavesdrop on conversations as friends walk by, listen to the radio music enjoyed by the crews working on our Chapel, spot the local legends like the skateboarding trombone player (yes, I have seen him!).
The garden offers a serenity that is hard to match other places. Thanks to Sue Foreman, it is lush and lovely, with different scents wafting on the breeze. The soaring steeple and statue of St. Francis add religious iconography to remind me I’m at a church. It’s a rare opportunity to be present, unplugged and ‘in the moment.’
My professional background started in journalism (television news, to be precise), where daily deadlines ruled my schedule. Newsrooms are noisy places and there is very little ‘down’ time. I am still a bit of an adrenaline junkie, at least in terms of mental aerobics. I have a hard time sitting with a quiet mind. I want to know what other people are doing, what they are saying, whom they are seeing. Our workdays around here are fairly busy: there is never “nothing” to do. But sometimes that cacophony of “other people’s voices” gets awfully loud. I can sometimes focus on the noise instead of what we’re trying to do.
If your only experience with “church” is that it is quiet, and peaceful--- well, you aren’t here during most weekdays! It’s a vibrant, energetic place of ideas and collaboration and shared approaches to addressing challenges and solving problems. I bet your day is a lot like mine: people needing your attention, phone calls, e-mails, texts, assignments, deadlines…. There is never a lack of need, so the rare opportunity to sneak out into the sunshine and breathe in the peace of the garden is a real day-changing, mind-altering experience. I commend the invitation to you: if it fits your schedule one day this summer, bring a sack lunch and come sit in the garden. Breathe. Listen.
That still, small voice you hear there just may be your own.
I don’t know if everyone has been going full-tilt, as my mother would say, but life has been very busy around here lately.
Every morning (almost), I start my day by spending some time on my treadmill. It’s a chance for me to be active , but not have to concentrate too hard, so I can go over my day’s calendar in my head.
More and more, the agenda includes reaching out and responding to people who’ve been interested in something going on at Trinity. Recently, I’ve met with people associated with the United Way, Arts United, the Center for Congregations, Amani Family Services, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, the Downtown Improvement District, City of Fort Wayne, the United Negro College Fund, Fort Wayne United and several other groups working to improve our community.
The weekly Race Dialogue on Wednesday evening has been an eye-opener in so many ways—and though my own family is transracial, I have been humbled to find that I, too, have much to learn about life for those who do not look like me in our community.
I’ve gone on “field trips” to Heart of the City Mission Church, to see how they try to meet basic needs for people in their neighborhood, including food, clean clothing and the assurance that someone cares.
Recently, Kierstin Kellermeyer and I visited with the folks at Windrose Urban Farm, over on Lafayette. The nondescript blue building houses a mushroom growing operation, the likes of which I have never seen. Who knew mushrooms could be so interesting? But listening to the manager, Chris Knipstein, talk about the medicinal and nutritional properties of the mushrooms (which are almost beautiful when you start looking at them) it was hard not to be engaged. Perhaps a unique aspect of the business is that it operates as an employment program for young adults with autism and other developmental challenges. I will definitely be looking for their produce and their soups at the Barr Street Market this summer (which starts this Saturday!).
Blue Oyster Mushrooms growing in the fruiting chamber at Windrose Urban Farm
I guess I just want to share with you all how many people and how many types of people are in and out of this building and in and out of our social circles on any given week at Trinity. In every case, I am confident that we see in each other the eyes of Jesus, as we make our way through life in the center of a very busy downtown community.
You would have been amazed at the number of people in and out of the doors to Trinity recently. On Mondays and Fridays, we host the Coordinated Entry program, to help those people living without shelter to get connected to permanent supportive housing and other assistance. Several men, women and families were referred to the services provided by Park Center, Brightpoint and 2-1-1 to go through the assessment and get connected to housing and resources to help with other needs.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Janet Altmeyer and a team of well-trained volunteers listen to dozens of our community neighbors who are just not able to meet all of their needs. The volunteers listen, pray with and for our guests, and then try to help direct them to sources of food, clothing, family needs and other support missing in their current situation. It’s a sight to see, our 6-8 volunteers sitting with 30 or so neighbors, offering coffee, playing with their children, lending an ear to people who sometimes need to vent as much as they need anything tangible.
Wednesday evening, we had about 100 attendees for the last Community Dinner of the season. People come to get a ‘home-cooked’ meal and to have a bit of community. Listening to the friendly conversation as the children from E3 and adults from the various Wednesday evening activities join with our neighbors, you might not realize some of these folks never met before this meal.
