Saint Hilda's House

through the gates and into the city

Filtering by Tag: Service

The Friends of Saint Hilda: A Community of Evangelical Peace

Back in January, I sat down with the Saint Hilda’s House residents and asked them how they wanted to spend the next six months together. I expected a list of activities: hosting dinners, going camping, visiting New York City, etc.…. Instead, they said they wanted to keep developing new ways to serve together as a community. Of course, they are each already serving in their non-profit worksites and doing wonderful things, but there is something more they want to share together. The experience they desire is one of serving as part of something bigger.  To use the words of St. Hilda herself, they want to serve as part of a community bound together by a commitment to evangelical peace. 

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Love Working in the Lives of Homeless Women

By Shancia Jarrett

For more of Shancia's writing, check out the St. Hilda's House Winter Quarterly.


Jesus the Homeless, sculpted by Timothy Schmalz (source:  Huffington Post )

Jesus the Homeless, sculpted by Timothy Schmalz (source: Huffington Post)

Serving the community: what on earth does that mean!?!?  I guess it’s the commitment that we Hildans make to be conduits for those in need; conduits of the services of Christ and His Church.  

Whether we can be these conduits, though, is only proven in our ability to walk for Christ. This walk for Christ, as I call it, literally means an active process of human mobility. Every week, Monday to Thursday, I walk to CareWays, a homeless shelter for women and children, in order to serve as both an administrative assistant and a motivational figure.  I obviously want to encourage the women with the Truths of the Gospels, but I’m also conscious that calling directly upon the Name of Jesus can be a problematic thing to do, for many reasons.

Nevertheless, through personal prayers and house meetings, I seek to utilize one of the fundamental pillars of Christianity in my work at CareWays: love. In addition to honoring God, Christ remained us that we must love our neighbors for it is right to do. Even when they drink our milk, steal our parking spots, and ignore our morning greetings.  We must strive to love them unconditionally, with a love which can only be found in the mercy and compassion of Our Lord (after all: God is Love).

As such, I begin my house meetings with this phrase, “It’s great to receive and give love! How many of you love yourself, today?”  Sometimes the women respond, “of course, I love myself!”

I reply, “Good nice, you love yourself and yourself only. What are about your children?” They say, “You know we love our children.”

Calmly, I then say, “Okay, so you love your children and yourself. Interesting… but what about the people you meet, especially within this shelter? We live as a family; we share a kitchen, a living room, a laundry room, and a computer room. What about those you cross paths with daily? Life is greater than what we see and possess. If we live for ourselves and just our children, our love becomes limited. There is only one source of love existing in your life and it’s the love you share with your children. Yet, if we love each other in an honorable manner, we share an unlimited source of love. Instead of one source of love, we have ten families living in love and unity. I feel much more at ease knowing that I have nine people loving me rather than just one person. Think about that…”

Some of the women laugh, smile, and reflect on my opening. Some even say, “Shancia! You always say things like this…” [It’s true!]

I love these women, I see Christ in their testimonies. At times, others tell me to be cautious and distance myself from the needs of the women.  Professionalism, however, is not counter to compassion: I affirm that I take a professional tone at all times, even as I speak about love. Most importantly, I refrain from being a verifier: I allow the Holy Spirit, to do its job! Instead, I pray for wisdom and grace to serve the needs of the women. If I assumed a role of verifier or enabler, then I myself will be a judger of the brethren and that I am not (for it is written that Jesus Christ alone is the judge of men (2 Timothy 4)).

The fact remains, however, that these women are homeless, and love is their last resort. With my heart, I desire for these women to commune with each other in grace and peace, for I know that they have already received a beating from this world and those in it.  Their testimonies remind me of my unmerited favor in Christ to have a supportive family, a fruitful internship with Christ Church, and an active relationship with God.

I pray that they knew how much I care and love them. Daily, I pray for their increase in strength, joy, prosperity, health, faith, and love as God moves in their lives (and I would ask that anyone reading this prays for them too).  For I believe that He is there, even (especially) in our hardships.  He will never forsake us, for we are His. Born of His breath and formed in His image, we belong to the Lord. It feels wonderful to know that we belong to the Almighty. When I draw into these intimate moments of reflection, especially as I witness the power of God in the lives of others, it brings me to tears of joy. Yes: we must find joy in the lives of the homeless, those stricken with poverty. For in their fears of financial instability, God makes a way. It may not be what we envision such as the immediate needs of providing housing and monetary provisions.  All the same, God gives us compassion, faith, and strength to love; God gave me compassion, faith, and strength to love. Faithfully, then, I try to serve these women in  that love by being an accommodating but challenging motivator.

