As we enter the summer, when many things slow down, BUILD and Redeemer’s engagement with its multiple initiatives is gaining momentum. Below is a brief update on Redeemer’s work with BUILD on several fronts:

ReBuild Metro: ReBuild Metro is BUILD’s affiliate organization undertaking meaningful rehabilitation and renovation of housing in east Baltimore, implementing these projects while also preventing dislocation and gentrification. Having successfully completed substantial neighborhood housing reclamations in both the Oliver and Greenmount West neighborhoods, ReBuild Metro is now actively pursuing its third major project, this one centered on Johnston Square. A number of parishioners are actively involved in this initiative, and many more are welcome. There may also be an important role for Redeemer to play in advancing this effort.

Turnaround Tuesday: Turnaround Tuesday is BUILD’s affiliate which takes a unique approach to preparing returning citizens and other people searching for successful integration into the workplace. Instead of a traditional “job training” approach, Turnaround Tuesday provides its participants with an immersive program that educates them about the cultural, behavioral, and relationship norms and values of a commercial business. This critical, yet frequently overlooked, aspect of equipping people with core knowledge about functioning effectively in a workplace is the key to Turnaround Tuesday’s success. Since 2015, Turnaround Tuesday has successfully placed almost 700 people into full-time jobs, with a one-year retention rate in excess of 80%, a remarkable success. Our parishioners can play a meaningful role in a number of ways, including extending Turnaround Tuesday’s access to employers for its program graduates.

Member Expansion: Redeemer has actively worked to introduce new members to BUILD. Specifically, David, Cristina, and a number of parishioners participated in a conversation with the Bolton Street Synagogue about BUILD and the opportunities that come with a relationship. The Synagogue is moving thoughtfully toward becoming a member of BUILD alongside Redeemer. Parishioners are also working with the Roland Park Civic League to assist that group in evaluating the opportunities created by joining BUILD. All our parishioners are encouraged to think about organizations that might benefit by becoming members of BUILD.

BUILD and Education: Redeemer has worked with BUILD in following the progress of the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations as they work their way through the legislative process. With its enactment by the legislative assembly and the Governor’s releasing of funds, Kirwan will be subject to detailed discussion and debate during the coming legislative session on specifics revolving around the appropriate accountability framework as well as the allocation of funding responsibility as between the State and localities. Redeemer plans to sponsor a forum this fall to provide all constituencies the opportunity to review these important issues.

Redeemer’s relationship with BUILD is successful to the extent that a growing number of parishioners become engaged and remain involved. So far, with David’s and Cristina’s leadership, things are off to a strong start. We encourage everyone to think about how they might engage with BUILD. Anyone with questions about how to become involved or to learn more should feel free to contact David Ware.

~Peter Bain

Dear Folks,

Rebuild Metro has been around for 15 years, quietly working in East Baltimore.  In 2002 the team began acquiring scattered properties in the Oliver neighborhood, collaborating with five local churches from whom they raised $1.2 million dollars, along with the city, who agreed to sell them the houses at low cost and turn them over to Rebuild, address by address, as they were ready to rehabilitate them.  The developer, which is an outgrowth of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), used economic data and community relationships to get things started, focusing on small areas where they knew the rehabs would produce the greatest effect.  “We build from strength,” said Sean Closkey, executive director of Rebuild, when I met him last Thursday.

“We work inward from natural boundaries—railroad tracks, a park, a business—to define an area where our work will have maximal impact.”  The neighborhood needs to feel the transformation, see it, and celebrate it “if our efforts are going to be relationship-based and long-lasting,” he said.  Perhaps most importantly, there has been no displacement of current residents.  “It’s hard to build relationships when the community is gone,” Closkey reported in a 2018 Guardian article.

“The model here is to rehabilitate existing houses, as well as to take smaller actions, such as fixing up a corner garden, or clearing an overgrown field. All this is of a piece – and built around organizing – with residents taking charge of consulting neighbors, identifying needs, and mobilizing resources with support from local institutions and philanthropies.” (Siddhartha Mitter, Guardian)

Closkey and I talked about the vacant houses in Baltimore (16,000 by last count, with the city owning 2500 of those) and compared typical “urban renewal” to the community-based work that Rebuild Metro embodies.  “Most often a developer acquires several blocks of a depressed neighborhood, helps the few remaining residents move to a new location, razes the existing housing stock, and builds a high density structure.  A block of twenty row homes might be replaced with sixty new residences.”

“But the Baltimore housing stock, which was built for a city with a population of one million people, arguably doesn’t need more houses.  Rather, neighborhoods like Oliver and Greenmount West are strengthened by being right-sized and having fewer houses, while adding more community-building features, like green spaces and coffee shops and small businesses. You can’t organize without residents,” Closkey adds, and since our vision is based on knowing the people we serve, “we help them stay in the neighborhood.”

