Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2015

In true YAV/A blog fashion this post is pretty late, but I wanted to share a little about my experience in D.C. with the Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteer Program and the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness at Ecumenical Advocacy Days Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation.

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The weekend started and ended in chaos- there were missing reservations, hotel changes, early flights, and a couple hours anxiously waiting on standby. But inbetween I had a wonderful time connecting with old and meeting new YAVA friends and listening to, learning from, and talking with Christians from all over the country who had gathered to be a voice and witness to our elected representatives.

The Presbyterians started with a day of advocacy training. In everyday life and everyday churches it’s hard to be aware of all the amazing things the church does as a denomination, but they were all there: the Presbyterian Mission Agency; Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry; Office of Public Witness; Peacemaking Program; Ministry at the UN; Hunger Program, and I’m sure many others with plenty of acronyms. Did you know the Presbyterian church has an office of immigration issues? I didn’t either until this conference.

As people of faith we need to be aware and fight against exploitation and human rights violations where individuals and whole communities are being oppressed. There were workshops about all different topics about different forms of exploitation, from human trafficking to environmental issues, mass incarceration and returning citizens to education, immigrant family detention to Palestinian occupation, US drug policies, and private prisons. This training day set the tone for the rest of the conference, which was similar but on a much bigger scale.

I am grateful I got to spend time with fellow YAVA sharing stories about our YAV years as well as learning about where they are now. We also met other young people doing faith-based service programs from other denominations, and young people from all over the country who care about social justice and creating a better future. It is refreshing and encouraging to know there are other young Christians who are passionate about the same issues and are doing similar work all over the country. It’s a powerful movement.

The focus of the conference, and of our legislative “asks” during our lobby visits, were mass incarceration and immigration family detention.

The United States incarcerates more people than any other country; we have 5% of the world’s population but we have 25% of the world’s prisoners. There 2.2 million people incarcerated in the US, which is a 500% increase over the past 30 years. One in three young African American men is incarcerated by the criminal justice system in some form, either in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole. This is clearly a crisis in our communities and in our country that we need to address. When we met with our elected officials we asked they to support the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 (S.502/H.920) and the Justice Safetly Valve Act of 2015 (S.353/H.706) that would allow judges to have flexibility and discretion in sentencing. Far too many people are being locked up for far too long; they are not getting the education, support, or mental and physical medical help they need while incarcerated, and have limited resources and job opportunities when they return.

We also asked our representatives to eliminate the bed quota of 34,000 for immigrants and implement alternatives to detention. At all times we (the tax payers) are paying for 34,000 beds to detain undocumented immigrants, whether they are dangerous or a risk or not, which is driving our immigration policies. This means families with young children are being detained in prisons, in many of which human rights abuses and deaths have occurred. Many of these policies are in place due to the lobbying of private prison corporations, who are making a large profit by detaining mothers and their children in extremely under-regulated facilities. Almost 60% of detention beds are in facilities owned by private prisons. This is not how Jesus told us to treat our neighbors, and we believe there are more humane and just alternatives to detention for low-risk individuals.

There were around 16 of us from Iowa participating in lobby day, many of whom are current or retired pastors, including prison chaplains. I am grateful I got to learn form and be a part of such a great group.

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All weekend everyone kept saying that we had the most important meeting– we were going to meet with Senator Grassley himself to discuss mandatory minimums. The Smarter Sentencing bill we were supporting is currently in the Judiciary committee, and he happens to be the chairperson, and he happens to dislike the bill. We ended up meeting with his staff members instead of him, which was disappointing, but we still got to tell our stories and make our voices heard. It was clear that we have different ideological perspectives on the criminal justice system. We agreed changes need to be made, but our explanations that too many young men are being locked up for too long, that families and whole communities are being oppressed because of our drug and immigration policies seemed to fall on deaf ears. They seemed more concerned about locking up all the “bad” people, especially those addicted to drugs, and weren’t concerned about their stories or experiences and had no compassion for families and young children being detained in private prisons. But for about 30 minutes they had to listen to us, and with all of the letters we send and petitions we sign we won’t let them forget.

I am incredibly grateful I got to participate in the conference and lobby day to to be a part of this faith and justice movement.

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Presbyterian Women at the UN

I am no longer a YAV, but I have decided to continue using my Boston YAV blog to share my experience of being a young adult in the church. Last week I had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the Presbyterian Church (USA) delegation to the United Nations 59th Commission on the Status of Women in New York City.

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United Nations Headquarters NYC

What is the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)?

