Monday, June 22, 2009

And so week #3 in Richmond begins. I've done a really bad job of updating and will try and remedy that! It's been a great experience so far, with a little bit of Atlanta/Davidson homesickness stirred in--it's just so strange to not be at home for the summer, and well, I always miss Davidson when I'm not there. But I'm learning so much and have met some wonderful people that I will know for a long time.

I'm living with Ann and Bob, longtime members of the church who have 3 grown children, so they have a couple of rooms to spare! I have my own room and bathroom, and they hosted Obama campaigners all last summer, so there is also an Obama poster in there too. :) They are both so kind and so much fun to be around and have really helped me get acclimated to the city and the community. Living there is a great balance of being on my own (come and go as I please) and being part of a family (we eat most dinners together). They also have Samson (aka Sam), a 4-year-old shitzsu that I just love-- it's great having a dog around since I miss mine! He's adorable, and his favorite activity is chasing squirrels in the backyard, running so fast that he looks a little like Roadrunner on speed. Ann and Bob's 2-year-old granddaughter Ava has also been around, and it's been really fun to get to know her too.

The house is about a fifteen minute drive from the church, and after 15 days of driving back and forth, I can do it without thinking, which is so nice-- and I'm really enjoying blasting music and belting my lungs out whenever I'm going somewhere! The gas station and grocery store are on the route too. The church itself is beautiful-- red brick, with a covered walkway between the office/classrooms and the sanctuary. The sanctuary reminds me a little of a smaller version of DCPC, but the choir sings from the balcony. I have my own little office, which is pretty empty except for lots of books, my laptop (normally... more on that in a minute), desk, and this gorgeous stone Celtic cross in the window. The church is a block away from Union-PSCE seminary and is paralleled by two of the major roads in Richmond. It's an interesting location because one of the roads, Chamberlayne, is more "run down" and has a lot of group homes (where mentally disabled adults live "independently" but not in the best conditions) and apartment complexes; I've been advised not to go there by myself at night because people do wander, and drug-related violence has occurred there. The other side of the church, and the neighborhood it's primarily a part of (Ginter Park, hence the name!), consists of older, more historic Richmond homes that remind me of historic Druid Hills. So it's an interesting contrast in settings, which carries over to the congregation itself. We get everyone from members of the group homes to seminary professors and students. Many of the people I've met have been members at GPPC for decades (it's a lot like Glenn in that sense), but there are also younger couples and families there as well. It's a neat dynamic of people, and it's very diverse in both age and ethnicity. I don't think I could ask for a nicer, more nurturing congregation to "practice" these things in as a complete newcomer; they certainly haven't treated me like one! Everyone has made me feel so welcome and comfortable.

