Recently, a friend mentioned that we were NOT necessarily living in unprecedented times, because every generation believed its times were without comparison:  WWI, The Great Depression, WWII, the Vietnam era, etc.  He said that this meant our period of history is just like any other of past generations.  I concede that this may be true for past generations, but for this current generation, the times we are living are unparalleled!  Which brings me to my point:  You really need to give yourself a Break!

We are often our own worse critics and if there is one thing we have learned over these past 6 months, it is that the way we live our lives now should be a marathon and NOT a sprint.  Nevertheless, we are often highly self-critical for the things we are not doing or being instead of honoring and loving who we are as we are.  I mean, that is how Jesus loves us.  So, instead of criticizing ourselves for not physically feeling in tip-top shape, not wanting to be with the family this evening, not wanting to make dinner, or help with homework, or whatever else you might not want to do—stop beating yourself up about it.

Give yourself the Grace of God to either DO it or DON’T do, because the choice is yours.  You have the freedom to choose what is for your highest good; yes, you do.  Self-criticism is definitely not for your highest good.  If GOD does not criticize you, why do you criticize yourself?  Are you somehow bigger and know more about yourself than GOD?  Read Psalm 139.  It might be an eye-opener.  Be gentle with yourself and give yourself a break!

Let’s face it.  We are ALL in the midst of grieving and mourning life as we have known or lived it these so many years.  For those who are grieving personal losses, the loss of so much weight is even harder to bear.  We have lost nearly 200,000 fellow American citizens from COVID 19 to date and this alone is cause for the blanket of sorrow that covers us as a nation.  Recall the theory of six degrees of separation?  We are all in this thing together so whatever affects one affects all. It is okay for you to feel sad or down sometimes; it is even okay to search diligently for that one ray of HOPE somewhere.

Give yourself a break and stop pretending that we have experienced this life we are living before; that you can just shake it off and move on.  No one expects you to.  Each one of us is feeling our way into a new way of be-ing.

During this huge paradigm shift, it is okay to JUST BREATHE.  Sign up for a new breathing session with my colleague, Maria Cristina+ and learn how to love yourself…down to every inhalation and exhalation of your being.  Remember we are in a marathon and not a relay.  Slowing down and breathing deeply reconnects us with the ebb and flow of the rest of Creation.  It is a wonderful way to give yourself a break.

Finally, “where are you GOD in all of this?”  Where is your HIGHER POWER?  Stop beating yourself up, get quiet, and listen.  Speak gently to yourself, love yourself, do what gives you joy, be grateful, and then you will know Peace.  You are not being selfish because you are allowing GOD to love on you through you.  Ask God for the grace to receive the Love being poured out every minute.  Do enough of these things and you might discover a delightful surprise.  Emmanuel!!!

Holding you in LIGHT & LOVE,
Freda Marie

Dear Folks,

Do you remember the movie Groundhog Day? Bill Murray plays a weatherman named Phil who is dispatched every year to Punxsutawney, PA, to cover the festivities of February 2, when Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, is awakened from his slumbers and studied to discover if he will see his shadow. If he does, the story goes, we will have another six weeks of winter—which we usually do. There are costumed locals, high school bands, a sometimes rather fierce “rodent” as Phil calls him, and all of us are expected to play along with the silliness. Phil the weatherman thinks it is beneath him.

At 6 a.m. in his bed and breakfast, Phil’s alarm wakes him with the song “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher.  He goes through a series of experiences as the day unfolds—an old classmate tries to sell him insurance, he steps in an icy puddle, he does a stand-up routine in front of the groundhog—and lobs a running patter of insults at his crew and TV viewers.  Phil holds everyone in contempt it seems, including himself, and all he wants to do is get out of town.  He almost does, but then the clock goes off at the same time, with the same song, and Phil repeats his miserable day—again and again and again.  It slowly dawns on Phil that his day will be the same unless he changes.

Three times this week someone has told me they feel like they are stuck in the same script.  Without the usual mileposts of time away from work, or a shift in activities or church services, or going back to school buildings instead of just lining up your pencils at the dining room table, it can feel like every day is the same.  “I am thankful for my health,” said one old friend, “but I really don’t know if it’s Tuesday or Sunday, and I feel lost.  How do you remember where you are and what’s important?” he asked me.