According to UN Women‘s website, the CSW “is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.” It is a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which means official UN business is taking place in the building– including speeches from the UN General-Secretary and other leaders. While all of those meetings are going on, the NGO-Forum is also meeting, so non-governmental organizations are hosting panel discussions, workshops, and other events all related to women’s empowerment. These groups include faith-based organizations, UN Women groups in various countries, topic-based focus groups, etc. This particular Commission on the Status of Women is reviewing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was adopted in 1995 by the 4th World Conference on Women, that affirms the fundamental human rights of women and girls. (It’s when Hilary Clinton made her famous speech that “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.”) Even though the UN declared that women are entitled to equality in public and private spheres, leadership and decision-making roles, healthcare, and education, no country has reached gender equity. So this year’s CSW’s theme is to review that declaration and action plan from twenty years ago, measure the progress we’ve made, and plan for where we need to go.

Worship

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The Presbyterian Church is part of Ecumenical Women, an international coalition of Christian denominations and organizations. We had a full day of orientation as a group before the commission started, and we started each day with worship together. It was great to feel a part of a much-larger network of Christian women who are praying and advocating for gender justice. We came together as Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists, Salvationists, Methodists, and many others, from all over the world speaking many different languages to worship God, pray, and share our stories. Worship was early (8am every day), and even though we weren’t quite awake yet, I could always feel the Spirit as we sang together and listened to Scripture being read. One of my favorite moments during worship was we all said the Lord’s Prayer in our native language– it was a beautiful and powerful sound.

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Another was when we sang “We are Marching in the Light of God” while people waving flags from all over the world marched around the chapel.

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A group from the Presbyterian delegation worshiped together at Forest Hills Presbyterian Church.

Community

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Just as community is an important aspect of the YAV program, I found a sense of community with the other young adults in the delegation. We spent time together debriefing every night, as well as ended up spending most meals and lots of free time together. We were from all over the country- Washington state to New England, Arizona to Virginia, and plenty in-between. We shared what we learned, discussed our struggles and theological truths, and shared our joys and doubts. I am thankful God put all of us together last week.

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My roommate for the week, Steph, and I at the UN.

That sense of community, solidarity, and sisterhood was part of the entire CSW. Everyone referred to each other, new friends and old, as sisters, and it was amazing to hear women from places like Norway, Barbados, Nigeria, Malaysia, and Ireland share their stories and work together. We also discussed how this idea of global sisterhood where we all get along and everything is great is problematic and not realistic– feminism has it’s problems and exclusions. But the only way to get better is to recognize, discuss, and work through problems together.

One way we came together as a community was the International Women’s Day March through NYC on Sunday March 8th.

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Thousands of people came together to march for gender justice in solidarity and sisterhood with people from all over the world. The first International Women’s Day was a march for better pay and voting rights in 1908; we are aware of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.

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Hope

Each day during the week I attended 2-4 NGO panel discussions about various topics involving gender justice. I listened to experts, activists, faith leaders, and women sharing their experiences and truth. Some of the stories were really hard to hear. I attended events about the exploitation of migrant and trafficked women; the oppression of the Palestinian people; how millions of people are displaced in Iraq with families living in refugee camps; women suffering from domestic violence in Egypt; women being raped and tortured in South Africa; gendercide in India; and how energy companies are destroying natural resources and exploiting poor communities.

I also heard stories about how labor unions are organizing around and advocating for migrant women; how European countries are fighting prostitution and human trafficking; that women are demonstrating for peace in Israel and Palestine; a woman Member of Parliament who was exiled from Iraq is now back in Parliament advocating for women’s rights; about Muslim women who are peace activists in Egypt; and women from the US, Nigeria, India and Kenya coming together to fight for environmental justice.

Several panel discussions I attended were about how faith communities need to speak out against violence against women, as well as sexual and reproductive health. When it comes to the church being silent about domestic violence, “what we permit, we promote.” Religion has been, and still is, a powerful tool to sustain violence; it is also a powerful tool to end violence if we talk about it from the pulpit and refuse to accept it in our congregations.

It was a full and moving week. I came away inspired by the work and passion of women from all over the world, as well as overwhelmed with how connected the world is, how complicated our problems are, and how ignorant and uniformed I am of their complexities. I am grateful for this opportunity to truly listen and learn. The delegations at the CSW are from all over the world, bringing with them different cultures, languages, religions, and political perspectives, and the beauty is that we are able to come together to say “women’s lives matter,” to protect women and girls, and to love each other.