As far as my actual work goes-- a lot of you have asked what I'm doing, what's the point of the whole internship in general? The primary purpose (as described in meetings, on paper, etc.) is to see what being a pastor is like, but not just on Sundays; to do the work of the church in different capacities and different places and to experience the daily life and work of an ordained minister, to start to discern if ordination is something I want to pursue, if I just want to go to seminary and see where it takes me, or if I want to be involved in ministry and churchwork as a layperson and not as an ordained pastor. Obviously none of these questions will be answered by the end of the summer, or even by the end of senior year after many conversations with my dear fellow interns (shout out to Allison, Louis, Andrew, and John!), but it's a good start; as I told a couple of people, I don't think I would even consider seminary without having this summer experience. It's also stretching my comfort zones in a number of ways-- driving in a completely new city, putting myself out there more as an adult than as a teenager (one more year of college, not three or two... craaap) and in that sense being without my parents (and not being as coddled as at Davidson) and friends (in England I was almost always new and American with Becca, or Ellyn, or Alison... never just new by myself). The work itself has also stretched me out of my comfort zone, but I'm enjoying it. I have a semi regular "routine" but it can change easily. Normally I am in the office for a lot of the day; one of my jobs is to help orchestrate some service projects for the congregation, so I've been emailing/calling places like the food bank to try and start figuring those out. I'm also working on organizing a training session for kids who want to be ushers on Sundays. I've sat in on several meetings, everything from a Global Mission Committee meeting (on my first day!) to a finance meeting (which was interesting, but it reminded me that I know nothing about money), with several worship planning meetings in between. My first week, Carla (my supervising pastor-- oh wow-- I haven't talked about Carla yet!! I will, I will) took me along on a couple of visitations to congregation members who live at one of the nearby assisted living homes (although there are varying levels of care provided there-- it is a massive place, and really impressive); the next day, I accompanied a congregation member on a hospital visit to be with a woman whose husband had just had surgery. My first Friday night, I went with a couple other congregation members to The Palace, one of the group homes nearby, to lead a bingo game and hand out some refreshments. It's hard to comprehend that people live their lives there; it's not well-kept, and it's not what they need to live healthy lives. It made me think of Eric Schlosser's talk on the American prison system in February-- these are people we don't think of very much, but they need our help the most, and if we did think of them even a little bit more and take their situations into account, we could start to make things better for them. I know it requires a lot of money to do that too, but it also requires awareness. All the people that I met there (mainly men) were very nice and polite, and seemed grateful for us coming; they range in age from their 20s to their 70s, which I find incredible, and it made me curious about their lives and how they've come to be there. This past week, I have been auditing a week-long Biblical Interpretations class at the seminary; I've mainly just been listening in because the class has had several books to read and also been doing work online, but it's been interesting to see how a seminary class is run. This one is actually a lot like an English class-- interpreting texts, with the text being the Bible. The class (which ranges in age from probably about 25 to 60) has been very welcoming and their insights are very well-thought-out. And it makes me realize that I've read hardly any of the Bible. Last week I also went on a tour of Boaz and Ruth, an organization that has created what is really a community for people who have just gotten out of prison; they have several stores and a restaurant where they can work, as well as houses where they can live as they get back on their feet (and apparently a Davidson alternative break group went there in the spring, which I didn't know). Hm, what else? I'm leading some aspect of worship every Sunday; the first Sunday I was here I helped with part of the Communion prayer, the next week I was the liturgist, and yesterday I helped "run" the service because Carla was out of town-- did the prayer and the affirmation, wore a robe and everything. It went well, though it did feel kind of strange to be so visibly ministerial (especially clothing wise). I'm preaching in a month, so we'll see how that goes too... One of my favorite things being here has been singing in the Compline service that GPPC has every 2 weeks. I first discovered Compline last semester at DUMC, and it's basically a "good night" service that first started out in monasteries (I think?)-- it's only 30 minutes or so and it's a lot of chanting and singing, with some prayer intermixed. It's held in the sanctuary and only about 4-8 people come (especially in the summer I guess) so it's wonderfully dark and quiet and echo-y and contemplative. A little bit like Taize, but different. Those of us in the choir (yesterday there were 4 of us, the time before about 8-- whoever shows up) eat and practice beforehand. It's such a calming ritual, I feel like every church should have it in some capacity.

So as you can tell, when I say my work is a "hodgepodge" I really mean it! It's cool to be so active in so many different ways. The people I work with are excellent-- Carla is the senior pastor and she is just fabulous. I feel so lucky to be following her around! She puts me at ease and has already become a great friend and mentor. I've gotten to know her husband Brint and her two kids as well (and dog!), and think they're all great. It's pretty cool to be able to come into a new city and a new community and a new family and feel comfortable. Josh (GPPC's intern last year), Doug (music director), and Roxanne (office doesn't work without her), are all great too, and welcomed me immediately. They've taught me more about GPPC as a congregation and have been friendly, funny, and supportive. I've been invited to several meals with different GPPC families and keep meeting new people who all have great stories and want to hear mine too. No matter what the internship leads me to in the future, spending time with these people is really my favorite part of this whole experience. (Oh, and it's such a small world-- I've met one man who went to Druid Hills, a couple of people who have worshipped at Glenn, several who went to Davidson, several who know random people at Davidson... yeah.) I've gotten to go on a boat on the James River (and swim in it, too), to the botanical gardens, downtown to eat delicious pizza, and to an old church in Petersburg to see gorgeous Tiffany windows. Another first week highlight with some of these great people: going to the Indigo Girls' concert at the botanical gardens! (it was very Chastain/Piedmontesque) Our Decatur girls put on a great show and afterwards some of us got to meet them, which was so coool-- I told them all of our connections (I went to your elementary school... I live up the street from your parents... your brother's our doctor...) and we got a picture and autographs, and Amy drank an "iBeer" from Carla's iPhone! It was a great night.

