It’s been a very full week. I’m starting to feel more situated, but still, every time I understand something new, it makes me aware of how much more I have to learn. For example, I was pretty proud of the fact that I’ve been making a point to walk around different neighborhoods of Philadelphia, getting orientated and also being conscious of the different demographics and dynamics of each area. I felt like I’d already walked a significant chunk of the city. I got a map and marked all the streets I’d walked.
This is where I’ve walked in Center City. Looks pretty good, right?
Well, here’s Philadelphia:
And that’s even with most of the north-east cropped off. I have a long way to to. And obviously there’s more to knowing a city and it’s people than walking down it’s streets.
Last Sunday was the first Grace Cafe of the season. Grace Cafe is a weekly evening worship service and community dinner at Arch Street UMC. Most of the congregation of about 250 folks are neighbors who are homeless or living in a shelter, or for some other reason are in need of a nutritious meal. Last week, I missed the worship service because I was slicing what seemed like millions of beets and getting the Grace Cafe volunteer training.
There are lots of (though probably not enough) community meal serves in Philadelphia, but Grace Cafe is unique. First in that it’s a community and worship event, not just a meal (though guests don’t have to go to the service to join in the meal!) Plus, our cook and other organizers and volunteers make it a priority to serve a fresh, nutritious, and balanced meal, which may be a rarity for many of the guests. We also try to serve restaurant-style in a hall in the basement of the church, delivering plates to tables, taking drink orders and delivering drinks (that was my job!) and bussing the tables. It was my first ever experience waitressing, and it was frantic, sweaty, and incredibly wonderfully fun. It was great to make people smile as they enjoyed their dinners, to see folks relax and fall into comfortable conversations with their fellow guests, to have a few hurried but meaningful conversations, and to receive so much gratitude. I look forward to attending the worship service this Sunday, and getting to know more of the congregation!
I’ve been working on promoting a series of community forums that Arch Street UMC is organizing for the upcoming months. Like Grace Cafe, I love that these forums are an example of a church realizing that it has a life and purpose outside of Sunday morning worship. The forums are diverse in topic and format, with some addressing urgent and relevant social justice issues, some educating about myths that the United States has created about itself, and some bringing the people together to make “Community Mixtapes.” I think they’re going to be awesome, and I’m enjoying telling that to anyone and everyone in Philadelphia.
Mercy and Justice
In their own words, “Project HOME is a Philadelphia non-profit organization empowering individuals to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness through affordable housing, employment, health care, and education.” In honor of Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia (coming up in about a week), Project HOME is organizing the Mercy and Justice campaign. Please read more about it on their website.
When I walked into Arch Street UMC yesterday morning, expecting to spend the day emailing people from the office, I was instead met by the Mercy and Justice people, who were staging their day of action from Arch Street’s chapel, and who whisked me away to join them in hitting the streets to tell people about the campaign. It was awesome. I joined the group that went to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, where a really amazing art installation had been set up for the campaign. Again directing you to the website to learn about the installation because if I explain everything here this blog post will be novel-length. If you’re inspired by the art piece, or simply by the purpose of the campaign, please think about donating to the Francis Fund. And please fill out this form to email your elected officials to do what they can to end hunger and homelessness.
Pope Week is starting. The World Meeting of Families is a huge assembly of Catholic families from all over the world that happens every three years, and this year it’s in Philadelphia. The convention will be going on throughout the next week in the convention center right next to my church. It will end with a visit and address from Pope Francis next Sunday. The World Meeting of Families and the Papal Mass have had Philadelphians buzzing for months, sometimes with real excitement but more often with frustration at the difficulties that will be caused by over-the-top security precautions and 12,000+ pilgrims during the week and maybe over a million attending the mass on Sunday. It will mess with traffic, public transit, cell signal… It’s a bit of a mess. But the main ways that I’ll be thinking about and interacting with this whole thing will have to do with two different marginalized groups of people and what the Papal Visit means for them… That’s super vague, but this post is already too long, so I promise to elaborate in the first post A.P.*!
*After Pope. Our lives are currently divided into the eras B.P and A.P.