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Living Life Together

Today is the last day of work for the 2013-2014 Boston YAVs. Tomorrow is our last day in Boston together, and on Friday we officially move out of the house. Surreal is an accurate description. I have been waiting for this day for a very long time for several reasons, and I have been dreading it as well. This year has gone by so fast, some parts have dragged on, it’s been one of the hardest and loneliest times in my life, and I’ve made the fastest and deepest connections with 3 people who were strangers a year ago.

The hardest part about leaving Boston is saying goodbye to the other 3 volunteers who I have been living in intentional community with this year.

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Kathleen and I were friends on facebook for a couple weeks before coming to Boston, so even though I hadn’t met her I felt like I knew her. When she posted about listening to Prairie Home Companion on NPR after church on Sunday I knew without a doubt that we would get along. Turns out we both have a particular inclination (read obsession) for cheese. Sometimes we just sit around the kitchen and talk about much we like to eat it; we’ve decided cheese is our love language. Kathleen has a secret power we call “tastpertise,” she always knows what a dish needs or what a recipe is lacking to make it taste delicious. She has been my go-to guru for cooking new dishes, what to compost or recycle, what beers are worth trying, and how to grow any and all vegetables. This year Kathleen has been working with Hartford St. Presbyterian Church in Natick as well as A Place to Turn, a choice food pantry. She works with their clients, stocks and reorganizes the food, and helps with outreach and fundraising campaigns. The goal is to start a community garden between the church and the food pantry to help supply fresh produce.

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I met Audrey at the airport before orientation. All I knew about her before was that she was an English major in college and had just spent a year in China teaching. Right away we realized that even though we don’t think we look that much alike, people get the brown hair, pale skin, and especially when we both wear glasses, confused. We have both been called each other’s name and have been asked if we’re sisters on a regular basis. Audrey and I have bonded over being English major nerds and can talk for hours about feminism, pop culture, Jane Austen, and theology. She was especially interested in the intentional Christian community aspect of the program and is a strong supporter of the idea, and we have all learned from her about honesty and conflict resolution. Audrey has been working with the Church of the Covenant in Boston and the Women’s Lunch Place, a day shelter for women experiencing homelessness or poverty, which is in the church’s basement. WLP has an amazing meals program, they serve 2 delicious and healthy meals every day of the year except Sundays. Audrey has been working to get more sustainable and local sourcing for the food as well as empowering their guests through teaching nutrition classes and encouraging them to shop at farmers markets.

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Alex and I met when he came into my room at orientation and said, “Oh they have you in here, too?” After a few awkward minutes we realized even though we were going to be living together and the YAV program is pretty progressive they’re not that progressive. It turns out the guy at the front desk messed up one number in my room assignment, and Alex helped me move rooms. Our relationship has remained just as wacky and ridiculous. Left to our own devices we turn everything into an adventure and make it as complicated and difficult as possible. We manage to fight even when we’re trying to agree with each other, and once had a whole conversation about a book we liked and then realized we were both talking about two different books. This year Alex worked with the Burlington Presbyterian Church as a drop-site for Farmer Dave’s CSA and the Boston Faith and Justice Network. The BFJN teaches economic discipleship, simple living for generous giving as a way to follow Jesus with our whole lives, even our money. I taught their Lazarus at the Gate curriculum at my church and it really opened our eyes to global poverty, how our culture defines having “enough,” and how to really live justly.

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God has blessed me with these wonderful people to live with. But that doesn’t mean community life is always easy. We still get into disagreements about eating breakfast together, leaving dishes around the house, not cleaning up the kitchen after cooking, and all those little quirks that get on people’s nerves. But we have all committed to dealing with these issues, having the long, uncomfortable conversations late into the night, getting up to have breakfast together on Mondays and Tuesdays even when we don’t want to, being vulnerable with each other and trusting each other to be accepting and loving, and forgiving when we hurt one another. We have all learned, and are still learning, when to put the community before our personal wants and dislikes as well as when to stand up for ourselves, and that our opinions and feelings are always valid.

We have been taking turns leading devotions every Tuesday, and we have shared and struggled through our theological truths together. By listening to their faith backgrounds, doubts, beliefs, and views of God have helped me think about mine. We each have pieces of the puzzle that we can only learn from each other, and by sharing our love for Jesus and passion for social justice we get a little closer to how God wants us to live in Christian community.

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A Year in Food

Food has taken over my life this year… which probably shouldn’t be a surprise as part of the food justice league. I can now cook things I had never even heard of before, as well as things I didn’t like to eat before this year. I have spent hours upon hours in the kitchen with my housemates. We’re part crunchy hippie foodies and part food snobs. We can spend a long time (much more than is socially appropriate) at dinner just talking about the food we’re currently eating.