Thankfully I have not gotten too lost when I'm out in the car, but a couple of semi-stressful things have happened when I'm not driving-- first, my laptop screen went black last weekend so it's been in the shop all week getting fixed. It doesn't look like it's going to die completely, PHEW, and I've been working on the church's old one (which has wireless! wheee!) but I'm looking forward to getting mine back. Secondly, and more unexpectedly, Ann and Bob's granddaughter has a mild case of swine flu! (Dear Kate and David in Mexico, I hope you're appreciating this irony) So I've moved out for a few days while she recovers and am staying with Eleanor, one of my favorite people at GPPC. I feel fine, so I think I dodged a bullet (knock on wood). I'm sure Ava will be okay, but it just came up so quickly! Yikes.

A couple of other things on my mind before I close-- when people ask me where I'm from, I'm starting to say two places: Atlanta, and Charlotte/Davidson. And it's true; I absolutely claim both of them. But this is the first situation where I've really vocally put both on equal footing as HOME. And it's hard for me to imagine one or the other (or both) not being home for a very long time. Second (and this is oh-so-Claire)-- it STILL does not cease to amaze me that random people in Virginia know about Davidson basketball. And know who Steph Curry is. "We know your basketball team, of course," said one woman at the Boaz and Ruth lunch. "OF COURSE." Like, how could we not? It cracks me up and makes me proud and if you had told me two years ago (hell, one year ago) that this guy I got to watch before anyone else knew about him except us in that cozy little arena, this kid that I got to literally WATCH morph into a national superstar, was going to be in the top 8 (5? 4? 3?) of the NBA draft in two days, I would have... I don't know what I would've done, but I wouldn't have believed you. I still can't quite get it through my brain. My first week here, I was giving out my e-mail address to a guy at Boaz and Ruth, and when I finished he said, "You're a Davidson grad?" "Actually, I'm still a student there," I said. "Well!" he exclaimed, "I hope you're a big Davidson basketball fan!" ..... I have recounted that story to David, Louis, and my father, and all three of them burst out laughing. Oh sir, if only you knew how many profanities we've had to hear this girl shriek... I'm already excited for the season. We have some good freshmen coming in and we have some good seniors to lead. It will be a great one. I'm just plain psyched in general to go back in August and move into the apartment and see so many people and welcome so many more in. But every time I tell someone "I'll be a senior," I halfway don't believe it.

So that's my story, as of this moment. I know it's long and not the most exciting, but I needed to get it down. Thanks for reading, if you have. It's pouring rain outside and Eleanor and I ate delicious hamburgers and I had a piece of grocery store carrot cake and will watch some "Frasier" (it's become my comfort show) before bed on good ol' Life is unknown but life is good. Love yall.


Jessica Reese said...

hey lady,

First off, I'm so glad you're writing this! I think reading about your day-to-day life will help other people understand what pastors do and maybe your dear readers will start to consider that path for themselves.

Also: I love Boaz and Ruth! And you're right about the huge, surreal differences between one street and another in Richmond. It's amazing and disturbing how people living a block from each other can live so differently (economic status, etc.) and separately.

Anyway, keep us posted!


PS: Totally jealous of the Indigo Girls concert!

Amy said...

Glad for the updates Claire...normally I keep up with your blog, but I got a new laptop and lost all my old bookmarks. =) I'm so glad you are having a good sounds like you are becoming part of a wonderful community. Love you and miss you bunches!


grub-z said...

i can't believe you're going to be a senior either! :)

<3, julie