God in the Cloud

28 Feb

Sunday, February 26th, Confluence volunteers led Saint John’s Franklinton, their host parish, in worship. The congregation was blessed and challenged by Confluence member, Steven Simpkins, who gave the following sermon that he had developed in collaboration with the other Confluence members.

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“It was about a month before my dad died. I had a moment like Peter in the Gospel reading today. I wanted to make a dwelling for the space of the dazzling white I experienced. I was amazed, terrified, and overwhelmed with love all at the same time. I wanted to eternalize that so it could be revered and honored again and again. The small seizures my dad was stricken with made him blind. His Hazelnut eyes were cloudy and he listened to where a voice came from and tried to look in that general direction. He was signing his Power of Attorney over to me. When the lawyer asked my dad if he was certain that he wanted me to be the Power of Attorney, my dad with his blind eyes that would at times confuse my sister and I looked me straight in the eyes. In my eyes! and held it for a few moments before saying yes and signing his name with a large X nowhere near the line, despite the lawyer’s guiding hand. I hadn’t said a word the whole time, but somehow he found me and my eyes. I was astonished. To this day, when I think about that moment that felt like hours chills go down my spine. In three of the lessons God’s divine presence is explicitly described as a cloud. Maybe God, for that moment chose a pair of cloud-filled eyes to reveal God-self in a small subtle way.

But what does God choosing a cloud to veil God-self mean for us in our daily lives? And what wisdom can we glean from Peter planning to create three dwellings to honor Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. The vivid nature imagery in the lessons today all relate to mundane, ordinary parts of life and the natural environment. What message is related by God’s presence in every day, usual parts of the world? Why does God choose clouds near mountaintops for communication? Nicole, Caroline, and I traditionally think of clouds as large, dark forces. We imagine an unfortunate down-in-the-dumps cartoon character, like Eeyore being followed around by a rain cloud.

But God’s clouds are bright clouds that have the beaming intensity of fires capable of consuming mountains. God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary! God is everywhere in the ordinary if we are attentive and aware. Today’s epistle serves as a warning to pay attention to our surroundings and to do so patiently and persistently. We are told to look for the majesty of God in the world as if God were a lamp shining in a dark place. It might be worrisome that encountering God’s majesty seems so inconsistent in our lives but God is here and everywhere if we pay attention. If the community welcomes what one scholar calls the transformative power of unshackled nature then God’s consistent presence in the ordinary will be undeniable.

Mountains are a place within scripture where God and the transformative power of unshackled nature meet. Mountainous terrain exists in a space that represents the in between of the Earthly world and God’s kin-dom. Mountains feel closer to God. It isn’t a coincidence that God seems to frequent such vast, awe-inspiring landscapes. Nicole, during her summers as a camp counselor in Colorado encountered the power of unshackled nature when she was leading campers up a mountain during an unexpected thunder storm. Some campers didn’t have rain coats and were terrified by the lightning strikes that seemed to send the signal that children were not welcome at the top of the mountain.

The group carried on though, they had already reached the altitude where friendly looking green plants stop existing in abundance. Amidst the uncertainty and fear they carried on, as if the mountaintop possessed the lamp shining in the dark place referenced in 2 Peter. The storm-cloud passed without injury and the children made it to the top in silence, full of awe and wonder. They giggled with soft intensity that their little bodies had the patient perseverance necessary to accomplish the feat. We could learn a lot (as we always can) from these children. In the face of doubt and uncertainty they trusted and continued on their path and were rewarded with what I imagine to be God’s overflowing presence.

When we face darkness in our lives can we cling to our faith with confidence, however uneasy, and hope like the children in the midst of the storm? But was God in those clouds? Striking fear into their hearts? The Confluence house has to believe that God would not dole out such suffering but rather suffers through it with the community. God is, paradoxically, where we expect God to be and where we least expect God to be at the same time. God’s cloud-ness is a clue for where we can find God in our daily lives.