This year I’ve learned that food is personal, social, cultural, psychological, emotional, a great equalizer, and one of the greatest forms of injustice. It can also be fun, taste amazing, and look cool.

To celebrate all that I have learned to cook, eat, and appreciate I thought I would create a food blog to show you all our food! Get ready for a lot of pictures.

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During the first half of the year we spent a lot time cooking from scratch, including hand rolling and cutting pasta.

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Later in the year we were able to buy store pasta, which saved us about an hour of cooking time each night. This is a pretty standard dinner- some kind of carb/grain (in this case pasta salad), some vegetable/salad, and some protein (we eat meat about once or twice a week.)

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One of my favorite things to make now is cheese sauce. It makes even store-bought pasta feel fancy! Roasted root vegetables were pretty much a nightly occurrence during the winter months.

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We learned pretty early on that tomatoes sauteed in some butter, salt, and garlic tossed with green beans is delicious, and decided to add corn to the mix for this meal. Standard greens and veggie salad, roasted chicken, and homemade bread.

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Something we tried to make a few times but never quite got the hang of was soup. We made a lot of kale and potato/other veggie with a chicken broth base, but never found the secret to making soup. We did, however, make a ton of our own chicken stock.

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Mexican for dinner! We all love chips and salsa, and when my housemate with a dairy allergy is gone we take advantage of the situation and cover everything in cheese. (Sorry Audrey.)

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We’re big fans of stir fry.

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Eggplant parmesan (or whatever kind of cheese we happen to have in the fridge) has become a specialty.

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As it gets warmer we want our food to get cooler. Cold cous cous or quinoa salad with cold cucumber salad goes great with some delicious bbq chicken!

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This dinner was pretty exciting. We weren’t sure what to do with the venison steak in our freezer, but after some time on the internet we created a spicy venison with broccoli pasta dish. It was delicious!

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After our meat CSA ended we decided to get our protein in the form of fish from the farmers market. This dinner also featured some local cherry tomatoes and homemade bread.

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Homemade turkey meatballs in a ketchup and beer sauce, artichoke and greens yogurt dip, and cous cous with beets (or as we referred to it, “beets and buttah.”)

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This dinner we didn’t actually make (we were over at a board member’s house) but it was too delicious not to include– grilled chicken, beets and carrots roasted with maple syrup, sauteed veggies, and a green salad with feta cheese.

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I have been lucky for the past couple of years to live with people who like to bake and/or work at a bakery, and this year is no exception. Fellow YAV Audrey is our resident baker and fruit pies are one of her specialties. Yum!

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This was our attempt at orange duck. It turned out fine (we had to research the differences between roasting a duck and a chicken, which we are much more accustomed to. Apparently there’s a lot.) I decided I will definitely eat duck again, but am not exactly thrilled about the idea of cooking it again.

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This is a pretty special meal. As a fundraiser for the Boston YAV program we hosted a farm to table dinner and cooking class featuring local food. It included an heirloom bean, greens, and eggplant summer stew on top of creamy polenta, wild greens salad, wheat berry salad, squash fries, and blueberry chipotle ketchup (I was in charge of the fries and ketchup.) To top it off we had a lemon pudding cake with blueberry sauce for dessert.

Thanks for checking out the food blog. I am now in the habit of taking pictures of each dinner before we eat, so there may be a part two. If you would like any of the recipes just let me know, and feel free to comment with your signature dish!

 

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Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program

One of the projects that my church has been involved with this year is the Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program. I met the founder, Alanna, at a screening of A Place at the Table documentary at the Cambridge library just a couple weeks after moving to Boston. When I learned about the weekend backpack program I thought it would be something the church would be interested in. It wasn’t something that I had planned, or really had much to do with at all. Once I made the connection things started to happen and all I had to do was step back and watch ministry happen.

The idea behind the program is pretty simple and is taking place all over the country. Children in public schools who are on free/reduced breakfast and lunch don’t have a lot (or in some cases any) food at home. So they are hungry on the weekends and show up for school the next week hungry, tired, and can’t focus. Teachers and counselors are fully aware of the students who are hungry and so the program works with the schools to identify students who would benefit from the program, but sends out applications to the entire school. Once kids are signed up for the program they start receiving a bag of food, enough for 2 breakfasts and 2 lunches, each Friday. In the elementary schools the bags are placed in the kids’ backpacks while they are out of the classroom doing another activity, decreasing the stigma for those who receive the food.

