Experiences to remember

 Funny and sadly disjointed experiences from Broad Street so far:

1) (said by a regular attendee at Sunday dinners to two 13-year-old girls visiting with their youth group):

“So tell me, why is it that you two girls are in here eating with us instead of ‘walking the avenue’ on South Street? What I mean is, why are you in here instead of prostituting yourselves out there?”

2) the night at the dark horse, a bible study for some of the 20-30s members of BSM, an elderly couple walks up to our table and whispers “You know, we are Christians too…..” and then proceeds to congratulate us on how well-behaved we are (HA!) and tell us about how their church faithfully left the episcopal church, found a “safe haven” under the Bishop of Uganda, and has refused communion to the Bishop of PHilly not once but TWICE.

3) the night that the florida youth group sang songs about being “free to love Jesus” and “free to live” to a room full of homeless people who are, to a great extent, enslaved by the injust systems of our society that make it impossible for them to get jobs, benefits, housing, etc.

4) Getting asked if I wanted to “make puppies” with Kevin at breaking bread.

5) Bill’s victory dance when I told him Alex was my “money ticket” and the look on his face as he impersonated me saying “what are we doing today now that we have a job, honey?”




more to follow.

Weird Day.

Talk about a disjointed day…. I got home today from work in the city and read on the GA website that the GA voted 380-325-3 in favor of deleting G-6.0106b from our Book of Order (psst…. for those of you who aren’t presbyterian, thats the part that means that if you are gay and not celibate you can’t possibly be called as a minister of Word and Sacrament).  

Hours earlier, my fellow colleagues at Broad Street Ministry and I went to check out a facility in Philly that provides meals 5 days a week to the local, in this particular location’s case, male, homeless population. We want to send kids there, so we were familiarizing ourself with the program.  The director was showing us around the place, giving us a tour of the building and the block, and had this to say about his neighborhood:

“That hotel down the street, I hear that on the weekends that it is some sort of transvestite party.  The very idea of it makes my stomach churn.”  He also mentioned that the shelter required youth to bring adult chaperones, because, in his words “some of the people who come here might be dangerous.  Sometimes we have trannies.”

I wanted to ask him if he thought the trannies would eat our children, but I refrained.  The experience does point to a larger issue, though…. Christ tells us not to judge lest we be judged, and while I am certain that this man’s words were a judgement call regarding a population he possibly fears or doesn’t understand, my own uncomfortableness with him pointed to my own inner judgement of his own thoughts.  On top of that, despite his personal views, the program offered something that is pretty necessary.  Sure there are flaws, but the fact remains that this place feeds an average of 300-400 men lunch every day, with relatively few strings attached.  I am caught wondering how I ought to process my emotions about all of it. On top of that, I have to tell myself not to get my hopes up about this GA nonsense, because who knows what might happen in the Presbyteries.


further thoughts…

Questions that have been on my mind:


  • what is the purpose of church?  is it the same or different from the purpose of Christ?  
  • what does it mean, I mean, REALLY MEAN, to serve?
  • what is, really, salvation?  Is it possible to, as many churches would have you believe and do, save other people?  This prospect makes me uncomfortable, as I tend to think that is God’s job alone, but what is our role as fellow human beings?  What shape does salvation take in a life?  Is it feeling loved and wanted by others and by God?
  • How does one truly love one’s neighbor?
So yes, I know these are all big questions, but they have been on my mind, especially given my experience on Sunday with that church… the experience was so wrapped up in the needs and experience of the community that had already been welcomed (the insiders, if you will), which seemed so out of step with Christ that it made me wonder what the point of church is at all… because if it ain’t Christ, then what is it? Furthermore, who am I to judge where Christ is?  What if I am wrong?  Do I want to be a part of something that closes itself off and isolates itself from the real world?  Is that the kind of love that I would want to receive?  
So if you have any ideas or ruminations, I would love to hear them… these are big questions, and it is my suspicion, as with many things, that big questions are best wrangled with in community rather than alone, for it is in community that we face one another and open one another to our own experiences and form a more complete picture of how God might be working in our contexts.

What is Communion for?

So this summer has been cruising along at a hellish blast out here in philly at BSM.  I have found myself quite comfortable in this funky church.  The people who work here all care deeply about what it means to live and be a church in Philly, and it definitely shows–in the friendliness of those who come here, in the posture of openness of not only the staff but also many who come here for meals and worship and fellowship.  And it has been quite a bit of work as well, but I have liked it.