Below is a piece of prose inspired by the women of CareWays.  During a house meeting, I asked the women to reflect on their contributions to this world. None of their contributions could be defined in monetary provisions and other material needs; but this didn’t mean that they hadn’t contributed anything.

Women who Care

This moment begins with me.

Life is about me: my relationships and my reflections.

Every day, I witness the present world and envision the great things in which I contribute to this world.

For I am a person, a friend, a dreamer, a believer, a worker, and a mother living in this very space.

In this space, I share me with you today, my feelings and my ambitions.

Henceforth, let this moment only begin with me.

By knowing me, I discovered that motivation and empowerment derives from me, my willingness to believe and to live in the power of my dreams.

In the midst of my fears, I possess power.

The power of life- that compassionate power to make a change, a difference to live in and for the Greater LOVE within me….

So today and every day, I smile and send my love to all those who witness me.

For there is changing power so beautiful and compassionate moving within me and…

I rejoice in this very day.

Written by Shancia Jarrett

Inspired by the Women of CareWays, December 2014

This prose is posted on the all CareWays bulletins and recited at each house meeting. I must admit I read it to myself at times for encouragement. We will begin a writing club, once a month.  This is just one way I hope the women of CareWays will be able to see how much they have to give to the world.

You can support CareWays here.

Listening to Sara Miles: A Talk at YDS

One of the major benefits of living at Saint Hilda’s House is our connection to Yale Divinity School.  Each week, the Berkeley Divinity School invites us to their Wednesday Eucharist and community meal.  Along with this weekly fellowship, we are always welcome to attend talks and presentations at the school.  

Will with Sara.

Will with Sara.

Because of this connection, on Tuesday a housemate and I were able to hear one of my favorite authors, Sara Miles give a talk on her book, “Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion” (it's the yearly all-school book, so all students, staff, and faculty at YDS received copies).  It was an amazing discussion, and her visit touched on more than just food: it also connected to the Divinity School’s theme of “Building Sustainable Communities” (which makes sense: she's also the author of 'Jesus Freak: Feeding- Healing- Raising the Dead' and 'City of God: Faith in the Streets', as well as the founder and director of The Food Pantry and Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco).  

To give an idea of what I mean by this, and how the talk connected to my work in New Haven, here's a short excerpt from 'Take This Bread':

“One early, cloudy morning when I was forty-six, I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine. A routine Sunday activity for tens of millions of Americans — except that up until that moment I'd led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion, more often appalled by its fundamentalist crusades. This was my first communion. It changed everything. 

Eating Jesus, as I did that day to my great astonishment, led me against all my expectations to a faith I'd scorned and work I'd never imagined. The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic wafer at all, but actual food — indeed, the bread of life. In that shocking moment of communion, filled with a deep desire to reach for and become part of a body, I realized what I'd been doing with my life all along was what I was meant to do: feed people. 

And so I did. I took communion, I passed the bread to others, and then I kept going, compelled to find new ways to share what I'd experienced. I started a food pantry and gave away literally tons of fruit and vegetables and cereal around the same altar where I'd first received the body of Christ. I organized new pantries all over my city to provide hundreds and hundreds of hungry families with free groceries each week. Without committees or meetings or even an official telephone number, I recruited scores of volunteers and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The cover of Sara's book 'Take This Bread'.

The cover of Sara's book 'Take This Bread'.

Needless to say, my work at Loaves and Fishes this year has given me a lot of reference points to relate to what Ms. Miles says.  It was a completely different experience to hear her speak in person, however, and to hear what thoughts she is struggling with currently.  They certainly provoked me in new ways.

For example, one central point she brought up this week was the fact that eating higher quality food does not make someone a good person.  An image that kept coming up in my mind was one of Jesus being present at all meals.  Jesus is there with the person who goes out of their way to eat an organic kale salad with quinoa, Jesus is there with the house of service corps members eating macaroni and cheese with hotdogs because they’re excited that the housemate who said they couldn’t cook has finally made a dinner, and Jesus is there with the family who chooses to eat McDonalds regularly because its cheap and the kids will eat it.  

She ended her talk with the words of the patron saint of her home parish Gregory of Nyssa, and I don’t think I could sum up my thoughts on the topic any better.

“So we say to God: Give us bread. Not delicacies or riches, nor magnificent purple robes, golden ornaments, and precious stones, or silver dishes. Nor do we ask Him for landed estates, or military commands, or political leadership. We pray neither for herds of horses and oxen or other cattle in great numbers, nor for a host of slaves. We do not say, give us a prominent position in assemblies or monuments and statues raised to us, nor silken robes and musicians at meals, nor any other thing by which the soul is estranged from the thought of God and higher things; no—but only bread! . . .