We talked about getting unstuck in Bible Study yesterday and the ritual work of remembering.  “The oldest religious act is to remember,” I offered.  A remnant of people have returned to Jerusalem after the Exile, in the book Nehemiah.  With a strong, truth-telling leader, who doesn’t mince words about the challenges they face, who helps the people discover resources they didn’t know they had, who empathizes with their pain and inspires them to common purpose, together they repair their city and themselves.  The physical work is just the beginning, however.  As the construction vehicles back out beeping, the people gather to tell the story of their country’s founding, to remember who they are as they begin again, to measure its success and hold themselves accountable for its sorrow.  Imagine their courage: they do the hard, essential work of recalling their whole history—not only the glorious deeds, soaring rhetoric, and inspired laws that changed the course of human civilization, but also the ways they have missed the mark, most searingly the times when a privileged few hoarded power and wealth to themselves, at the expense of the many.  Remembering in this way is sacred work, I believe, because it roots us in the world as it is and in how it should be, a world we can rebuild with God’s help.

Imagine communities in our country doing the same work today, every year circling up in a kind of prayer to remember our whole American story—glorious deeds, soaring rhetoric, inspiring laws along with our transgressions and violence, when we did not live up to the vision to be one people, alike in dignity and equal before the law.  Maybe we can begin the tradition this November, on the Sunday before election day, weaving the fabric of our service out of the many American voices, to tell the story of how we’ve come to be, to confess how far we still have to go, to remember our hope.  Send me an email, if you want to take part.

In the movie, Phil finally has the courage to look at who he really is, to discover that he cares about someone, and to act in a way to deserve her love.  He is still Phil—“not a different Phil, but a better Phil” (Roger Ebert)—still a mixed bag of strength and struggle, but maybe that’s the point.  He escapes Groundhog Day by being the best person he knows how to be.

The Spirit’s voice of truth is healing and courageous, always drawing us to remember who we are even during this wretched pandemic, calling us to be the people that our country and our city and our families need us to be.

Love,
David

“The glory of God is the human person, fully alive.” This quote is from St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a second century theologian, born in Asia Minor. Among other things, Irenaeus went on to be the bishop of Lyons, in Gaul. Christianity was still spreading and defining itself at the time: What did it mean to be Christian? What beliefs fell under the umbrella of Christianity? Which ideas were considered orthodox and which were not? 

Some of the competing ideas that Irenaeus encountered were from different Gnostic sects, whose dualistic understanding of matter and spirit challenged Christian understandings of the incarnation and creation. In the Gnostic imagination, the material world (creation) and the divine world (God) did not interact. Because the material world was corrupt, the two were separate. In his writings against these ideas, Irenaeus affirmed that the God of creation is also the God of salvation: that God touches both matter and spirit, and that there is nothing inherently corrupt in creation. It is through the distortion of sin that humanity is separated from God, and it is through obedience to Christ that we are ultimately redeemed.  

I say all of this because I think that Irenaeus’ declaration that “the glory of God is the human person, fully alive” is still pretty revolutionary. When we live our full lives, when we are known and loved as our full selves, we give glory to God. (Living into the fullness of life is different than achieving some kind of perfection. Sometimes, and maybe you’ve experienced this, too, I spend more time trying to get things just right than I do living them out; I get stuck in the boundaries I’ve constructed in my mind. It makes sense: our world and culture compel us to be and act in certain ways. When we don’t fill the world’s expectations, we can feel shame. Irenaeus’s words are a reminder that what God wants for us is to be fully alive, not to live perfectly or into the world’s expectations.) 

And God wants that fullness of life for all people. This weekend, I attended a Black Lives Matter rally at the corner of N. Charles and Northern Parkway, just down the block from Redeemer. We lined the corners and held signs as cars drove past. In affirming that Black lives matter, we were upholding some of the essence of what Irenaeus thought: we were affirming that Black lives are worthy of being fully lived, that they reveal the glory of God. They are, and they do. And it is part of our baptismal call to ensure that all people – especially people whom society and the world reject, like the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the oppressed – are able to live full lives. 