This simple idea has had some major effects- students are more attentive, have better attendance (especially on Fridays when tests are taken and homework is given), and parents are more involved.

I connected Alanna with a few retired teachers from my church and they took it from there. We have done a couple food drives during the year to collect things like shelf-stable individual cartons of milk and applesauce containers to help supplement the food the program has to buy. Every week a couple women get together Friday morning to sort and pack bags of food and then deliver boxes to the schools before they start. At the end of last school year they were providing food for 150 students in 6 of the public schools in Cambridge, and they plan to expand the program this coming fall and eventually be in all 12 schools in Cambridge.

I am really grateful that I met Alanna. When she isn’t busy working her normal job in the mayor’s office or being a mom with her family, she is writing grants and fundraising for the weekend backpack program, talking with local businesses and food service providers, and working with other volunteers. This summer she helped start the “book-bike” that traveled to all of the locations where low-income children can eat lunch during the summer. Alanna came to speak at my church to thank them for their support and explain how the program started. She heard about a weekend backpack program in another state, looked around Cambridge and saw a need, and then did something about it. It was great for them to hear about the good work being done in community and how vital their help is.

Thanks to Alanna and the weekend backpack program and First United Presbyterian there are less hungry children in Cambridge.

If you’re interested in learning how to start your own weekend backpack program check out this website.

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Earthworks Urban Farm

It’s been a couple of weeks since General Assembly but I still have a couple more thoughts and stories to share, and then I’ll move on to my last month in Boston (which is still blowing my mind!)

Part of the deal in going to Detroit was that we would volunteer doing something food-justice related, similar to the experiences we have had here working in shelters, food pantries, farms, etc. We were looking forward to branching out of the New England food circle and see first-hand what’s going on in Detroit.

But first, some background. Boston is a really interesting place, for many reasons, especially because it is so young and culturally diverse. For example, when walking around Harvard Square or getting on the train in Cambridge it is normal to hear more languages I don’t understand than English. They are extremely liberal, progressive, eco- and bike-friendly, and a foodie town, which has been a fun change of pace from south Georgia. But somewhere in there they have concluded that they’re above any -isms, such as racism, classism, sexism, etc. Living in this post-racial society and thinking this kind of discrimination is other people’s problems only found in other places or in the past is just perpetuating the problems that are alive and well right here, build into the social fabric. However it is clear that in the U.S. race is a factor in hunger and poverty, and being aware of a problem doesn’t make it go away, but it’s the only way to start working on it.

  • Latino households are more than twice as likely to be food insecure as white, non-Hispanic households and poverty rates for Hispanics are nearly triple that of non-Hispanic Whites (Feeding America).
  • 14.5 percent of U.S. households struggle to put enough food on the table. More than 48 million Americans—including 15.9 million children—live in these households. Half of all American children will receive SNAP benefits at some point before age 20; 90 percent of African-American children will enroll in SNAP before age 20 (Bread for the World).
  • For African American seniors, the risk of hunger rate was 17.2% and the rates for Hispanic seniors were 18.2% compared to 15.2% nationally (National Foundation to End Senior Hunger).
  • The 2010 poverty rate was 15.1 percent, up from 12.5 percent in 1997. The poverty rate for Hispanics was 26.6 percent, for Blacks 27.4 percent (World Hunger Education Service).

Detroit seemed to be much more aware of their problems, or at least the racism and classism was more visible. From the crumbling neighborhoods to the fact that we were usually the only white people on public transportation (when the bus actually showed up, which was rare) we knew this would be a different experience.

So in the middle of the week during GA the Boston YAVs took a break from committee meetings and Robert’s Rules of Order to do what we do best– volunteer and get our hands dirty. We showed up at Earthworks Urban Farm, who supplies fresh and local produce to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen; they help provide food for 28 meals a week at two shelters. We joined a group of about 12 people and walked a few blocks to one of their fields, in the middle of overgrown lots, burned outer shells of houses that had been abandoned a long time ago, and streets with more potholes than smooth asphalt.

We were, again, in the minority and strangers to the group, but that didn’t matter. They didn’t care that we were four privileged, college-educated, white kids with grand ideas of calling and purpose to change the world. Or even that we’ve dedicated our lives to learning and serving this year. They wanted to know if we could harvest kale and chard and put us to work.

