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Life Together: The Diomass Intern Program

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Monday, November 29, 2010

The Rewards of Letting Go

Submitted by Sarah Currer on November 27, 2010.

It is always nice to be reminded why what you do is important.

I’m something of a perfectionist and it can be hard for me to let go of a project when I feel like I can do it better. So I was in a tricky position when I found myself with two of my high school students trying to craft a letter in a delicate political climate.

I work with the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC), a group of high school students that works in partnership with Boston Public Schools (BPS) to put the student voice in education reform. I’m always impressed with these students and what they’ve accomplished and the passion and savvy with which they argue. But they are a little rough around the edges, and BSAC always has to be careful about the stance we take because we work within the organization we are trying to change. Recently, BPS has been in a highly publicized fight with the teachers union and the Superintendent has proposed several highly controversial changes to the Boston school system, including closing several schools. In light of these things a newspaper article highly critical of the Superintendent was published.

My job with BSAC is to support the students in their advocacy, and usually this involves setting up meetings, answering emails and researching the current state of affairs. But last Wednesday afternoon it involved me sitting down with this harsh newspaper article, two students, and the instructions to write up some sort of response. I had them read the article themselves without any explanation and then asked them what they thought. Through our discussion we reached the same conclusion that my boss had: the students should personally write the Superintendent. As they put down their initial thoughts I cringed a little internally and had to go do work at another desk to not say anything.

To my surprise, though, as they continued their back and forth on each word, sentence, and paragraph that they typed, the letter got more and more refined. The initial outpouring of sympathy and support, peppered with SAT vocabulary slightly misused and the awkward wordage that can come from English as a second language, was slowly transforming. As I answered their questions and they continued to pour over their work I became really impressed with the document they were producing. Their heartfelt, genuine emotions and unguarded turn of phrase were so much more meaningful than any precise and careful response I could have written, however beautiful my turn of phrase. Letting them take the reins not only gave them a better sense of the difficulties of political relationships and got them more personally invested in their project. It also produced better results! Their letter brought a smile to its recipient’s face and reminded me how powerful it can be to step back and let others speak up.

A Day at Diocesan Convention

Submitted by Cara Mills on November 16th, 2010

On Saturday November 6th the Episcopal diocese of Massachusetts held its annual convention. The entire Life Together Program was invited to attend and participate. Leading up to this day I was unsure of what the convention would consist of and how we, the interns, would play a role. I was excited to see how a diocesan convention was run as well as to see the many priests I work with on a daily basis in a new environment. I accompanied a fellow intern to Lynn the day before the convention to see the space and to prepare for the many tasks the intern program had been asked to kelp with the next day. St. Stephen's in Lynn is a beautiful church with an intricate history and a wealth of character. The church is full of long hallways, many small rooms, and multiple stairwells. As I was shown around the space I learned many details for the day like where the coffee would be served, what rooms lunch would be eaten, and how to direct someone in need to the nursery. I thought to myself, how are 500 hundred people ever going to fit in this building?

Saturday started early and dark. Upon arriving at St. Stephen's in Lynn I was assigned to direct traffic with many of the other Life Together interns. The two large parking lots were empty and the buildings quiet. I smiled at fellow interns across the road as we waved our welcome signs at one another anxiously awaiting the arrival of 500 expected guest. Slowly the cars began turning the corner and quickly the first parking lot was filled. All of us standing in the streets and the sidewalks were jumping and dancing with our signs attempting to stay warm in the cold morning air. Our excitement to see the many guests we had been anticipating all morning was returned through waving hands and friendly hellos out of the car windows. The welcome grew in its joyfulness as more and more priests and lay people filled the sidewalks and doorways. Old friends greeted one another and new introductions were exchanged.

I don't think this excitement faltered all day as the convention progressed. I was especially moved by the convention's acknowledgment of the Life Together program. It meant so much to me to see how deeply we are supported by the diocese. There was so much power in having everyone from the diocese join together that day. It was an inspiration to see how we are all working together for a common goal. Each of the people in the building that day was working to build faith communities and fight injustice in their own way. During the lunch break I witnessed the miracle of 600 people successfully fitting in to that building and sharing a meal together.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Becoming the Future Church

Submitted by Paul Hartge on November 3, 2010

In January, I saw Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah speak at Calvin College, my alma matter, as part of our J-term lecture series. He suggested that the concern over the dwindling church in America is misguided and that Christianity in America has a vibrant future, with ethnic and immigrant churches. I think Professor Rah is right, which is why I am excited about the work that I am doing with Christ Church in Waltham and St. Peter’s Anglican Church of Uganda, in Waltham.

Christ Church is a beautiful Episcopal Church and congregation that has been around for 160 years. St. Peter’s is a Ugandan immigrant congregation that meets at Christ Church on Sunday afternoons. My job is to facilitate more fellowship between Christ Church and St. Peter’s. By bringing these two congregations together, they can both represent what the church can look like in an increasingly globalized world.

This goal will not come without difficulties of course. Even though everyone at St. Peter’s speaks English, they have their service in Lugandan. Also, their parishioners come from a wide, twenty mile radius, so many can only make it to Waltham for Sunday service. There are also, of course, the cultural and theological differences between the two congregations that can at times create tension.

We can overcome these difficulties though. In September, the two congregations had a joint potluck. I will admit no one was quite sure how it would turn out until it actually happened. The lunch, however, was quite successful. Both the Americans and the Ugandans enjoyed trying each other’s food. We also sang “What a Friend I have in Jesus” in both English and Ugandan. We are now looking forward to having an Advent party together and doing a joint Bible study. I am also hearing from members of each congregation that they are interested in learning about the other’s culture. In their own way, Christ Church and St. Peter’s are becoming the future of the Church.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Story of Now: St. Stephen's and the Blackstone School

Submitted by Kyle Boudreau on Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

This year, I am charged with the exciting task of building a stronger connection between The St. Stephen's and the Blackstone Elementary School Communities. The tag line we use at St. Stephen's is "stronger communities = stronger schools," as we hope to make the South End a more desirable place to be by making the Blackstone a school where parents really want to send their children. I know this task is worthwhile because of my belief in the power of community organizing and the great opportunity for positive change at this particular school. The Blackstone Elementary School is one of Boston's "turn-around" schools. This means the school had to hire a new principal, had to require every staff person re-apply for their job, and had to hire at least 50% new staff. As a result, 85% of the staff at the Blackstone is new and teachers were brought in from around the country to invest in this school's children.

The students at the Blackstone are in dire need. On the 2009 MCAS, 88% of 4th graders either failed the MCAS English/Language Arts section or needed improvement. Similarly 84% failed or needed improvement on the math section of the MCAS. These students are falling behind their peers and need the support of the community. St. Stephen's is providing support to the Blackstone community in many ways. In addition to providing an after-school program for 90 elementary-age children, 30 of which come from the Blackstone, St. Stephen's has spearheaded an effort to renovate and reopen the Blackstone's school library and has approximately 10 volunteers serving in the library or in a classroom setting each week. Along with approximately 50 other partners, the South End community is making a strong effort to help the Blackstone improve its MCAS scores and provide an overall better learning environment.

However, there is much more work to be done. The library is still a work in progress and it will be a while before it can lend books out to students. Many of the students at the Blackstone need a mentor and need their parents to get involved in their school. I am making an effort to push for parental involvement in the parent council and I am continuing to look for strong leaders from the St. Stephen's community who can help make this partnership stronger.By empowering the community to make the Blackstone a school that parents really want to send their kids instead of a last resort, I can empower the community to make a stronger, more vibrant South End neighborhood for everyone.