Saturday, July 23, 2011

Diaries from Detroit, vol. 6: Change and Community

We're rounding the last corner of our time here in Detroit. In some ways, I feel that I am just getting started; just getting to become a part of the community here and feel that I have a place and a position to do things for this community. But at the same time I'm starting to realize just how much is changing in me personally, in the church I work at, and in this community.

This past week was a rough one. The heat index was well beyond 100 degrees, and without air conditioning in our house, I've barely had a decent night's sleep all week. The kids at the day camp were raucous and whinny, making it hard to keep a positive attitude with them. I was in a funk of missing home, missing the people and the places, and wanting badly to be swimming with family, or hiking with friends, or just seeing the Philadelphia or New York skyline.

But alas, "All Things Must Pass" fell into my mind as I saw things changing, as I looked back and saw difference from before, as I looked forward and saw hope for things to come. I was struck with positivity, despite the heat and the longing, and my heart smiled as I went into the final day of the camp for the week. With this new positive energy, I noticed better attitudes from the kids, I more easily coped with the heat, I had a great phone call from home, and I felt once again at peace.

All along I have wondered what effect the day camp really has on this community. Gradually I came to accept it and understand that I was doing good work through positive feedback from the parents and grandparents, but I still wondered what effect it might have on the larger community. Truth be told, only time will tell what this camp does for this church and this community. It depends on whether the camp has a second season next summer, if it ends up bringing families into the church, or if it has a continued and lasting positive impact on the children and their families. But this past week I learned of the extreme struggles this church, which I have come to love in the past few weeks, has experienced in the last ten years. Due to massive internal difficulties and disputes, the church lost 1400 people. It was so low down that it had considered closing its doors. But the resilience and efforts of a few people faithful to the church kept it going. It has lived on and really turned around since its struggles, having added several ministries that benefit the congregation and the community a great deal. But it has yet to reach out to a younger population or families. This day camp is the first time that children have been present in this church en masse in about ten years. To the congregation, it's practically a miracle. To be a part of this effort is humbling, and having a true scope of the work we're doing has shaken me.

Another worry of mine when I first arrived was that the brief window in which I'm here is not enough to truly become a part of a community. I never thought my introverted personality could quickly assert myself into an entirely new place. But I was so wrong. I feel tied to this community already. I feel a responsibility towards it, and a deep love and care for it. I have met some incredibly loving and wonderful people here and have in turn been accepted and loved by so many more.

Last Sunday, I was asked to lead worship at Metro UMC. Andrew, the great organist and music director here that I have come to admire so much, was on leave and asked me to lead worship-- not just one or two songs, but the entire thing. It was a daunting task, but it was incredibly humbling to be asked to do this. I practiced intently the nine new hymns I had to learn before Sunday, and came to enjoy them thoroughly. Andrew also hired a professional singer to perform with me. Meeting with him the Friday before the service was fantastic. I ended up singing tenor while he sang bass, and I got chills as we practiced these beautiful hymns in such a spectacular space. Sunday, the congregation took the change from a massive pipe organ to two singers and an acoustic guitar quite well. I worried that the elderly congregation would not be open to the change, but they took it with grace and it ended up being a beautiful and unique worship experience. So many of my worries in this experience have turned out to not be issues at all.

Beyond the Metro church community, I was asked to perform at St. Peter's Episcopal Church "Festival for the Arts" on Friday night. The church has close ties to the Jeanie Wylie Community in which I live, which is how I got involved with Friday night's fundraiser. It ended up being the first cool evening all week, yet the un-air conditioned sanctuary was blistering. Nevertheless, a full house packed in for the festival, which featured about a dozen artists including myself. There were some really fantastic performances from poets, singers, and players with an eclectic sound to each of them. Again, it was humbling to perform a set along side seasoned artists. I was by far the youngest player there, but I was shocked to hear from many in attendance how much they enjoyed my set. It was an interesting night in how the heat and the pressure of performing in front of an entirely new audience seemed to take every thing out of me; wring me out completely dry, and yet the love of the community there and the beauty of the art shared sustained me through the struggle.

All this is to say that there have been forces beyond my own that have allowed me to achieve more than I ever thought possible in my time here. Reflection on what's happened here has brought me to tears and brought me to my knees. The work of the holy spirit has been slow, but it is powerful and full of light and beauty.

No comments:

Post a Comment