Addressing racism in myself and in the world around me is one way I strive to live out my baptismal covenant. When we are baptized we are asked to continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, to break bread and pray; to resist evil and repent when we fall into it; to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being, all with God’s help. (Which is good – because we can’t do this alone and we won’t always get it right.) When we are baptized, we join God’s family, with these responsibilities to and expectations of our shared life in Christ.  

For me, living out the responsibilities and expectations that are placed on me by my faith, rather than the world, is part of how I am fully alive. And my life, and its fullness, is bound up with everyone else’s. May we each seek to be fully alive, in all that we do, and may we seek that fullness of life for the whole world. 

With love,
Rebecca 

P.S. Sometime, when I see you in person, I’ll try and sing the song I learned for this Irenaeus quote! It’s fun. 

As a child, my family and I used to spend a week every summer at Bethany Beach in Delaware. When the day came for us to leave, I would linger on the back patio and stare at the ocean and beach, trying to absorb every last drop of sight and sound to take back with me. I hated leaving.

This past month for almost 2 weeks, David, Grace, Ben and I returned to Southport, ME, where for the last two summers, I’ve been invited to serve as a guest preacher for All-Saints-by-the-Sea. Unlike last summer, our trip this go-round included the four of us getting our COVID swab tests at a nearby community clinic and self-isolating until we were cleared; wearing our facemasks wherever we went; and preaching to a video camera, instead of the summer congregation, to be included in the worship video.

Once strange and foreign concepts — nasal swab testing?! facemasks?! preaching to a video camera?!  — these have now become all too familiar in our COVID world. Yet amidst this ongoing strangeness, there was the familiar rising and falling of the tide, the sound of seagulls flying overhead, the smell of saltwater in the air. And when the day came for the four of us to leave, I found my eyes lingering on the ocean once again, just as in my childhood, not wanting to leave … the waves … that sound … that air …

I wonder, what it is about being by the ocean, that is so life-giving and healing? I’d love to hear from you, your own thoughts, if you find this to be true, for yourself. For me, it has something to do with touching timelessness. Something to do with the saltwater that runs in my own blood — a certain kinship, if you will. Something to do with the same feeling I get when I look up into the night sky and am able to see the stars. Time by the ocean gives me sense that — whatever is going on in my life and in our world, today  — there is something More … something greater, wiser and bigger, that has Seen it All … lived through it and despite it, All … that holds us All …

May the God who created earth, wind and waters; sun, moon and stars; who breathes us into being each and every day of our lives; and to whom our last breath will return … May this same God remind us and inspire us that whatever hardships or challenges face us today, we are not alone. May we be open to the ways in which God works Her healing power in and through us, every day, and be encouraged to make the most of the precious time here on earth that we have been given.

Cristina

Even as I write this, I am aware of the destruction and fear that ocean and wind can wreak, as well, and ask for your prayers for all those whose lives are being impacted by the latest hurricane to hit our country’s shores.

Dear Folks,

How does a collection of houses and the intersection of a few streets become a neighborhood?

Around the corner from our house, on Lombard Street, a number of homemade signs have appeared on two front doors.  At first they spoke vaguely about clean sidewalks and parking: “Please use the city approved garbage cans.  Pickup is on Tuesday—please don’t put out garbage on other days.  Use the alley instead of the street to keep the sidewalk clear.”  I didn’t think much about them until I learned that the signs were placed by a disgruntled “neighbor” on someone else’s house.  Really?!  Now that person has put up her own signs: “We are in a pandemic!  Please use your time and energy on something productive.  Instead of complaining, take up a hobby.”  And then this: “You don’t care about trash.  You care about race.  Black lives matter.”  It’s messy and personal and honest and strangely hopeful at once—hard to read it on posters that everyone can see, but reflective of the big issues and nitty gritty behaviors that build community or tear it down.  Other people on the street are reaching out to see how they might help, and I hear folks wondering about long-term pain and common values and how to be a neighbor.  “Both houses are hurting,” is how one person described it at a neighborhood meeting.

