Embraced by Community

YoOgden on Roofur typical (or maybe not so typical) Monday evening at the Ogden House: eight Urban Servant Corps volunteers and one community life director parading around the house, lighting candles, and clanging together pots and pans. No, we weren’t scaring away ghosts or calling on our ancestors. No, we weren’t intentionally trying to annoy our neighbors. We were instead participating in the annual blessing of the USC houses. Starting on our front steps, we took time to stop in each room of our house to say a prayer and set the tone for our life together this year.  (Yes, we took our pots & pans parade outside where people could see us. Yes, people did walk by. Yes, we probably got judged. What can I say, we’re living counter-culturally…) In each of our communal rooms, we prayed for peace, for love, for hospitality, and for the gift of community. Then we lit a candle in each person’s bedroom, praying for their year of service and for safety and rest. Our blessing parade ended at the back door where we once again prayed for the journey of love, simplicity, and service as one community.

Following our house blessing, we engaged in the first of our weekly check-ins, a long standing USC tradition. During check-in time, each of us takes time to share about our experiences at our service sites and our feelings surrounding our life together, along with updates on our personal and spiritual lives. It’s hard to believe that barely two weeks ago, we were just a bunch of strangers meeting for the first time after a hectic move-in day. Already, these seven individuals who I am so blessed to call my housemates (along with the seven other fantastic USC volunteers in the otherMtn Hike community house) are becoming my family. I don’t know what I would do without this crazy group of people to walk beside me as we explore a life of simplicity and service together. There’s something about having a community to bond with while eating expired food, finding every possible happy hour deal in Denver, and almost dying because of a lack of oxygen while hiking up a mountain that really brings a group of people together. 🙂 I’m learning a lot about vulnerability—it takes courage to open oneself up to speak honestly about spirituality, family life, and challenges faced while starting at our service sites, especially when our sites all involve a pretty heavy emotional component that accompanies working with very vulnerable populations. (I also learned that it takes a lot of vulnerability to admit that you just can’t quite keep up while trying to climb up a mountain with people who are in much better shape than you are. Sometimes vulnerability is forced upon us…)

On Sunday, we were all commissioned into our year of service at Our Saviors Lutheran Church in Denver.  We were welcomed warmly into the congregation, and as part of the service, we all celebrated Holy Communion together. In the midst of the sense of connectedness that comes along with the breaking of the bread, I couldn’t help but reflect in amazement at the generous hospitality that has been extended to me time and time again since my arrival in Denver: The passion, excitement, and openness of my fellow USC volunteers. The love and support from the incredible USC alumni network, directors, and board. My inspiring, gracious, and oh-so-patient coworkers at The Gathering Place. Local churches, non-profits, and newfound friends who are eager to show their support of our mission and service. In church, the pastor compared all of humanity to a forest with each tree reflecting some element of God’s creativity, love, and beauty. No two trees are exactly the same, but each one is crucial to the make-up of the forest, and each one reveals the beauty of the Creator. This analogy reminded me of a prayer I read recently in the book Reluctant Pilgrim by Emma Okoro: Father of all creation, make your imprint on my heart, so that your image is the standard by which all others are seen. I am excited to continue to discover the ways in which God’s image is reflected in each of my fellow volunteers, coworkers, clients, and others who become part of our journey throughout this year.

At this moment, I adore my house community, I adore my work community, and I adore the larger USC community. However, I know that authentic community life does not come without its share of growing pains. Even in the midst of this years’ biggest challenges, I hope to take comfort in the loving embrace of this new community, a community so greatly reflecting God’s love in so many ways—through joy, through laughter, through a dedication to service, through a ready smile, through a listening ear, through a passion for justice and equality, and through grace when undoubtedly stumble. I feel as though I’m still on the edge of experiencing the depth of true “intentional community,” but already I am convinced that opening ourselves up to a life in which we engage deeply and meaningfully with others is perhaps one of the most simple and beautiful treasures we can discover.

Peace,

Alex