Wednesday evening, we continued our Race Dialogue with about 60 attendees. We were gifted with the stories from three African American moms, raising children in Fort Wayne. They were generous enough to share a glimpse with us into some of the ‘standard’ discussions in their homes: what to do when a police officer pulls you over, for example. Because the assumption is: this will happen. So part of every parent’s commitment is to explain how to stay safe when their child gets pulled over
Thursday and Saturday, we served as the hub for dozens of volunteers helping the City gather information on what happens downtown at various times. They will use this information to figure out ways to increase the number of people coming downtown for positive activities and reasons. Many of the workers had never been inside the doors at Trinity English, so it was fun to introduce them to our building.
While I was serving a shift as the receptionist during the City’s project on Saturday, I met a young man who said he has been waking up for the past several months looking out onto our steeple. He has been a resident of The Salvation Army program just across Washington Blvd. After seeing that steeple so often and finding his way back to a healthier lifestyle, he felt drawn to want to see what was inside here. It was my privilege to show him around and talk with him. I understand he and a few friends came to church Sunday.
There is no “typical” day here, and one of the greatest joys of working at Trinity is getting to see what each day brings—and who it brings. Listen, stop in and see me, anytime: I’d love to show you around and have a chat!
My life is just never boring. I get to meet such interesting people and learn about a wide variety of topics in this job! This week alone, I met with a local (female) business owner who has started a non-profit urban farm that grows mushrooms. Maybe the most impressive aspect of the year-round growing operation is that the employees are all young adults on the autism spectrum. I met with her to explore whether there may be a way to include the mushroom growers in one of the most exciting projects we’re planning at Trinity… a farmers’ market!
Look for details coming soon, but we are preparing to host a weekly market this summer, starting in July---assuming the season actually ever changes, and we do have crops and fresh produce and warmer weather…ha!
Additionally, I met with a gentleman who is involved with the local fruit-growers group, whose stories about the therapeutic powers of soil and seeds almost had me ready to slip on overalls and get my hands dirty. Almost.
I also enjoyed meeting with a colleague at the Renaissance Pointe YMCA, to discuss ways children of Trinity and children at the Y might be able to get to know each other better. I love visiting that gorgeous facility, which I got to witness being built from the ground up when I worked for City government. She also invited Pastor Erdos to participate in the recognition of National Day of Prayer on May 3--- more details will be available next week in case you’d like to join from 6 -6:30 p.m.
Some of the staff here at Trinity toured Vincent Village this week. The organization was co-founded by an interfaith group that included the late Bishop John D’Arcy and our own (late) Pastor Richard Frazier. Seeing the homes and the families who live there, the new houses under construction and the former Coca Cola Bottling Plant redeveloped for loft-style apartments is a huge win for our community, and it feels good to know Trinity had a small part in making that all happen.
Kierstin and I spent most of Thursday at a communications workshop hosted by the Center for Congregations. We came back with a ton of ideas and a few new connections to peers and resources we can call on to help us out here. Sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day to try to organize all of the knowledge, creativity and enthusiasm around here. We really do draw a lot of energy from the notion of bringing opportunities and experiences to the congregation and to our community.
Be sure to let me know how you think Trinity can change the world through Jesus!
Recently, I had the privilege of sitting with about 16 of our Open Doors volunteers and talk about the program. Back in July, we started opening the Wayne Street doors from 10 to 2, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. At that time, we had about 34 people who stepped up to say they would take some shifts to be greeters to welcome anyone who wanted to step into the Nave.
Most of these good people are driving in from the suburbs, and it has been a long, cold winter --- people weren’t doing much strolling for pleasure the last few months. We wondered if the volunteers were getting at all discouraged, with sitting, many times with no visitors.
It was heart-warming to find that the answer was a resounding show of support for continuing the program and for seeing it as an important way for them to live out the charge to be loving to our neighbors. In fact, they were suggesting ways to be even more welcoming : perhaps offering water, prayer cards, and more dog treats for those out walking with furry friends. They wanted to think about ways to add music and to welcome people into the Cloister Garden on nice days.
It made me so happy, to see these people encourage one another and build on each other’s ideas. They’re excited about meeting new people, sharing a smile or a story, and getting to know their “partner greeters.” Soon, the weather will warm up consistently and those big wooden doors will once again be propped open. I guarantee you’ll see some of the brightest smiles and most caring hearts you’ll ever meet, waiting to wave and greet you and welcome you to Trinity and to Jesus.