And when we find God I think we would all react like Peter and start building a temple to commemorate the life-changing event we witnessed. Peter isn’t the misinformed character we almost always understand him to be in this instance. Peter had seen the glory and power of God and was transformed by it. Peter was at the mountaintop and saw God become like us. Peter knows it is right and good and always acceptable to worship God and Peter rightly wants to continue the ascent. What good does it do to return down the mountain if nothing has changed within you, you would be no different than anyone else and nothing would change! Christ, however, knew that Peter was ready to go into the world in love and encouraged Peter, James, and John to return to society with Christ Transfigured.

Jesus was transfigured, leaving the disciples in fear and awe, and immediately imparts shockingly simple wisdom to Peter, James, and John. Don’t stay on the mountain and build a temple to me. Jesus without saying it says “I am a living temple, a living mountaintop, follow me.” Live into the reality you have witnessed and live in a way that exemplifies God’s presence so others can have their eyes opened to the sometimes light in the dark and sometimes devouring fire of God’s presence and experience the life-giving and breath-taking beauty of God.

When we have been transformed we are to follow Jesus down the mountain and into the community! Like Peter, without a nudge from Jesus we may not know when we too have been transformed. Caroline recalls feeling an incredible connection to God following a mission trip to Guatemala. She built homes for families who needed them and felt God overflowing through her. The day after she got back from the trip she went to church, and felt the sermon. She felt like she finally got it. She felt like God was in the moment, with overflowing love. She felt how one the Guatemalan children looked, smiling from ear to ear. Embracing the moment. The starting point of love for God transformed into love of the world and all its inhabitants! The moment of the mission trip seeped into her every day life and Christ called her down from the mountain. She was Peter! She followed Christ with a full heart in her life.

Part of following Jesus is sharing the Good News. But as everyone in the Confluence house has learned, it can be hard to share the Good News when God’s presence feels less like a mountaintop moment and more like an ever so faint whisper in the depths of the sea. How do we faithfully live into the fear and uncertainty of the future? How do we follow Christ into a cloud? How do we live without building moments that prevent seeing God in unpredictable ways, especially if God feels distant? We would do well to, as 2 Peter says, to be attentive. To seek God out. Even in the darkness. To listen to the Cloud that said “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased, listen to him.”

To see and experience God we have to try to listen for Jesus in our hearts or feel the Holy Spirit in our bodies and however else we might experience God. How can we expect to feel God’s presence if we don’t seek God out? God is all around us, if we seek God out. God is in our neighbors. Jesus is in the face of everyone we encounter, if we pay attention. God is in our eyes. Something so ordinary and mundane is God’s dwelling. I welcome everyone to greet one another more frequently by sharing eye contact. It would help us share our common humanity in a profound way. Our clear eyes, our red, sleep-deprived eyes, our sick eyes, our addict eyes, our watery, tearful eyes, and in our cloudy near-death eyes. I have felt God in my core all the way to my extremities by looking at the last set of eyes.”

Prayers of the People

27 Feb

Confluence Members led worship at St. John’s Franklinton this past Sunday, including writing the Prayers of the People. Below are the prayers written by Steven Simpkins, Nicole Hamme, and Caroline Nagy.

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Prayers of the People                                                                   written by Nicole Hamme, Caroline Nagy, and Steven Simpkins.           

God of cloud, fire and light, empower everyone in your church to share in the love of God and contribute to your mission. Lord, our lamp in the dark

God of cloud, fire and light, nurture the spirits of those serving in the Episcopal Service Corps and other service corps programs across the world. Lord, our lamp in the dark

God of cloud, fire and light, grant wisdom to all elected officials, especially our President Donald, that they may justly care for the earth, her resources and all her inhabitants, regardless of creed, race, sexual orientation, and nationality. Lord, our lamp in the dark

God of cloud, fire and light, thank you for opportunities for service found in Community Refugee and Immigration Services, Homeless Families Foundation, Mount Carmel Healthy Living Center and Franklinton Cycle Works that they would continue to strive for good and succeed in their mission. Lord, our lamp in the dark

God of cloud, fire and light, please look with love upon those with addictions, in loneliness, without support, in sickness, and those on our continued prayer list: _____________,We now invite your prayers silently or aloud____________, help us to use our resources in their service. Lord, our lamp in the dark

God of cloud, fire and light, lovingly remember all those who have died, including Kevin Simpkins, our Grandparents and Friends, and especially those who lives have been claimed too soon by heroin. Lord, our lamp in the dark

God of cloud, fire and light, we thank you for the opportunity to work, learn, live and play in the community where we worship, we thank you for the lives of___________, who are celebrating birthdays, and we now invite your thanksgivings silently or aloud_________________.