A young lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and true to form, the Teacher has the interlocutor answer his own question.  “What is written in the law,” Jesus asks him, “How do you read it?”  And the fellow says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  “You’ve got it right,” Jesus says.  “Do this, and you will live.”  But because the narrator has framed their conversation as a “test,” the lawyer usually gets a bad rap—he is more interested in receiving a favorable judgment for himself and his case than knowing the truth, readers argue, or he wants to expose Jesus in some way or trip him up, others suggest.  I don’t think so.  Their criticism of the man is grounded in the next line of the story: He asks who is my neighbor “in order to justify himself.”  Readers of the English translation stumble at his seeming desire for a way out, a workaround that lets him quibble with the definition of “neighbor”—after all, the naughty schoolboy or corporate executive seeks to “justify” his actions when he knows he has done something that doesn’t measure up.  But the primary definition of the Greek word is about how to be made righteous, not how to appear good or be considered righteous by someone else.  The lawyer actually asks, “So that I can become the person I ought to be, who is my neighbor?”

Jesus’s parable calls us to show mercy to the man “in the ditch” on the road to Jericho, which seems like an obvious point until one realizes who helps whom in the story.  The religious leaders hurry by, so caught up in their systems of righteousness that they neglect to do the right thing.  (The young lawyer inside each of us is starting to squirm now.) The man who does stop to help the injured fellow is a Samaritan, part of a tribe of people who have been marginalized and made to feel less than.  (Now the reader is shocked.  “I don’t want a ‘Samaritan’ to offer me assistance!  Maybe I can stretch to help ‘those people,’ but how in the world could someone like that help me?”)  Who is your neighbor?

Is it any accident that it is a wounded person sees the other person’s wounds, and responds in Jesus’s vision?  Both houses are hurting, right?  And of course the folks who walk by in the story without helping are hurting, too, but something keeps them from acknowledging long-term pain and common cause.  The picture the parable paints is this: the practice of vulnerability is what gives rise to mercy.  The ways we are wounded is our access to compassion.

And the story calls us to not settle for systems that perpetuate some folks spending their lives in the ditch or being beset by one kind of robber or another.  Fifty years ago Martin Luther King asked us not to settle for offering mercy, but to reimagine and rebuild the Jericho road itself.  In a conversation with Andre Young, King said:  “I am tired of picking up people along the Jericho Road. I am tired of seeing people battered and bruised and bloody, injured and jumped on, along the Jericho Roads of life. This road is dangerous. I don’t want to pick up anyone else, along this Jericho Road; I want to fix… the Jericho Road. I want to pave the Jericho Road, add street lights to the Jericho Road; make the Jericho Road safe (for passage) by everybody….”

How does a collection of houses and the intersection of streets become a neighborhood?  Will you help me build it?

Love,
David

I was listening to a recent podcast on the power of visual imagery and its place in the Christian Church.  One speaker noted how controversy has always existed in the Western Church over the use of icons or other devotional images.  In fact, at the beginning of the Reformation, the Protestant movement initiated what was called the iconoclastic fury as a push-back against the Roman Catholic papacy and its mores.

Of course, it was not long before the conversation turned to images in general and the recent toppling of statues of the Confederacy as well as those of Christopher Columbus.   While there were arguments for and against the recent events of image destruction, every participant in the discussion agreed on the way that images can evoke all kinds of emotions, driving both hearts and minds. The discussion centered around how much meaning is made around any particular image that is held in high esteem and elevated above the common, mortal, everyday person.

Then, we came to the portrait of Swedish Jesus.  Few people know that the often observed, most notable picture of Jesus in the Church in America was painted by the artist, Warner Salliman in 1940.  The portrait is of a Nordic-type Jesus with blue eyes and light-colored hair.  It turns out that the original sketch, pre-1940, actually had brown eyes but apparently there was a quibble about it, so now you might see either blue or brown eyes on portraits of Swedish Jesus.  The painting has been duplicated millions of times and has spread around the world as a popular devotional image.  I am sure you have seen it or even have one in your own home.

Even though I grew up with Swedish Jesus…every Christian home in the deep South had one, I never could get next to him.  Because my mother was an artist who painted portraits, she made sure that we kids understood the “artistic license” of the artist.  She reminded us often that the painting represented the artist’s conception of Jesus and in no way really represented neither Jesus nor God in real life.  Boy, was I glad; he looked too much like the police officers in my hometown.  He certainly was not someone I could or would pray to— much less worship!