One thing that has also been nice about BSM has been that worship is in the evenings, which means that I have had the opportunity to both work at a church and explore other church communities in the area.  So far I have attended 4 other Presbyterian Churches in the area, and while I haven’t felt quite at home at any of them, my experiences at each have left me mulling over some interesting questions about what it means to steward a church and to be a church in a city like this.

One that has come up most sharply relates to an experience that I had at a church this past week.  The church was a sort of wacky mix of traditional and contemporary, with a praise band and an organ, and a whole lot of “Lord Father God” language.  Their pastor, a supply pastor, was extremely exuberant and unabashedly Reformed, which meant there was a whole lot of things like “we come here not to receive, but to give gratitude and worship god” being said, and a whole lot about depravity and sinfulness as related to our inability to see and worship God being implied.

I didn’t mind all that so much.  In fact, I was sort of interested in the church because other than BSM they are the only PCUSA-ish church I know of  that has communion every week.  I happen to think frequent communion is a beautiful thing, so I was excited.  So we get to communion, and the pastor gets up and does the invitation, which goes something like this: “we welcom to the table all those gathered here among us today who have been baptized into the faith.  If you have been baptized, please come forward now to receive communion.”

Did I hear that right?  Did he just say that communion is only for you if you have had water sprinkled on you by a minister?  Did he MEAN it?  They aren’t going to police that, are they?  I was caught between surprise and anger by what I had heard.  I mean, what is communion for?  Everything this church said indicated it believed that communion was a feast for believers to pat themselves on the back and celebrate their gratitude to God… but what about everyone else?  Jesus’ memorable meal was one shared with the “everyone else,” the prideful, broken, sinful, young, unprepared clan of young men and probably some women who had  been rejected by everyone but Christ, who unlike anyone else gathered them in and welcomed them to a table where they were filled and provided for.  It was radically inclusive, as I read it, nothing like the closed table of this church.  In contrast to Jesus’ meal, this church seemed guaranteed to leave anyone who took communion illicitly feeling deceitful and probably guilty for nothing more than seeking to be fed by Christ.

So those are my thoughts, but seriously, what is communion for?  Is it right to close a table?  What does it mean for a community to choose to close a table to outsiders?  Is it necessary that it always be open?  I imagine anyone reading this knows my thoughts, but I wonder what others might think?  What would it mean to offer communion to anyone who comes to the table?  What is at stake?  What is the risk?  What might be gained from a completely open table?

GA 2008

Just a Note:  Watching most of the moderator candidates tonight was not only boring as hell, but completely disheartening.  Yes, I know these people care about the church, and yes I know they care about God, but I certainly wish I heard a bit more about Jesus and a bit more about service and care and love and a bit less about financial security and vague BS.  I might be wrong, but I just heard way too much of that crap.*



*this does not, of course, apply to the wonderful BRC.  GO Bruce!  I just wish there was more passion across the board!

long stretch

kiddies are here for the summer, so I don’t quite have time to post much… I really want to keep track of my thoughts for this experience but I am so tired by the time I have time…


Just a recap for the day:

–Overbrook PC is here, and they are great, good kids.

–went to New Jerusalem today, visited the Anti-Violence Program they sponsor run by the Quakers and Mennonites… Met Regina and Ray and some other awesome folks.  It was a great experience.

–evening worship went pretty well tonight… again, the naming the circle ritual rocked the socks off another group… that thing is seriously fail-safe.

–I… am… sleepy.

*update on the bike*

my bike has proven herself/himself a militant german nationalist.  On my very first real ride on the bike, s/he threw me off (granted, it was because I was edging her/him over trolley tracks at a precarious angle).   Reminds me of my first ride on good ole Red…. my first time down miguelito he slammed me to the pavement when I hit gravel at McKee Rd… left me with a semi-permanent discoloration on my right elbow.  This time wasn’t quite as bad as that, but I did scrape up my left shoulder, bruise my hip, and scratch up my left leg.  Bummer.

new bike!

