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Learning About BUILD, Listening to Our Community

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After the riots shook Baltimore, we at Old St. Paul’s, like many faith groups around the city, decided to reassess our methods of outreach and community engagement in order to better serve our neighbor Baltimoreans. Since this past June, various members of Old St. Paul’s have been serving on different discernment committees dedicated to doing just this. Today, we’ll focus on the discernment committee dedicated to researching the church’s possible partnership with the local nonprofit organization BUILD, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development.

As discernment committee leader Amber Herzer explains, “BUILD organizes congregations, listens to the needs of the community, and then works with the political and civic leadership to address those needs.” BUILD is thus, at its heart, a relationship-based outreach model rather than project-based. It uses “a true servant-leader model,” and is dedicated to “empowering, listening to, and supporting community leaders.”

When was the last time that you felt truly listened to? Amber asks. When was the last time you felt someone paying you sincere attention, someone seeking to understand your perspective and experience? —Think back to those rare times, and remember how empowering that can feel. How it can help restore a person’s sense of worth, power, and wholeness.

“Sometimes it can take more courage to stop and listen, than to charge forward,” Amber explains. “It’s the courage of humility. We at Old St. Paul’s do not have a solution for the city of Baltimore. We do have a collection of people well-versed in volunteering and social justice, however. Social workers, teachers, lawyers, city government employees, artists, activists—people who understand that our first reaction shouldn’t be Let’s Go Do Something, but Let’s Listen First.”

Eileen Brittain, also a discernment committee member, recalls the book of Jeremiah when she thinks of BUILD:

“But seek the welfare of the city…, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” 

—Jeremiah 29:7

According to Eileen, “Their strategy to put pressure on those who make the decisions and control the funding can cause situations to be changed. BUILD asks support of faith communities to appear at various meetings to show solidarity and be an ally to those who do not have a voice in the halls of power.”

Tom Andrews, another of the committee’s members, is particularly “excited about the possibility of Old St. Paul’s joining BUILD” for the way it seeks to bring “together people of various faith traditions, to get to know each other, to work together on the needs of the city, and to work with political leaders to address these needs.”

Committee member Bob Zdenek seconds this sentiment, saying, “BUILD’s significance is that it brings together diverse congregations, both clergy and lay leaders from throughout Baltimore City…. Baltimore is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. …and that speaks to the importance of organizations like BUILD that can cut across racial, income, class, and geographic barriers.”

“BUILD is the long term,” Amber says, “because it is focused on changing the system and building relationships with people in other parts of the city.”

And while this may mean that BUILD engages the political system, it is important to note that BUILD itself is not political. “This element may feel uncomfortable to some,” Amber concedes, “but BUILD is not about picking sides. It’s about changing the current system. If the change we’re creating isn’t uncomfortable, then we’re not digging deep enough.”

Of course, there are still questions and challenges that the discernment committee are considering. “I don’t see a lot of new leadership development with IAF affiliates [which includes BUILD] other than clergy,” Bob explains. “There is usually a small group of lay leaders, but how do you build the leadership beyond a few people? …I think this is vital for Old St. Paul’s in particular, since we appear to be new to social justice and change initiatives beyond a few small services.”

 

For more information on BUILD, please join us for The Forum on November 1st:

Faith Based Organizing in Baltimore City

9:30-10:20 a.m. at The Grand, next door to the church

The Industrial Areas Foundation affiliate BUILD (Baltimoreons United in Leadership Development) is a 35+ year organization committed to organizing communities around their own self-interests.  BUILD is comprised of 35 congregations and 15 city schools. The Rev. Glenna Huber, priest in the Diocese of Maryland is clergy co-chair of BUILD.

—Katherine Mead-Brewer

One Baltimore: Respecting the Dignity of Every Human Being

On Thursday, May 7, The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley asked me to join her in distributing some flowering plants to businesses in Old St. Paul’s neighborhood that were damaged in the recent demonstrations. Mary knew there were at least seven places (Café Poupon, Coffee-Land, 7Eleven, Subway, Lumbini’s, the Indian Grocery Store, and Mick O’Shea’s), because she and The Rev. Mark Stanley had walked the block along Charles Street on Tuesday (from Saratoga to Pleasant) with brooms and dust pans in-hand offering to help clean up. Most of the businesses had windows broken and some had suffered significant theft.

At each place we stopped, we told whoever took the plant that we were from Old St. Paul’s and that we wanted them to know we were sorry they had been damaged and that we supported them as neighbors. Almost every recipient, at first, seemed somewhat surprised but soon were smiling and thanking us for the plant. And, as we shook hands, their appreciation was reflected in the look of gratitude in their eyes.

A few days before this, I stopped in at Coffee-Land to see how they were progressing (and, truth be told, to get one of their delicious cherry Danishes). They were busy serving customers and, when it was my turn, I said to the owner and his wife:

“I am so sorry for what happened to you. It is so very sad.”

He replied: “It was probably more good than it was bad. So many have shown love to us afterwards.”

This week, Mary had a banner made that reads, “One Baltimore: respecting the dignity of every human being.” One of the promises we make at baptism (or when renewing our baptismal vows throughout the year), is to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Now this promise is displayed in front of Old St. Paul’s and is putting out a vision for the city.

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We have a LOT to do in establishing “One Baltimore.”  As we try to find our way in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, we can begin by looking for opportunities to connect. Smiling at people waiting at the bus stop and giving a pleasant “Good morning” might help break the ice. Engaging in short but sincere and caring conversations with strangers each day can give personal expression to our vow of “respecting the dignity of each human being.”

