Two Years of Saint Hilda's House- The Gifts and Lessons of Loving Community
After two years at Saint Hilda’s House I am starting to do things for the last time. This past Sunday was the last Compline of the year, and no matter how many times I come back to New Haven in the future, this was my last Compline as a Hildan. I was able to do something I had not so secretly wanted to do for a long time; I lay down in the choir and became completely enshrouded in the darkness, smells and sounds of the service. In the coming weeks, I’ll do several more ventures for the last time, saying goodbye to friends, moving out of the rectory, and attending a service at Christ Church for the last time as a Hildan.
I’m doing my best to soak in these experiences to carry with me as I depart. I’ve been in a deep sense of reflection the past week or so, thinking about all the small moments that have made my two years here so formative. Thinking about the absolutely absurd comments and jokes that have brought me to tears of laughter and joy, as well as tears shed in pain and mourning over the hurt that life has thrown at me or housemates. There are conflicts that seem so trivial looking back, someone eating my clearly labeled leftovers, or a “shampoo bandit” using everyone else’s shampoo in the shower but their own. Then some more serious disputes which still make me wince to think about, hurtful words said without apology, and moments where it felt as though someone would have to leave the community for things to feel right. Of course these conflicts only served to make stronger communities in the long run, because it just wouldn’t be fun and entertaining if we all got along all of the time.
Recently I was asked what skills I would take with me from Saint Hilda’s House to my next station in life. I've learned that it doesn’t pay to avoid conflict in community. Somewhere down the road that avoidance will come back tenfold in a situation worse than the original conflict ever would have been. You are not always going to be living in community with the people that conflicts arise with. So even though you aren’t living in a house with them, conflicts should be approached as if you were, and by that I mean, head-on without hesitation. Imagine you have to live with someone you are having issues with, and I promise you will want to get things resolved as soon as possible.
My work at Loaves & Fishes this year has taught me to meet people where they're at, with no preconceived ideas or solutions as it relates to their lives. I might do my best on Saturday mornings to smile and tell people good morning, but I also can’t get upset when someone doesn’t return my friendliness or responds with “what makes today so good?” I have no clue what that person is going through before they enter our pantry, nor can I imagine what they’re having to face once they leave our doors. The only thing I can control is how once they are inside that they are received as a fellow child of God, and it is my duty to treat them as such. Life gives us plenty of opportunity to judge others before we get the chance to truly know them. My work this year has taught me to throw generalizations out the window, and interact with every human being on an individual level, not simply as a group or statistic on a sheet. You might actually be surprised once in a while!
In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer states “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.” With those words in mind, I think the thing I will miss most about living in community is what I and my housemates are doing right now as I write this sentence. We are all in the same room together, but are all on separate couches doing our own thing. We watch television shows together, really good and really bad movies together, share meals and pray together, and there is no pressure or expectations, just being present for one another after long days of hard work. Every morning we pray for the Church and for the World, which seems like such a daunting task! How are six interns supposed to make an impact on a global scale? Those words from Bonhoeffer keep me grounded in the fact that we are doing great things for the Church and the World right here in our living room. By living out SHH’s motto “through the gates and into the city”, we are living out our prayers for the World as we become the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in our community both within the walls of our house, and in the greater New Haven community.
Something that all Hildans immediately notice about Christ Church is the unique smell of the church on a Monday morning after Compline. If there was a particularly large amount of smoke created the previous night, it can be seen still lingering in the rafters through the morning light. My experience at Saint Hilda’s House is a lot like that smoke. Because of the work my housemates have put into loving and supporting me these past two years, I have an abundance of gifts, the most important of which I will never be able to physically touch- but knowing that these experiences will forever reside in my soul is a gift for which I will forever be grateful.
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