If you would have asked me 5 years ago where I'd think I would be today, I never would have said "living in intentional Christian community and working for a beautiful Anglo-Catholic Church in Center City Philadelphia." I was raised Roman Catholic, and while I am grateful for many elements of having been brought up in the Catholic tradition, I unfortunately never saw women in positions of leadership. The Catholic church's misgivings towards women was not only heart-breaking for me to witness, but it was enough for me to find myself no longer attending Mass while I was at university. My faith was still very present, but I had yet to find nourishment from a church community. Jump forward to now, and I find myself sitting in a meeting with the rector and assistant rector (two males), where they turn to me and ask for my input, suggestions, thoughts and genuinely value and appreciate them. The 14 year old Catholic Gabi is still amazed by this... To see how God can make the church the one place I no longer thought could be healing... turns out to be the very place where I have found healing. On most days, you will find me in the office working hard with our Verger, serving at the Altar for weekday Masses, teaching the little ones on Sunday, and baking bread on Saturdays with very cool people and feeding our food insecure neighbors in this beloved city of Philadelphia. I thank God every day for a roof over my head, for daily bread, for the wonderful life-long friendships I have made here, for the inspiring colleagues I get to work with, and for the opportunity to serve God and neighbor in love in this wonderful city of Philadelphia.
I often find that I have a hard time describing exactly what I do at Saint Mark's, because there's just so much. I think that the best way to break it down might be threefold: Worship, Outreach, and Community. With regards to worship, throughout the week I'm privileged to attend and lead the daily office, to serve at the low masses, and on Sunday's & Feast Days, to join in worshipping at the high altar as anything from a Subdeacon to a torchbearer. When not worshipping, I facilitate the church in its mission to reach out and serve those in need by managing the Food Cupboard, collaborating with the Soup Bowl team, and leading or assisting with the planning and executing of the other parish ministries to the needy. And lastly, I take part in the communal life of the church at coffee hour on Sunday, after school with the Boys & Girls Choir, with our children's christian formation classes, at dinner with the 20s/30s, and on a smaller scale, in the Rectory, at dinner, retreats, and all of the other small moments that make up life. All in all, I'd say it isn't half bad.
Place as a concept is elusive to me. I used to believe that we all have an obligation to be mesmerized by places, that just by nature of existing a place demands a certain kind of response from its inhabitants. I have come to believe, however, that this obligatory mesmerization is unfounded. To be mesmerized by a beautiful place committed to beautiful things is one thing but to be mesmerized by others might require turning a blind eye to cruelty. Mesmerization requires nothing of the will- the person is a non-agent, subject to whims. It has been my own sense of naïve willingness to fall in love with new places that led me to believe that a sense of fascination was enough. Enough to fulfill some kind of sociological end.
But, its not.
Place requires cultivation, ie work. And, good work requires the ability to pay attention- real attention- to the nature of things in front of you. Even the places that are stumbled into require this kind of attention. This is what Servant Year invites you into: a place, found or stumbled into, that demands a good deal of attention in order to cultivate it.
When I started my time with Servant Year, I was in a deep state of disillusionment. The beautiful world I had been promised through my studies at college was nothing like the corporate world I entered into. The reality I inhabited slowly pecked away at my mind’s boundaries until a sturdy sense of disenchantment permeated my theological and vocational imagination.
At this time, I was deeply committed to Saint Mark’s Church in Center City, Philadelphia. It was really the only place that my heart felt at home in those days. I remember telling someone on the phone that every time I walked outside the doors it felt wrong somehow. Wrong because I wanted to stay. Wrong, because it was there that I knew myself as a person placed.
When I learned that a Servant Year placement could be an option for me there, I was hit by a feeling I had felt before…that I had no choice but to do it. You probably know the feeling I am talking about, the one where your stomach drops and a surge of activity occurs in your brain- the feeling of waking up to your own desires, or perhaps remembering for the first time in a long time that you even have desires.
So, I guess the most accurate way to describe the beginning of my journey with Servant Year is to say that I entered with a deep longing for something other, an intense need for community, and a desire to know myself as someone deeply placed.
Current Placement: St. James School