—Eileen Donahue Brittain, Treasurer for St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore

Praying for Baltimore, Singing, and Walking the Block

Last night our church, Old St. Paul’s, hosted a prayer service for healing in Baltimore. While three different protest groups passed down our street during the service, we sang “Amazing Grace” and prayed, and listened to a sermon from Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton about weeping, doing justice, and walking humbly with our God. After all that has happened in our beloved city, it was a relief and a comfort to gather with fellow Christians to lift up our hopes for equality and peace for all citizens of Baltimore.

At the end of the service, Bishop Sutton spontaneously invited all of us to go outside to stand on the front porch of our church to sing hymns as a few protesters and neighborhood folks walked by.

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Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton leads us out on a singing march after our Prayer Service for Baltimore

Singing “This Little Light of Mine,” we walked the block, with the bishop and our crucifer in the lead, and we waved to the many people having dinner in nearby restaurants and shops, many of which had been vandalized and looted in the recent uprisings.

As cars passed, people rolled down their windows to clap and wave and give us a thumbs-up. The bishop shook hands with a man sitting at the bus stop, and with people on the street. As we walked, the bishop kept prompting us to sing another new version of the song, apparently that he was making up as we walked along:

Up and down this street, I’m gonna let it shine!

Prayin for Freddie Gray, I’m gonna let it shine!

For Baltimore, I’m gonna let it shine!

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

Tears streamed down my face as I felt a sense of grief that we still live in a world where we have so much injustice and racial discrimination.

By the end of that short walk, there in the middle of downtown Baltimore, I also felt that our songs were healing our neighborhood. It made me smile when I saw that someone had put up balloons on every streetlight along the row of shops that had been vandalized near our church.

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Jessica Sexton, our Youth Minister, helps lead the singing march as our crucifer

It was just a little prayer service with fifty-four people gathered, and it was just a short stroll around our neighborhood, singing a children’s song, but something significant happened as our group tried to do our small part to bring some healing and hope to the people in our beloved city.

It will take a million little acts of kindness and even more actions, large and small, to correct all the injustice in our world before we can get to the point when we will no longer feel the need to march around our city, proclaiming that all lives matter, especially to God, who loves all people equally and unconditionally.

–The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

Photos by Rebecca Giordano Dreisbach

Holy Hospitality!

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My grandparents were true Depression Era citizens, and both Mom-mom and Pop-pop told me many stories about how hard it was to find what you needed during that time.  Pop-pop was out of work, and Mom-mom worked as a bobbin winder at The Linen Thread; she stood for ten to twelve hours a day in front of a machine and she was glad to have the work. My mother was only eight years old when she and her brother started walking the railroad tracks for coal dropped from the open-topped cars to supplement the wood Pop-pop chopped from his own five acre farm.

My mother is now eighty-three years old, and she still talks about how she and her brother and her parents worked the five acres with the help of their neighbors, and how Mom-mom and Pop-pop were famous for their canned fruits and vegetables, and how, at the end of the Harvest, there was always a huge outdoor celebration that featured a sit-down barbeque for over a hundred people.

Pop-pop stood at the front of the line of homemade picnic tables and always made the same speech, year after year. He thanked God for the beauty and bounty of the land, he thanked Herbert Hoover (and then Roosevelt) for the freedom of the USA, he thanked his neighbors for their help on his farm, and he thanked his family for putting up with him. At which point Mom-mom would chime in, “Amen!” and the food would be passed.

Mom-mom and Pop-pop’s generosity to all was well-established by the time my sister, brother, and I arrived. Every Sunday she would stop on the way out of church to ask the pastor about the local families:

“How is Miss Ann doing?”

“Did Mrs. McGraul have her baby?”

“Did Big Jim find work yet?”

As her workweek progressed, she remembered those talks with the pastor on the marble steps of the church and, after dinner each night, she would gather canned foods from her pantry, add a loaf of her homemade bread, a fresh-baked chicken, and a bag of her (justifiably) famous sugar cookies, and then we would take a walk. My sister, brother, and I would sit on Miss Ann’s porch and talk with her about our little adventures while Mom-mom went into the kitchen to put away the food she had brought.

Miss Ann, Mrs. McGraul, Big Jim, and all of Mom-mom’s other neighbors were always so grateful for her kindness, and would thank her over and over. She always responded, “God gave me a great gift with this life, and I want to return the favor.”

Mom-mom and Pop-pop are long gone now, but their hospitality and generosity live in my memory every time I set a tray of doughnuts out for the congregation on Sunday.For me, the talking and the laughing and the hugs that circulate around the hospitality tables at the back of Old St. Paul’s after the service (punctuated by a lot of Thank you so much, Lynn!) is a secular echo of the Eucharist that we all share.

Church Lynn-1 (2)

The Holy Hospitality of the Eucharist is accepted quietly and spiritually – the doughnuts, coffee, fruit, and homemade treats are shared as a banquet of friendship and community among the congregation, and now is the time for talk!

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Chuck HospitalityConversation flourishes among the congregation as the children play in the aisles: future plans to get together are made, confidences are shared, and current issues are discussed. Old St. Paul’s is God’s House and this is a happy time.

As I always say, “Things go better with food!” I know Mom-mom and Pop-pop would agree.

–Lynn Calvarese