“But you go on business to the Indies and venture out upon strange seas; you go on a voyage every year only to bring back flavourings for your food, without realizing that it is above all a good conscience which makes the bread tasty because it is eaten in justice.

“‘Give Thou bread’—that is to say, let me have food through just labor. For, if God is justice, anyone who procures food for themselves through covetousness cannot have his bread from God. You are the master of your prayer if your abundance does not come from another’s property and is not the result of somebody else’s tears; if no one is hungry or distressed because you are fully satisfied. For the bread of God is, above all, the fruit of justice.”

Serving With Self Doubt: Sermon

By Megan McDermott

And here we have Megan's sermon from Sunday, in which she explores how we continue to serve in the context of self-doubt.  Enjoy!

“A voice says, 'Cry out!' And I said, 'What shall I cry?'”  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

Megan getting into the spirit of preaching....

Megan getting into the spirit of preaching....

Who am I, that I should dare to cry out? Who am I, that I should dare to even try to act as a messenger of God's word?  These are the questions that arose for me when I first began contemplating today's texts. 

In the passage from Isaiah, we are told  that “people are grass,” that we wither, that we're inconstant, and that, many times, we need to ask what it is that we should be crying out, even in those rare moments when we recognize a voice instructing us to speak up. I don't know about you, but these aren't exactly things that build my confidence. 

These questions were even more relevant for me when I thought about my circumstance today: What can I, a recent college graduate, 22 years old,  have to offer all of you in a sermon? I've asked myself similar questions in other moments of opportunity—such as wondering, the semester I was a leader of a campus Christian group at college, if I could actually be able to mentor other students. That seemed outrageous when I also happened to be a confused 20-year-old. I suspect I am not alone  in being able to easily convince myself that I am too sinful to adequately serve as a messenger of God's word, or that my walk with God is too fragile, unstable, or dull for me to be a positive influence in someone else's. 

The story of John the Baptist, as laid out in this Gospel reading, provides a compelling challenge to the self-doubts that could otherwise silence us.

How so? Well, let's look at John's declaration: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

Here, John the Baptist is stating the distance between who he is and who the Messiah will be—who Christ still is to us now. The Messiah is much more powerful than John the Baptist is, much more glorious, much more worthy of  praise. John the Baptist basically admits that he is only the opening act. The main event, Jesus—that's what really worth the people's excitement.

Perhaps we can find some guidance in this.  The extent to which we are not God, be it because of our powerlessness, our mortality, or the evil in our hearts, is not a reason we should shy away from proclaiming the word of God. That distance can compel us, all the more, to cry out to others about who God is.

Our not-God-ness? This is a starting point for speaking about God. The Gospel of Mark makes this clear. As the passage says, this is “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.”  The beginning is not Christ himself, but a man, a wholly human man, a man who is not divine even if he is a prophet, a man, not-God but being worked through by God, preparing the people for  the one who is coming,  the one who is God. While John the Baptist's particular call as a forerunner to Jesus may not be ours, it is nevertheless true that, for many, the experience of the “good news of Jesus Christ” does not start with Jesus himself—at least to their perception. It can start with someone else, someone just as human as they are, pointing the way. 

Though some of us might want to deflate our callings, not thinking we can claim such a role, others might be tempted in a different direction. “Crying out” can become abut the attention we can attract for ourselves rather than delivering the word of God.

That route would've been quite easy for John the Baptist to take. He's attracting enormous crowds. The people want to buy into his greatness. Though he could easily embrace that, however, he does the opposite.  'You think I'm a big deal?' he says. 'Wait for what's next; for who's next.'

We must walk a tightrope—a thin line between not allowing our sense of self to be so diminished that we feel we can't tackle our callings (even with the grace of God) and not letting our sense of self become so bloated as to lessen our sense of God's greatness. 

We might lean one way or the other, for various reasons. For some of us, factors in life may lend our voice and our life more importance in this culture. Maybe we were raised in supportive homes where our thoughts were valued. Maybe we've been told about our leadership potential. Maybe we have traits that our societies value, like being wealthy or being college-educated. Or maybe we have been told that our voices and lives are worth less than others in the eyes of our society—be it because our gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background,education, or race, as recent events around the country, including in New York City, Ferguson, and Cleveland, remind us.  