“Place matters,” said the Reverend Calvin Keene, a former business executive who was called in midlife to be pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Oliver and to serve in the neighborhood that raised him.  “And we nurture individuals’ commitment to a house or a church or a block into something bigger—a community that cares about its common life.”  Keene is the board chair of Rebuild Metro, and he joined us for a tour, pointing out a playground where a drug market once plied its trade and a pocket park where a notorious tavern once stood.

Now, thanks to the tireless efforts of Regina Hammond, who has been organizing her block in Johnston Square for 20 years, Rebuild Metro will turn to this neighborhood which bridges the gap between Rebuild’s earlier projects.  The work is radical, restorative, and regenerative, according to their website—slow and steady and organic, the way a plant grows.

Take a look at www.rebuildmetro.com and pray about how it moves you.  If you want to learn more, reach out to me or parishioner Peter Bain.  How might Redeemer be called to be part of this transformative community collaboration?

Love,

David

Dear Friends.

I stepped in as the interim youth minister last October not knowing how long I would be in this role. Three months, maybe six? A year? I’ve learned that the challenge of uncertainty offers abundant lessons in faith, trust and equanimity of spirit.  It’s a huge blessing to be in this community with all of you, to work with the shining bright youth of this church, and to be part of the Redeemer Staff. My time as the interim has given me so much already, including this poem….  I’m curious and excited about the coming months with you all, as we prepare the ground for more to come.

With love,
Vivian

Interim Time

Welcome, Friend.
We will place you gently here.
Bring your fresh eyes
and heart that beats
with tenderness and strength.

Warning, Dear Friend.
Some may label you a placeholder.
a bookmark enabling easy
return to a familiar page.

Pause. Observe. Reflect. Be.
Still.
Be still and know.
Be. Still. Know.

Others expect a Medicine Woman,
Time traveller.
The Lush Gardens are Here. See!

Me, I am a human who wants to take your hand.
Let’s do this together you and me.

Let’s walk in rhythms of
tenderness and strength.
Let’s sit together
Be still and know

Love as the common ground
that roots us,
and all we wish to sow.

Dear Folks,

I met producer/director Aaron Woolf in the summer of 2014 at the Grange Hall in Whallonsburg, New York.  Our daughter was in a musical there, and Aaron and his wife Carolyn had brought their five-year-old to see the performance.  In the small world department, Carolyn approached my wife with the words, “Miss Hoover?”, and we discovered that she had been Sarah’s 7th grade student 25 years before.  That summer Aaron was running for Congress in the 21st District of New York, which stretches from Saratoga Springs to the Canadian border.  A political newcomer, Aaron had spent a good portion of his life in the Adirondacks, whose small towns and wilderness make up most of the District.

He cares deeply about the people there—their shuttered mills and hard scrabble farms, the hikers and the well-to-do residents with houses that ring the clear water lakes and the folks whose trailers tuck into the mountain hollows and make the counties some of the poorest in New York State.  In the 1970’s, Aaron’s parents bought their own tumble down camp in Elizabethtown, the seat of Essex County, and some of his happiest memories are of scaling the rocks on the place, building forts with whatever he could find, and tramping through the snow.  In between movie projects, Aaron opened a grocery store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and a later restaurant in Elizabethtown, and his family somehow weaves both communities into their home.

Aaron spent his early years in Roland Park, and when he was old enough, he would skip out of Gilman School early and head downtown—looking for adventures and new places and people to meet.  He began making documentaries not long after he finished Middlebury College, drawn to stories ranging from beauty pageants in Venezuela to the global face of human trafficking.  His films are amiable and big hearted, even as they invite the viewer to face some significant current problem and get to know the individuals who struggle through it.  His works provoke concern and conversation and further inquiry.

He wrote and directed King Corn in 2007.  The film follows Ian Cheney and his best friend, Curt Ellis, on a yearlong odyssey to understand where our food comes from… by growing it. In what The Washington Post calls “Required viewing for anyone planning to visit a supermarket, fast-food joint, or their own refrigerator,” the city-slickers learn to drive a combine, cash in on government subsidies, and homebrew high-fructose corn syrup. The film’s Peabody-winning findings, shared with theatergoers in 60 cities and in a PBS national broadcast, may change the way audiences eat.  Following the success of King Corn, Aaron and his partners created Big River, which follows the journey of water flowing from those big farms, the pesticides the run-off carries, and the implications for life downstream.

Aaron will join us at Redeemer next Wednesday (5/29), from 7:00-9:30 p.m., using his films and the power of story to shed light on the human dimension of some of today’s most important policy decisions.  Bring a bag of popcorn and join me in welcoming Aaron back to Baltimore.