Most of the farmers we have met and worked with so far were pretty independent and solitary, verging on socially awkward. These folks were anything but, and the community felt among the workers was apparent and infectious. We were chatting and laughing like old friends before we left.

earthworks detroitMy favorite moment was when a few other volunteers and I were harvesting sugar snap peas (and maybe snacking on a few.) Once we picked a handful of peas we would hand them over the row of plants to a man waiting who would then put them in the collection bucket. I thought this is the image of urban farming- young, white females working alongside a large, tattooed black man. Diversity in action! He then asked where we were from and we told him right now we’re from Boston. His immediate reaction-

“Boston?! They don’t like black people!”

We just stood there for a moment, eyes wide I’m sure. What is the politically correct response in this situation, to a complete stranger? Without really thinking I said “Yeah, and they don’t think they have a race problem.” He agreed “Yep, and that’s the worst kind” and that was that. We went on to talk about other things and he joked about Kentucky’s grass being blue.

Not only was it great to take a break from sitting in COBO, bur working with Earthworks gave us the opportunity to witness and add our small efforts to the beautiful rebuilding and growing of Detroit.

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Fellow YAVs Kathleen, Audrey, and I in the midst of the pea plant jungle.

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Social Justice, Pastoral Care, and Ethical Investments

The Boston Food Justice Young Adult Volunteers were sent to the 221st General Assembly in Detroit to experience change at a denominational level and to specifically follow three food-related overtures (like bills sent to Congress) in committee meetings to the plenary floor (where all of the delegates vote.) In the social justice committee we were following “On Food Sovereignty for All” from the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and “Affirming the Importance of Maternal and Child Nutrition over 1,000 Days” from the Presbytery of National Capital, and in the environmental and immigration committee “On Affirming the Importance of Sustainable Development and the Precautionary Principle” from the Presbytery of Southern New England.

I was especially excited about the maternal and child nutrition and the First 1,000 Days— this is the time between the start of the mother’s pregnancy and the child’s second birthday. The critical cognitive and physical development that happens during this time can never be made up if either mother or child experience malnutrition. The overture passed unanimously in committee. Bread for the World has been a strong partner and supporter in this effort, and it was great to see the Presbyterian church join in this work.

The other overtures were also uncontroversial and passed fairly easily in committee (there was some weird discussion and uncertainty about the term “sustainable development,” which was a good reminder that not everyone is living and breathing food justice) which gave us time to check out other committees as well as the exhibit hall and other cool events. We knew marriage equality and Middle East divestment were the two big controversial issues going in and fossil fuel divestment also ended up being a hot topic.

The marriage equality committee meeting was packed– standing and sitting on the floor room only– and emotional and sensitive, yet not hysterical or destructive. After much discussion the committee and plenary voted to allow (but not force) pastors to officiate same-sex marriages in states where its legal and to change the Book of Order’s definition of marriage (this is part of our constitution– a very big deal.) The second change has to be ratified by a majority of presbyteries, but this decision was not made lightly. The argument was framed as a pastoral care crisis– that pastors are not able to serve all of their congregants in wedding ceremonies instead of an equality and justice issue. This topic is also not new, and has been discussed at GA since way before I was born.

It was a great feeling to be there when the vote was decided and our church got a little bit closer to being how church should be– just and open to all.

more light scarvesFellow YAV Kathleen and I supporting full inclusion in the church.

 We didn’t have time to sit in on the Middle East committee (and to be honest I wasn’t sure I wanted to), but did listen to debate on the plenary floor about divesting from three American companies who are assisting in human rights violations against the Palestinians.

This was the most divisive issue, and one that didn’t follow typical party or ideological lines. The challenge was daunting– how can we possibly start to join in the conversation about peace and resolution in the Holy Land, and at the same time how can we witness oppression and poverty and stay silent. We are called to be in the middle of difficult and uncomfortable conversations. Questions of how to show love, support, and nonviolence for both sides was a constant theme, as well as terms like two-state solution and threats of anti-Semitism. It was intense.

For better or for worse, instead of the discussion really being about Israel and Palestine the question was about what the Presbyterian church should ethically invest in. My thoughts on the issue were that as people of faith we should not be supporting exploitative and oppressive capitalist systems, and at the very least should not be profiting in any form from war. At the end of the day the body voted to divest from the 3 companies in question by 7 votes– out of over 650.

The most disappointing decision from our perspective was the decision to refer divesting from fossil fuel companies to a separate committee (MRTI) for study. The GA committee gave no real discussion of the overture itself, someone quickly made a motion to refer and it felt like game over. On the plenary floor there was a chance to substitute the main motion (to refer) with the minority report (to divest), and there was some discussion but it didn’t pass.

