Reflecting on a Youth Mission Trip to Epiphany

Epiphany received the following reflection from Nan Hildebrand, Associate Rector for Children and Youth Christian Formation at St. David’s Episcopal Church following St. David’s Youth Mission Trip to Epiphany.

 

 

Dear Families,

By this time, you all know that I am fond of quoting the spiritual maxims of my mother from my childhood.   In particular, I want to share an incident that is probably somewhat comical in nature.  As a pre-adolescent, I was sort of hanging around my mother and her friends and sort of ease dropping.  It was an interesting conversation, because it was a hilarious turned serious conversation about a man known for his very unrighteous behavior.  I remember, stepping out from behind the curtain, you might say, and saying that he would go to hell.  My mom and her friends, not knowing my whereabouts, looked at me with alarm.  Then, my mother said, “Nancy Jean, that is not for you to decide”.  Oh my, an early lesson about how God and human beings might judge others, particularly, those we might condemn for their sins.

I bring this up, because our Youth Mission Trip to The Church of the Epiphany brought us into a relationship with the homeless people who seek assistance, fellowship, and belonging at The Church of the Epiphany.   All of us know that homeless people are often judged for their situations, but, truly, we met many whose life stories were so sad, it was a wonder that they were standing.  We saw, some who had had extraordinarily bad luck with job loss and high medical debt loads.  We met many who worked full time but were still living on the street. Their wages as day laborers or as minimum wage laborers being insufficient to pay rents and associated costs.  We met people who were clearly mentally ill.  We met a man who volunteered sacrificially for The Welcome Table. He is a resident of St. Elizabeth’s.  He takes a 4:00am bus every Sunday to arrive at Epiphany by 6:00am to take charge of the “intake” process for breakfast.   We also met others who would never be considered a good example for others.  I hesitate to comment further, since no one knows why, how, or what might have brought someone to the brink of disaster, except for the obvious conditions and stories told above.  The picture of homelessness presented to us in educational ways and in “real time” by relating to the homeless was, indeed, complex.

Because we were in a place of relationship, we saw many examples of the homeless community, its strengths, its fissures and its normality.  People knew each other, helped each other, and looked out for each other in a myriad of ways.  At the Church, the interface of the homeless and housed parishioners is different than almost any other community to which I’ve belonged.  The Church of the Epiphany is integrated with homeless and well situated in true community.  Many of the volunteers at The Welcome Table were homeless individuals working alongside their more comfortable parish partners.  The mission was not just a charity and service program; it was community. It was true community without judgment. As my mom said to me in a very direct way, judgment was not for me to decide.  Seeing the partnership between the homeless and the well-situated parishioners of The Church of the Epiphany, we witnessed healing that comes from Christian fellowship as much as from Christian charity.

I truly hope that the fruit of this mission for all of us is to see that people who do not seem like us will always be understood as people first and, always, acknowledged as beloved by the Lord.   Since we learned that the chief cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing and catastrophic medical debt, I pray that we, as a society, will judge the conditions of work and medical care that put people on the street.

I pray also that we, as a society, respond to the needs of the addicted and mentally ill for sufficient treatment and supports that allow people with those challenges to manage living independently and healthfully.   In conclusion, I thank God for the hard work and willingness of our youth and their families in taking the adventurous steps of going to a place of relating to the homeless so that their understanding would deepen and so that they would enter into a deeper understanding of Christian love.  I thank God for the way that St. David’s fosters an environment that allows this kind of challenging mission to exist.

Blessings and Thanksgivings,

Nan+

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