Shine, O God, as the Light that creates, the Light that calls, the Light that comes again with every dawn. Shine as the Light that scatters every shadow, and the Light in which we promise to walk, with your help. Amen.

Confluence Year Episcopal Service Corps Program Opens Application Confident That Service Can Unite!

2 Dec

The Episcopal Service Corps (ESC), a community, justice, and faith oriented network of young adult service programs, is encouraging young people from across the country to apply for its 2017-18 Year of Service. Confluence is the Columbus branch of the Episcopal Service Corps and provides young adults the unique opportunity to spend a year in service while living in Franklinton,working for social justice, building leadership and professional skills, deepening spiritual awareness, and developing intentional community in a time of deep division. Applications are now open for the 2017-18 year.

Confluence is entering it’s fifth year, and offers young adults time and space to grow personally, professionally, and spiritually while committing to service in the neighborhood through Saint John’s Episcopal Franklinton, and non-profits addressing issues of homelessness, unemployment, addiction, education, community organizing, immigration and refugee services, and much more. Serving with Confluence is a unique opportunity for young adults to give of themselves, enjoy new places and experiences, and live out their faith in a manner that echoes Paul’s call in Galatians, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge…rather, serve one another humbly in love.”

Confluence members serve from August 2017 – June 2018. They receive a monthly stipend, housing, and participate in regular faith formation with their house members.

Confluence is open and affirming, and anyone of any faith may apply, as this program is shaped primarily by the open and inclusive Christian faith as expressed by the Episcopal Church. The application and more information on Confluence and its member programs can be found at www.ConfluenceYear.Org . The first deadline for applications is on Monday, January 16, 2017, with first offers being extended on Friday January 27. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until all positions are filled.

Supporting Our Friends

27 Nov

We wrap up Thanksgiving weekend with an opportunity to show our gratitude and support for the great work the Mount Carmel Foundation supports through Steven Simpkins placement with the Mt. Carmel Healthy Living Center during his Episcopal Service Corps year with Confluence Year.

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“MCHLC is always looking for and willing to accept volunteers. The Healthy Living Center has programs and meetings any given day so extra hands and smiling faces are always welcome. The MCHLC valuesrelationships first and foremost so the first time or two that you offer your time would involve shadowing whatever events are on that day during the time that works best for you. One of the coolest things about spending time at MCHLC is there will almost inevitably be free food for you to eat. So really you cannot go wrong with volunteering at MCHLC. You can help an amazing place live out its mission and likely get a meal too! Really nothing could go wrong if MCHLC ends up not being a good fit for you.

If volunteering during the day is difficult to fit in your schedule I encourage you to check out the Community Friendship program. Community Friendship is where people who have struggled with homelessness gather together with Mount Carmel staff and volunteers to share a common meal and learn from one another. It is an incredibly loving space that everyone would benefit from participating in at least once. The Community Friendship program meets once every month on Tuesday in the early evening.

MCHLC also always accepts monetary donations. Follow the link below and choose Healthy Living Center under designations to contribute. These donations allow MCHLC to provide new, better, and more programming for the greater community. Visit this site to make a donation to the Healthy Living Center- https://donor.mountcarmelfoundation.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=298

If there are any questions about how to get involved please contact me at steven.simpkins@mchs.com”

Shine a Little Light

25 Nov

Today we celebrate our partnership with the Mt. Carmel Healthy Living Center by having Confluence Year Episcopal Service Corps member Steven Simpkins shine a spotlight on one of his colleagues. Today, we spend a moment appreciating the great work Ami Peacock does through Mount Carmel Health on the westside of Columbus. Thanks Ami!