The most frustrating part is that (almost) no one argued that using fossil fuels is causing climate change, that climate change is bad, or that we are faced with a crisis for both humanity and creation that needs to be taken seriously and dealt with quickly. But as soon as representatives from the board of pensions got up to talk about their concerns, specifically that change is hard (and that we should just wait and trust the process that hasn’t been working for 30 years to suddenly convince these companies to do the right thing.) Several people argued that by divesting we give up our place at the table during shareholder meetings to engage in corporate dialogue to create change. In the back of the room where the YAVs, YAVAs, and friends of YAV (other young folks) were hanging out we were whispering/sometimes yelling “That’s the point!!” We believe divesting would make a statement that the church does not profit from the exploitation of the earth and that we won’t engage in corporate dialogue on the company’s terms. The overture was referred to MRTI (committee that does investment stuff) and will come back with their suggestions in 2 years, so it wasn’t a defeat and if you’re interested you can learn more from Fossil Free PCUSA.

YAVs GA 1It was a long jam-packed week, but I’m glad I got to work, celebrate, and be frustrated alongside these folks; we had a great time at GA together.

 

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Radical Hospitality at General Assembly

The Boston YAVs knew for a while that we were going to General Assembly before we found out where we were going to stay while in Detroit. We knew staying at one of the hotels downtown would cost way too much but there were other options such as urban homesteaders and the classic option crashing on a church floor. Luckily we didn’t have to worry about any of that. In true Presbyterian fashion, someone knew someone who knew someone (and so on) who knew of a place for us to stay at a new hospitality ministry.

That’s all we knew when we flew into Detroit late Friday night, and we were all surprised, overwhelmed, and incredibly grateful for the gracious hospitality that we received when we arrived.

Karen and Paul are Presbyterian pastors who serve churches out in the suburbs but felt called to be part of the community in and restoration of Detroit. They bought a huge (and when I say huge I mean the biggest house I’ve ever been inside that wasn’t a museum of some kind) home so they could host family, friends, seminary students, and quirky young adult volunteers. We walked in and they immediately offered us some snacks and beer and we felt right at home.

Throughout the week it felt like we were being adopted into their family as we cooked and ate meals together, shared our frustrations and joys about whatever happened during the plenary session that day, and hung out and talked about life and the church and the life of the church in the sitting room late into the night.

After about two days we started referring to “The Abbey” as home, and even though it was just four miles out from downtown and Cobo it became a refuge from the chaos and politics of GA. By the end of the week we still couldn’t believe how lucky we were to be there and experiencing such radical love, hospitality, and community.

This whole year I haven been experiencing support and hospitality from individuals, churches, and presbyteries, the epitome being our time with Karen and Paul and their lived-out and visible expression of God’s love. I am forever grateful.

YAVs Paul and KarenPaul, Karen, and YAVs in their bumblebee yellow kitchen.

 

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Leading General Assembly Reflection and Prayer

The Boston YAVs attended PC(USA)’s 221st General Assembly in Detroit last week. It was a long and jam-packed week, so I will be writing several blog posts about the experience, out of order of course.

The Young Adult Volunteer program was asked to lead the opening reflection, discussion, and prayer before every plenary session. GA is essentially Presbyterian Congress, and the first half of the week was spent in committee meetings and the second half in plenary, which is when the advisory delegates and commissioners discuss and vote on the issues as a whole.

It was an honor to speak in front of the whole assembly, especially to open the session with devotion and prayer to remind everyone why were there and who (and whose) we are. We were extremely nervous when we learned that opening the plenary session meant speaking on the big stage in front of everyone, and we were nervous wrecks the night before and morning of. After our five minutes were up I realized it wasn’t that bad, it was almost fun.

YAVs GA

Boston YAVs on the big screen.

YAVs and Rob GAHere we are after right afterward (with Rob, pastor of Audrey’s host church, Church of the Covenant), all smiles.

We kicked off plenary session 6 on Thursday morning. This is what we said:

Good morning, we are the Young Adult Volunteers currently serving in Boston. An integral part of the YAV program is living in intentional community. Being a part of the community has taught me the value of honesty, compassion, vulnerability, compassion, and sharing. Not only do these apply to our small, close-knit community, but also to GA here today. God has created us to be in community– to live, work, and be the church together; the only way we can do our work together is together as one body in Christ. God calls us to not become comfortable or complacent with who is already in our community, who is already at the table, who we already see as our neighbor. God calls us to reach out and extend our community, to make room at the table, and to love each person as our neighbor. Our lives are better, our work is better, our churches are better when we come together and every voice is heard.