Love,

David

As David mentioned at our Annual Meeting, I will be taking a sabbatical beginning June 1 and returning August 20. This August, I will have served here at Redeemer for 9 years. When my family and I first arrived, Grace was 9, and Ben was 2. Today Grace finishes her last academic day of high school, and Ben and I will shop for snacks for his 11th birthday party.

I remember the day I finished my final “GOE” (General Ordination Exam) in seminary. Feeling relieved and elated these God-awful exams were over, I went to get my mail from my mailbox. Inside was a small envelope with a notecard from Paul Tunkle, then-rector of Redeemer, asking if I might be interested in beginning a conversation about serving at Redeemer. We spoke on the phone shortly afterwards and talked about me coming down from New York for a visit and to meet some key folks. It turned out that one of these key folks was one of my second grade teachers from Bryn Mawr, Mrs. Nancy Baker, who was the director of Redeemer Parish Day School back then. Ahhh, “Smalltimore”.

From my perspective these 9 years have gone by quickly. Thanks to all of you and to the staff here at Redeemer, I have learned what it means, and how to be, a priest and a pastor. I continue to learn, of course, everyday, and I hope to continue learning and growing into this vocation that is as life-giving and challenging as motherhood.

People have asked me, “What are you going to do on your sabbatical?” My truthful answer is not very exciting or inspiring. I am, simply, going to rest. Spend time with my family. Reflect on the past 9 years and dream about the next 9. Tend to physical, emotional and spiritual needs that need to be tended to.

In mid-July, I will attend a week-long “healers’ retreat” in Yelapa, Mexico with a close girlfriend of mine. In August, David, Grace, Ben and I will spend 2 weeks in Southport, ME, where I will be a guest preacher at All Saints-by-the-Sea (and where Henry Lowe will be playing the organ!). Shortly after, David, Ben and I will drive Grace to the University of Maryland, College Park, where she will move into her dorm room at Hagerstown Hall, meet her roommate, and begin her freshman year in the honors college. And then I will return to all of you, my body, mind, heart and soul the richer, for having been away for a time.

Thank you for being a community that supports this sacred and life-giving gift of sabbatical time. Thank you for being faithful travelers along The Way. And whatever the summer brings, may you and your loved ones enjoy your own sabbath times of rest, refreshment and renewal.

~Cristina

Dear Folks,

Years ago I asked a group of teenagers preparing for confirmation to describe God.  “What is God like?  What does God do?” I wondered.  Not much happened, so we got out paper and pencils, and I asked them to make a list of God’s attributes, sketch a description, or draw a picture.  Maybe because we were sitting in a Sunday School classroom, they told me, “God has long hair and a beard, wears sandals, and throws lightning bolts.”  So I asked them what power this image of God had for them, and they looked at me with quizzical faces and silence.  Then I took a different tack. “Write down the questions you have about life,” I suggested, “questions that bother you and don’t seem to have any easy answers, things you would ask God if you could sit him down in front of you.”

Slowly the juices began to flow.  “Why does God take away people that you love,” they asked me.  “What happens after you die?  Why is there evil in the world?  Does God have a religion?  Why do bad things happen to people who haven’t done anything wrong?”  We scribbled it all down on the blackboard, and there was more silence.  “What are you thinking?” I asked, after a while.  They talked about the pressure they were under from parents and teachers.  They talked about fairness and a disciplinary action at school.  They talked about being asked to leave a store at the mall and if the manager there was racist.  They talked about how sports were fun back in middle school before adults started speaking to them about their resume.  They talked about a classmate with cancer.

“Your image of God has to do something for you,” I said again.  “It has to have power if it is going to make any difference.  The changes and chances of life pose for us incredibly difficult questions…”  Why did my sister die?  Why does my brother suffer from mental illness?  Do I have a purpose here?  Is this all there is?  “So an image of God worth holding onto will have currency.  Figure out what has value—and why—and throw away the rest.”

What about for you?  Try these images of God on for size: the Way, the Truth, the Door… Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer… Justice, Truth, Peace… Shepherd, Healer, King… Mother, Father, Neighbor, Stranger, Friend…  What do you think?  What works?  How do you use it?

Each one is a story we tell about God, of something which is beyond our conceiving; by definition, none of them is complete.  But how we talk about God is much more than an intellectual exercise.  The image we construct or intuit gives us what we need to confront the darkness that life hands us.  The image we have of God helps us make sense of our strengths and vulnerabilities and figure out how to use all of it for good.  The image we have of God gives us a mission, not only solace, and people with a mission can navigate through life’s storms and swirling losses toward a better place.

What are you working on right now, inside you or at home, in Baltimore or beyond?  Chances are it’s hard.  The way of the living God—truth telling, listening, reconciling, healing—is often dark and deep and down.  So thank you for your courage and commitment.  Thanks for working for the good of the whole.  Thanks for hanging in there.  And here are a few images that make a difference for me: Love conquers all, Light is not overwhelmed by darkness, and Life follows every death.

Love, David