The next day after hearing this podcast, I returned from vacation to discover a lovely gift in my office.  I was presented by an extraordinary artist with a most extraordinary gift: La Virgen de Guadalupe, Madre de Las Americas (The Virgen of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas…South and North).  This beautiful mural was doubly special because she looked like me!   

I have held a personal devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe for many years now, but my new mural is extra special because she not only looks like me, but she is in solidarity with me.  She knows and cares about the things of my heart and even prays with me herself.  Until we know God-with-us in whatever way assists us in that knowing, we remain bereft, frightened, and alone.  Spiritual images do that for us.  They are fingers pointing to the moon of the DIVINE PRESENCE.

As an embodied spiritual being, you may use other items that assist you in knowing Emmanuel—a garden, a rock, a tree, or your grandchild.  The incarnation of God made the potential for the holy in every created thing.  What we see, especially plays a strong role in how we easily or not so easily relate to God.  The American Church is coming to terms with the way it has limited God; making God much too small for all the human beings whom God has made.  It is realizing that its images are primary examples of this limited, bounded GOD.  Like the world outside of the Church, it is time to re-assess this deficiency just like the re-assessment of the Confederate statues placed during Jim Crow days of American history.

The times we are in are changing rapidly and they are all good changes to the faithful.  They are neither comfortable nor convenient, but they simply are. Our trust and our hope remain in the ONE who has already overcome the world, Jesus the Christ.  Consider religious visual images for your own devotions.  Maybe visual images are your thing.  Check it out and see.

By the way, I am happy to show off my mural, so come by and see it.  Call first though—and do not forget your mask!

Lots of Love,

Freda Marie+ 

Dear Redeemer,

Hello! My name is Rebecca Ogus and I’m the new Associate for Youth and Young Adults. I am so glad to be joining your community and so grateful for the opportunity to serve, worship, and learn alongside you. Thank you for all the ways you’ve welcomed me, and my husband, Zach, so far.

As I begin to learn about all of you and about Redeemer as a parish, here’s a bit about me:

I grew up in Beaufort, a little town in coastal North Carolina, just south of the Outer Banks. When I was eight my family moved to New York City so my mother could attend seminary (she’s an Episcopal priest). When she graduated, we moved back to rural Eastern North Carolina; I left in 10th grade to attend high school at St. Andrew’s School in Delaware. These communities were all full of their own, very distinct, cultures, and I can’t imagine life without each of them.

After high school I went to Kenyon College in Ohio, where I took as many classes as I could about women, gender, and Christianity. Ohio winters were a little too cold for me (and I missed my family), so after graduation I headed back to North Carolina for a year in the Episcopal Service Corps (ESC) in Chapel Hill. One of the hallmarks of ESC programs is living in intentional community (more on that another time). Sharing life so deeply with my seven housemates was one of the most formative – and challenging – experiences of my adult life. High school and college had shaped my intellect and moral conscience; in ESC I learned how to apply both and began to discover who and how I wanted to be in the world. A lot of that learning happened at our weekly house dinners.

These dinners were, on the surface, unremarkable: two people cooked, two people cleaned, we talked and laughed and grumped around the table. Except, the fact that they happened so unremarkably was kind of amazing. Three times a week we prioritized our community over everything else we had going on, no matter how much we wanted to be doing something (anything!) else. We showed up for each other, imperfectly: even when there was conflict, even when we were sad or tired, even when we didn’t want to, and that still fills me with wonder.

Deep commitment to a community beyond oneself is not new. Scripture is overflowing with stories about it! And there are plenty of examples in other faith traditions and in secular movements, too – think about the commitment of people who’ve been calling for racial justice and equity in the United States, this summer and for the last 401 years. Jesus is constantly inviting the disciples, and us, towards a life in committed relationship with one another and God, a life as members of the Body of Christ.

The work of life in intentional relationship with one another and with God is not easy.  It really does take work to keep showing up at the table, again and again, and I, at least, frequently get it wrong. But that work is part of our Christian vocation. And it’s how I strive to be in the world and how I will strive to be here, at Redeemer.