It’s Saturday, pretty much my only full day off from this internship each week, and A and I decided to explore West Philly in depth.  We might have done this with R and M if they were in town, but they are both up in Boston visiting friends for the week, so we went on our own. A had read about a local farmers market that he wanted to check out and I had been researching bike shops, so we made our way out into the city despite warnings that an unusually hot day was in the works.  

Turns out the farmer’s market was a bit spotty (although it was my first experience with Amish farmers… i love the suspenders already!).  We decided to walk down to UPenn and out on Baltimore Ave towards 50th, which is where Firehouse Bicycles, a local used bike store, is located.  The walk was long, about 2 miles from where we started, but it was interesting.  We actually ended up finding another cool farmers market with more amish folks selling organic and local produce from lancaster county and others, but we didn’t have a way to get it back fast.  

The best part was that when we got to the bike shop we realized that it was right next to Dock Street Brewery.  When I told my pastor Ben Daniels I would be out here for the summer, he told me to look out for Dock Street Beer, as he remembered it fondly from his Princeton Seminary Days.  Turns out it is brewed right in A’s backyard.  So we had a beer (I had the Summer Session Ale, A had the Stout), and relaxed in the open dining area that was well-furnished with fans (it was about 95 by this point).  I ended up finding a pretty sweet Schwinn upstairs at the Bike shop…. it isn’t my old 564 Schwinn Touring bike, but this one is refurbished and well cared for and will certainly bring me some pleasure on the roads out here.  She has a black frame with red and yellow accents, and I have determined that my bike must therefore be a German Nationalist.  I imagine s/he will end up with a name like Hans or Deitrich or Ursula, but for now I am getting to know my bike and enjoying every minute.  And as long as it doesn’t get stolen, I shall remain happy with it.

For the rest of the evening, A has things planned which he refuses to divulge to me.  I certainly hope, however, that these events take place indoors, as I have already developed a formidable sunburn on my arms and shoulders and have probably sweat out a few pounds in the heat.  

Summer in Philly

Whew!  So a week’s worth of work has been I-N-T-E-N-S-E… Just for my own sake, to document all that has happened thus far:

I unofficially started here last Saturday, when I dropped by to check out the church and ended up meeting Nick and Peter, two of the other Youth Initiative interns at BSM for the summer.  Brenna wasn’t in yet but was getting there on Sunday.  We ended up scooping ice cream at the last night of 315 Cafe, an overnight safe house that is funded by the city in BSM and was extended until that night.  The next morning we went to Bryn Mawr PC, in many ways the opposite of the 315 Cafe, a large, suburban, rich, white church that was giving BSM an urban ministry financial award for the Youth Initiative.  Lets just say the suburbs out here are WAY different from the city. (news flash: I prefer Philly.)

Work officially started at worship at BSM on Sunday, which was cool, and different.  I think I mentioned it on an earlier post.  The rest of this week has been a combination of familiarizing ourselves with many of the various ministries at the church during the week (film series run by other interns, meals for various groups in the city, from the homeless to the church community to anyone who would like to come, bible studies, etc), familiarizing ourselves with nonprofits and services offered in the area.  We visited a meal on Monday where a guy writes checks out to individuals so they can get ID cards or birth certificates, Bethesda Project, a thrift store that raises money for the Aids Fund called PAT, etc.  We have also done a lot of getting to know you stuff with the other folks on the team.  There is a lot of variety in terms of backgrounds and interests, so there is variety of things that people are inspired by.  Nick is planning a found-art sculpture for the youth to create and add to over the summer (he also currently happens to be drawing pictures on the wall of our office… specifically of Peter, who was quick to tell us he grew up on a farm in bux county, riding what nick calls a ‘cow of the apocalypse’).


Anyways, its going to be cool but there are defintely challenges.  I don’t have a lot of cash, period, so I have been trying to figure out that balance between going out and learning the city with these folks and not getting broke in the process.  I have met some really interesting people and more importantly gotten to know their stories, which has taught me more about their lives than I would ever dream of.  I have seen a lot of places that I know I have been blind to in the past and have been reaffirmed in my suspicion that service is more than just handing bread or money to a person in need. 

 I just need to figure out how to continually seek God in all this.  I will admit, I have trouble feeling it sometimes, and I don’t know exactly what that means or what I ought to do about it, but I feel confident that the work I could do here is important and hopefully might help with the uncertainty.

Anyways, more later but now we have to go to city hall.