How do we address this imbalance?   First, we must acknowledge our own tendencies to shut out certain voices and downplay certain lives, because we are bound to miss out on the presence of God in someone else. We must also be thoughtful as we encourage one another in the task of proclaiming God's word. Are we excessively emphasizing humility to someone whose sense of self and purpose are already beaten down by those around them?  On the other hand, are we inadvertently glorifying a messenger for their skills, charisma, or perceived holiness in a way that distracts both that messenger, and us, from God?  

It is important to think about how we, as a church, nurture one another as messengers of Christ, because the message that we have is valuable. Let's take a look at what that message is. Just from these passages, we learn that it is a message that can comfort, that can be told tenderly, and that it is for all people. It is a message of a God who gently leads us, a God who cares for us like a shepherd, a God who gathers us into his arms and carries us. It is the message of Jesus Christ, who is so much greater and more powerful than even a dynamic prophet like John the Baptist, Jesus Christ who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. It is message of a God who will dwell in us and work in us.  

At a time where many of us have become more aware or are feeling quite acutely the ways in which our society is infected with injustice, prejudice, and violence, we can take comfort in the message that God is, in some ways, so unlike us. God is not like us, people who hurt and dehumanize one another, be that through  conscious or unconscious participation in  broad, systemic injustice or in the particular ways we wound each other in our most intimate relationships. 

Again, I return to these words of John the Baptist:  “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thongs of his sandals.” These words may be ringing particularly true for some of us this week as we enter into reflection about our society and ourselves.

I pray that we do not just sit with these unworthy feelings, allowing them to lull us into inaction. Instead, may they help us overflow with gratitude for the God whose worth is beyond measure and who finds us utterly valuable, though we are very flawed. May our characters and actions be shaped, more and more, by this God who is so unlike us—but may we not wait until we've arrived at some arbitrary standard of being like God or worthy of God to cry out.  May we let those ways in which who we are is so far from who God is  prompt us to proclaim God's greatness and boldly speak the message of God with which we have been entrusted. Let's prayerfully enter, together and as individuals, into that important question: “What shall I cry?”  Amen.

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Helping Loaves and Fishes

By Will Oxford

A question I get quite a bit when telling people about my job at Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry and Clothing Closet is: “What do you guys need more of?”   I think they sometimes expect me to say things like, “More canned veggies” or, “we could really use some tuna.” But, when I'm being really honest, I make sure and say that we could always use money.  Don't get me wrong: we are always happy to receive boxes of canned food, crates full of fresh produce, and bags of clothes for our clothing closet. These things are without a doubt going to impact the lives of our guests who come in every Saturday.  The thing about money is that we can use it to get things that people might not consider a food pantry having to deal with.  For example, we need it to order paper goods for our hospitality table, which serves over 300 guests a week coffee and something sweet before they get in line for their bag; we need it to make sure the undercroft where we feed our guests each week is safe and warm; and we need it to make much needed changes to our physical pantry, so that we can accommodate our rising number of guests each month.  You might be thinking, “That’s great and all, but I’m not in a place where I can give cash. What can I do?”  Well my friends, for the next 8 days here is how you can help:

We are currently in a competition to receive a $20,000 grant from Wal-Mart.  For us to win the money, we have to be one of the top 75 vote getting pantries out of the 150 competing.  At the time of this post being written we are currently number 42, so not high enough for me to be completely confident just quite yet.  This is where you come in!  

I’ll give you the site to go to in a bit, but before you vote, please make sure you are voting for “Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry and Clothing Closet” in New Haven, CT. Loaves and Fishes seems to be a popular name for food pantries (I wonder why….), so there are a lot in the competition. I’m sure they are all well deserving of your vote, but let me tell you what issues we are facing and how we would spend the money, and hopefully you’ll see how desperately needed this grant is for Loaves & Fishes, New Haven.

We are currently the largest food pantry in New Haven, one of the poorest, hungriest cities in the country.  Our numbers have been growing exponentially since 2012, and they have exploded over the past 6 months.  We served the same number of guests through July of this year as we did the entire year of 2013.  We do not have the storage space currently to hold the amount of produce and meat that are needed each week. This grant would help us purchase a walk-in freezer and fridge which would automatically make our storage capabilities more suited to the current need we face.  We would also use some of these funds to hire a part time chef to come in each week, and prepare a recipe containing the items our guests receive in their weekly bag.  Samples of the recipe would be handed out on Saturdays as well as printed recipe cards in both English and Spanish.

Friends, I urge you to go to every day for the next 8 days and vote for “Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry and Clothing Closet.”  No matter your thoughts on Wal-Mart, know that this grant is going to impact lives in an important way. Thank you for your help and support!

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