Works and Days

St. Paul's and the Church of the Parables, Reed Winter Externship Program, Meredith Mathis

Meredith Mathis participated in a Reed Winter Externship, contributing to community services and support at St. Paul's and the Church of the Parables with Ben McKelahan.

The activities I did varied a good deal from day to day. One day I went to a clergy bible study and got a tour of a Senior Center at the St. James Matthew Emmanuel Lutheran Church, and went to a Mission Developer’s lunch (where pastors talked about their experiences and difficulties and offered each other support). Another day I met with a pastor and talked about the process of establishing a homeless respite bed program run by the Lutheran Church of the Messiah, met with the non-profit El Puente, and went to a church council meeting. I also got to sit in on meetings about planning future camp activities, walk around the neighborhood St. Paul’s is located in and check in with community members, go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a number of pastors and seminary students, work on an art project for an upcoming three kings celebration/community event, and attend Sunday service, a Three Kings party and parables.

One of the most engaging parts of this experience was discussing the respite bed program being developed (mentioned above). This respite bed program was intended to house homeless community members overnight in the church, but certain community members were against the program, and the church building had to be renovated before the city would let it run.  A lot of what I got out of that experience is that bureaucracy and community disagreement will come up regardless of how good or necessary a program is. But for one, it’s good to realize that if I’m going to do community work of any kind, the city will always have jurisdiction over the physical spaces I’m trying to cultivate into community spaces or convert in times of crisis (this bed program was a response to crises of homeless individuals’ lives being put in danger because of the cold in New York), and there is no forcing a sense of urgency in other people even if their position on an issue is inflicting direct harm onto others. However, the conflicts that were being dealt with didn’t stop efforts to organize and make changes needed to get the program running eventually.

The most enjoyable parts of the experience were definitely walking around the neighborhood with Ben and talking to community members, the Sunday service and parables, and the many conversations I got to have with Ben. When walking around the neighborhood, seeing Ben’s engagement with people, the development and maintenance of interpersonal relationships, and the supportive aspect of his presence in the neighborhood seemed incredibly important. Cultivating that presence in a community is something that takes work and devotion that often gets overlooked when people discuss careers revolving around community leadership and support. During parables, the environment felt incredibly supportive, and I was happy to have both helped set up that space during the week and to have had a chance to feel supported and safe while listening and sharing my thoughts on the passages we read, and relating my experiences from the week to our focuses.

I got a lot of contact information from the experience (from some different non-profits), and conversations I had with Ben and other community members made me feel like doing different kinds of community work (religious or otherwise) was a possible option after leaving Reed. The experiences I had on days of worship and the clergy bible study made me realize that cultivating intentional spaces for community is something I want to center my energies on (again, religious or not) now and in the future. I’m incredibly happy that I got to have that experience, and appreciate all the effort that people put in (especially Ben) to host me and have me in their communities.

Tags: externship, reed winter externship, nonprofit, church, service, homelessness