Romans 12:4-5 teaches us that “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

Turn to your neighbor and discuss a time you have been the boundaries of your community expand at GA.

(After a few minutes we closed in prayer.)

Dear God,

Thank you for welcoming each one of us at your table and making us a part of your community. Thank you for always giving us a place at the table, even when we forget to mind our manners. Please give us the wisdom, energy, and courage to be like you: to expand our community to reach beyond where we draw our lines in showing love, sharing honesty, sharing vulnerability, and sharing compassion. May you continue the work in your body especially today, this week, and always. We lift this us to you in Jesus’ name,

Amen.

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D.C. Week: National Gathering and Lobby Day

Last week I was a part of Bread for the World’s National Gathering and Lobby Day. It was an unbelievable busy and crazy and exhausting week but extremely fun and fulfilling.

Monday was the day of “listening and learning” that started with worship followed by numerous speakers, some with status, some with expertise, and some with incredible personal stories. As part of the organizing department, my job was to connect with the people from Massachusetts, and generally mingle and talk to a lot of people, which was a lot of small-talk for this introvert to handle. It was also a lot of fun; the Bread staff is wonderful, even under stress and pressure like coordinating an event for several hundred people, and Bread members are passionate, engaged, and intelligent people of faith. The main topics were immigration reform, mass incarceration and returning citizens, and sustainable food security, along with foreign food aid reform, which is Bread’s offering of letters campaign this year. After soaking up as much information as possible, and meeting a lot of interesting people, we celebrated Bread’s 40th anniversary (it was founded by Art Simon in 1974) over a fancy dinner where both Art and the current president, David Beckmann, spoke, along with music and prayer. It was a celebration of everything Bread has been a part of and made happen in the last 40 years. And that’s a lot. Along with looking back, we looked forward to ending hunger in 2030, which is Bread’s goal for their Bread Rising campaign.

Tuesday started even earlier as the famous Lobby Day, something I’ve been looking forward to my whole time here with Bread. After a brief briefing with the government relations folks, we started the day with worship to remind us of who we are, whose we are, and why we are lobbying Congress on behalf of hungry and poor people. What sets Bread apart from other nonprofit and social justice political advocacy organizations is faith– it’s the source and reason for their power. After great speeches about the day’s topics– immigration reform and food aid reform– and why as Christians we should care about these issues and why it’s important to be a voice for the voiceless, it was game time. We split into regions, then states, then districts to plan the visits with our Senators and Representatives. I was in charge of the Massachusetts delegation, about 10 in total. We planned who was going to say what and what issues we were going to stress, grabbed lunch, and got on the shuttle to Capitol Hill. The energy in the room and on the shuttle bus was pretty palpable; everyone was excited, nervous, and ready to go– and the rushed, hectic nature of the day just added to the electricity everyone felt.

As we were riding on the van, it hit me– on streets full of charter buses and tourists, here we are, a group of Christians, all different kinds, from all over the country, coming together because our faith demands that we act when we see injustice, poverty, and hunger in the world, and that’s exactly what we were doing. It felt empowering, exciting, and important. One of or mottoes of the day was- “if you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can move Congress,” and that’s exactly what we were going to do.

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The only problem with Massachusetts is that most of the Congresspeople are pretty progessive when it comes to these issues, and usually vote with us. So we mostly thanked the staff and asked that they champion these issues fighting poverty and hunger and told them about specific legislation we were interested in. First we had a great meeting with Senator Ed Markey’s aid, who was very attentive and responsive and helpful.

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Next we met with Senator Elizabeth Warren’s staff, who listened but wasn’t as interested in these issues. After that we split into Congressional districts and I went with two other women to meet with Representative Clark’s office. She is pretty new to Congress; she moved into Sen. Markey’s office when we moved to the Senate. We had a great meeting with an aide, and even got to talk to Rep. Clark for a few minutes and take a picture! It seems so rare, but it’s so important to meet with our elected representatives. We put them into office and it’s our responsibility to tell them what we think . Their job depends on us, let’s use that power.

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After all of the lobby visits the day ended with a reception honoring retiring members of Congress who have leaders on hunger issues and there was more schmoozing and mingling with Bread staff and members and some representatives and their staff. After that there was a small worship service where people shared where they experienced God during the day and in their lobby visits. People raised up all of the hard work of the staff, the community among the members, the feeling of accomplishment and civic responsibility after meeting with Congresspeople and advocating for people who can’t pay for lobbyists.

Warren senate pic

I left feeling so inspired about and committed to this work of fighting hunger and poverty, encouraged about working with this wonderful staff, and grateful for this opportunity.

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