Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.” –Saint Francis de Sales, the Gentleman Saint (also known as the Doctor of Charity and the patron of writers.)
After reading a friend’s reflections on her year of service in Minneapolis, I realize that I haven’t taken the time to honestly sit down and put into words my own reflections on living, working, praying, and studying in North Minneapolis. “It’s fine,” I told myself. “Don’t worry–you’ve been too busy actually doing the work!”
Just as soon as I thought that, I came across the above quote from Francis de Sales. Needless to say, I felt pretty darn convicted and decided to take my evening to scratch out a few notes.
The story goes that Saint Jane de Chantal, the co-foundress of the Visitation, wrote in big, bold print on the wall of the first house of the Order: “This is the place of my joy and delight.” Well, friends, I’ve found that here on the northside. I’ve always been able to adjust and adapt to my environment–Saint John’s, church camp, New Haven–but I’ve done much more than adapt here in North Minneapolis. I’ve begun to thrive.
My volunteer work has thus far been pretty scattered. I’ve spent time researching various organizations, meeting with key players, and trying to piece together a somewhat cohesive schedule of service and ministry. The absolute first thing I noticed about North Minneapolis is the sheer number of do-gooders! Countless organizations–and I mean that quite literally, new ventures pop up daily–exist on the north side to promote healthy living, good food, solid education, rich cultural heritage, deep reconciliation, and healing art. My initial list of possibilities was quite long, filling up almost the entire page of my yellow legal pad. After doing some initial research and discussing things with the nuns, I’ve narrowed my scope to a handful of organizations with which to focus my time, energy, and talent.
The first place which emerged was Patchwork Quilt, an absolutely remarkable after-school program hosted at Parkway United Church of Church (founded originally at Saint Philip’s Catholic Church and onced housed at Kwanzaa Presbyterian Church.) The program provides a very solid, nutritional meal, homework help, reading groups, and cultural engagement. I’ve been helping mostly in the kitchen (as any good would-be-monastic does!) The meals, provided through state-awarded grant money, are very substantial and often provide enough for kids to take leftovers home. The scholars–never kids or even students!–then divide their afternoon up between homework and reading. The most intriguing part of Patchwork Quilt is the half hour spent in the harambe, which comes from the Freedom School tradition. During harambe, the scholars gather in a circle and chant and drum various rhythms. It’s a terrific community building exercise and a great way for the kids to blow off extra steam after school and before settling down (who am I kidding–they never settle down!) into homework and reading. The staff at Patchwork Quilt are all extremely dedicated and very loving individuals who would give anything to see these young scholars excel! (I’ll be making an attempt to teach poetry and creative writing on occasional Fridays–Lord, have mercy!)
The next site to firm up commitment has been Venture North, a project of Redeemer Center for Life. RCL is the non-profit arm of Redeemer Lutheran Church, an ELCA parish located here in the northside. Redeemer really focuses on housing and youth development. Toward that end, they opened Venture North as a coffee bar/bike shop. I started today and really fell in love. Both the bike shop and the coffee shop are tools to welcome folks in and draw them together. The honest goal of Venture North is to empower community and, true to their Lutheran roots, they do so by brewing a cup of coffee and providing space. I’ll be assisting in the coffee shop portion (I don’t know the first thing about bikes, but I know a thing or two about coffee) once a week. There’s also some talk of being a part of a community conversation about utilizing a very beautiful outdoor brick over which Redeemer built and blessed this past summer. Coffee and bread? Please. I’m in heaven!
Other options are in the process of coming to fruition. I know that I’ll be tutoring at the parish school (a block and a half from my house.) I’ll also be doing some development work for the non-profit housing project in which I live, Alafia Place. That work will be mostly in grant-research, hospitality, and visioning. Again, heaven. I’m also in conversation with the the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Mark (my new parish here in Minneapolis) and the Missioner for Young Adults and College Ministry of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota about some wonderful new possibilities emerging in the ‘hood.
As I reflect on my life here in North Minneapolis–my volunteer service, my ministry, my study of Francis and Jane, my prayer with the Sisters–the crux appearing very clearly is hospitality. I am here on the northside to bring in, to welcome, and to greet all as Christ. This hospitality is incarnated in many and different ways, but then so again is that Christ who is being welcomed daily. This isn’t particularly easy work, although it’s always rewarding (which isn’t always immediately apparent!)
I’m grateful as always for support and prayer along the way. If you’re in or near North Minneapolis, stop on in and allow yourself to be wildly changed–and for the better!