A few other things have happened since my year in ESC, but that can wait for another day. I look forward to meeting all of you – especially the youth and young adults of the parish! – and doing the good, hard work of life shared with one another and with God. I don’t know what the coming months and years hold, no one does. But I know the way we’ll get there is together.

With joy and thanksgiving,

Rebecca

Dear Folks,

Three times this week, small groups gathered for worship.

On Tuesday and Thursday morning, we drew into a close circle in front of Redeemer with just enough chairs and benches to keep us safe, put a placemat on a borrowed table with wafers and a bottle of Purell, and broke open our hearts to each other.  For the sermon, I asked each person to “share something that’s good and something that’s hard.”  Several spoke of the gift of racial reckoning and the difficult work of change.  Three grandparents rejoiced at the arrival of new babies and managing the loss of not being able to hold them.  One mom heard that morning that her daughter has the virus.  Another wept in thanksgiving over her son’s movement toward well-being.  A senior talked about wishing to go to the store to buy buttons, and the frustration with non-mask-wearers who don’t seem interested in the common good.  Most of us prayed for children and partners and friends and rest.  For a few minutes, the Spirit held the weight of our worries and gave voice to our thanks.  “It’s so good to see you,” said one after another.

On Saturday morning, we had a different kind of church in East Baltimore.  This time a dozen came together from the Johnston Square Community Association, Redeemer, Parks and People, and Troop 35 to clean up an empty lot.  We removed old bushes and pots, cut down a couple of trees, moved a very heavy sign, and created a meandering walkway that folks might use to imagine a new way to be neighbors.  “It’s the beginning of our Miracle Mile!” said BUILD organizer Regina Hammonds.  It was hot, but it felt so good to kindle old relationships and make some new ones.  One community leader prayed, “Open our minds.  Open our hearts.  Open our wounds, O God, that we might one day be well.”

Is worship what we do inside a building, the Hebrew people wondered, 2500 years ago, as they returned from their lonely exile to Jerusalem?  If we can’t gather for feasts and fasts, have we lost our way?  Why is this so hard, they cried aloud, as they confronted their missteps, tried to reconcile their differences, and prayed that God would help them fix the mess.  Sound familiar?  What they were desperate to know was whether God and grace are equal to their hard reality, whether there was strength for the struggles in which daily faith operates.  Can you heal us, God?

God’s answer to them, through the prophet Isaiah, was probably not what they were expecting.   If you want to be well, he says, loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the wanderer. That is true worship, he offered.  (What about this magnificent edifice, you can hear them saying… what about the altar and the trumpets, our liturgy and feasts?  We’ve been in the wilderness, and we want to go back inside.) The prophet goes on, When you do away with the yoke of oppression and spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry, your healing will quickly appear.  If your people will rebuild the ruins of the city, and raise up the old streets and foundations, together you will be called repairers of the breach, healers of the broken places.

They were being called outside, into the streets and into the hearts of strangers and neighbors, and so are we.  It felt just right to worship and work that way this week, to gather together with old friends and new friends and reimagine a new way to be church.  In the courtyard at Redeemer, the Spirit is breathing new life within us.  With our partners at ReBuild Metro in Johnston Square, we are making a way where there was no way.  Construction on new homes has not stopped, and Redeemer has responded to the call with $170,000 from the Covenant fund for affordable housing.  83,888 meals have been served to 2700 people in the last 15 weeks, door to door, and the Covenant Fund has supported that effort, too.  And with every knock, volunteers have asked, “Are you well? Does your family need to be tested? Does your child have access to wifi for school?  Have you lost your job?”  It’s not what we would have expected, but relationships have been built and individuals strengthened through the exile of coronavirus.

Will you be a healer of broken places?  O God, open our minds, open our hearts, open our wounds to the light of your truth, and make us well.

Love,
David

Ahhhh, the things of which we are blissfully unaware and completely ignorant, as children …

As some of you know, I was a “12-year girl” at The Bryn Mawr School, just down the street from Redeemer. My family and I carpooled with a few other families who also lived in Timonium. I remember the daily treks up and down Charles Street; I knew we were getting close to school when we passed by the huge convent at Bellona & Charles.

Depending on buses and public transportation to get to school, or to any place, would not have registered anywhere on my brain, back then. Huh? What? Here in Baltimore?

These days, among the many things I notice and think about as an adult, that I never did as a child, is this very issue: public transportation here in Baltimore. I find myself asking, “What if I had to depend on public transportation, to get to work?” Having now had the experience of traveling to and living in other cities in our country and around the world, I find myself shaking my head at the comparison of what we have — and don’t have — here in my own hometown. And I find myself seeing and registering all the people waiting at the bus stops along Northern Parkway and around town, almost always black.

I cannot not see, anymore.

This past week, two items landed in my inbox. One is an article that helped me to learn and better understand why we are where we are, in terms of public transit here in Baltimore. The other link is about a public petition drive to get a question on the November ballot which, if passed, would create a commission to begin the process of forming a regional transit authority for Baltimore.

I share these links with you below, along with a quotation that also landed in my inbox this week, words spoken at the 1985 United Nations Decade for Women conference by Dr. Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal elder, Gangulu activist, artist and scholar from Queensland, Australia:

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Let us indeed work together so together we may all obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

~Cristina

Charter Amendment – Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition

Segregated and Poor

 

It has been almost one year since The Church of the Redeemer initiated The Center for WellBeing as a part of its’ mission to provide resources and education for both the congregation and the Baltimore community in areas for spiritual, emotional and physical health. David’s vision was to create and expand an innovative program that would build upon the momentum of the Mental Health First Aid Training that had been offered for the last 3 years. He and I were in one accord that we wanted to be very open to areas that generated energy and curiosity from the congregation as well as meet with community leaders to hear of their needs and how The Church of the Redeemer through The Center might respond. In hindsight, that approach has been such a key to our success. We did not limit our thinking or our goals. There is a wonderful quote from an old Spanish Poet: “Walker there is no road, the road is made by walking”. That perspective has mirrored the events of the last year!

So….that ‘road’ has led The Center to the following ‘destinations’:

  • Maintaining a resource table in the narthex for articles of interest to our topics.
  • Meeting with several well-known members of the Johns Hopkins Department of Psychiatry to form relationships that would give us access to their expertise to collaborate on a variety of programs in the future.
  • Meeting with several key people at The Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary to explore future collaborations.
  • Partner with Rabbi Nina Cardin to apply for and receive funding for a teaching program to Jewish ‘adult learners’ focused on pastoral issues. The grant came from the Johns Hopkins Foundation of Spirituality and Medicine.
  • Outreach to several congregations who wanted training for their pastoral care teams.
  • Prior to the pandemic, The Center hosted Mental Health First Aid Training for 4 classes that included both members of the congregation and staff from a number of local nonprofits.
  • Offered group spiritual formation for 6 weeks each to 3 separate groups.
  • Individual spiritual direction is being offered to 12 people, half of whom are Redeemer members and the others are in the discernment process for ordained ministry in the diocese.
  • Cristina has been offering breathing workshops through The Center.
  • Hosted a lay led workshop on death and dying.
  • I have been offering ongoing pastoral support and mental health education via Zoom to Chaplain interns and residents at both Bayview and Johns Hopkins Hospitals.
  • I am part of a planning team at Bayview to host a Substance Abuse Awareness Week this fall.
  • Provided a speaker for Adult Ed on trauma and another one on advance directives/Five Wishes.
  • Initiated a Monday edition of e-Redeemer to provide emotional support during the lockdown.
  • Initiated a Monday afternoon gathering via Zoom for the parish as a way to remain in touch.

On a personal level, what has been thrilling is the freedom to follow where the current interest is for The Center. While the pandemic ‘interrupted’ some plans in the near term, in a way, it also played right into the real need for The Center. You, the congregation, were already so comfortable speaking about issues of mental health and wellness that we could continue the conversation with vigor and truth telling. I am aware of other churches who have been timid speaking about depression, suicide, anxiety, etc.….topics that are so important in the chaos of today’s world.

Another favorite expression is: “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” As we look forward to the 2nd year of The Center, I think that is a good foreshadowing for the future. We will continue to be open to being a resource for the congregation and the community. I welcome your thoughts and reflections as the journey towards our wellbeing continues!

~Caroline

The Rev. Caroline R. Stewart
Executive Director
The Center for WellBeing