“It is only natural during this week of partner appreciation that the fearless leader of MCHLC receives a day in the spotlight. Ami Peacock is more than fearless as the manager of the Healthy Living Center. Ami is a confident leader full of love and compassion for MCHLC staff and the Franklinton community. That love should not be mistaken for complacency, Ami is driven and encourages the best work possible from staff. Another quality that makes Ami such an admirable leader is her ability to be humble and ask for help when she is not sure what to do or how to do something.

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Ami is a supervisor who cares about people and where they are before talking about planning. Even when time is at a premium she takes a few precious moments to ask how someone is doing and expects genuine responses. That question seems to take on a sacred quality because of its genuine tone. In a world full of fast-paced consumption small questions are frequently taken for granted. Not so with Ami. Ami listens.

There is likely an endless list of things I could learn from Ami. If I could somehow magically or prayerfully obtain any one quality it would be living fully into my work. Ami takes a well-rounded healthy life seriously. She leads by example by carving out time for replenishing work or small breaks. Ami is self-aware of when stress begins creeping in and lets her staff know when she is feeling overwhelmed. Ami loves every single program at MCHLC. Hearing her talk about MCHLC is inspiring. If I leave MCHLC capable of feeling so strongly about my calling in life I will be indebted to Ami and MCHLC for everything they have taught and passed down to me. Regardless I will be forever grateful for Ami and the staff because they teach me something about myself everyday.”

Transformed by Service

24 Nov

“I am learning from my newfound friends in room 126 of MCHLC that questions are good and curiosity is even better. Some parts of me already knew this but something about the folks in the room or the room itself drives me to recognize my own curiosity and allow it to flourish in the public sphere.”

This Thanksgiving, take a moment to read more about Steven Simpkins own transformation as he works at Mt. Carmel Healthy Living Center during his year of service through the Confluence Year Episcopal Service Corps program.

“To borrow a line from the latest and greatest hip-hop musical sensation Hamilton, while I am at MCHLC: I want to be in the room where it happens. For me that room is room 126 better known as the space of the cooking demo and any other larger program. The room itself is not particularly awe-inspiring, though the decorations for the Community Friends Thanksgiving celebration in the attached photo certainly add some pizazz and warmth. The learning and profound curiosity I have seen from program participants is what brings air into my lungs. Thanks to the hundreds of people that I have encountered in this room I have learned and relearned the radically simple power of curiosity. Room 126 is where I learn the most about myself and others and seems to be where everything of import to my personal development happens.

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The first program I experienced with MCHLC was a cooking class. The second was a large 80 person cooking demo. That second day was a little overwhelming but was also incredibly insightful. Every single participant was present in the learning moment. Even after the food is served the crowd listens closely to the provided advice for living and eating healthier. Creative, genuine, thoughtful questions are asked with total abandon and people linger following the demonstration to connect with new friends from their common experience.

As an introvert I frequently struggle with asking questions or asking for help. I tend to fear the question has an obvious answer so I hold it inside and think it through if I can. I am learning from my newfound friends in room 126 of MCHLC that questions are good and curiosity is even better. Some parts of me already knew this but something about the folks in the room or the room itself drives me to recognize my own curiosity and allow it to flourish in the public sphere. Room 126 is where I find consistent opportunities for growth in relationships with others, God, and myself. It truly is the room where it happens and I undoubtedly want to be there.”

A Day in the Life – Mt. Carmel Healthy Living Center

22 Nov

A Day in the Life with Confluence Year Episcopal Service Corps member Steven Simpkins at his placement with our fantastic neighborhood partner, Mt Carmel Healthy Living Center, made possible through funding from the Mount Carmel Foundation .

“There is a cliche saying that variety is the spice of life. If that adage is indeed true then MCHLC certainly ensures I do not have a bland work life during Confluence Year. There are three general areas MCHLC floats me toward. Each broad set of responsibilities is valuable and rewarding in its own right. Yes, even the data entry I do has recognizable benefit.

The data I electronically record tracks how many individuals come into the MCHLC library/resource center and for what purpose. This data when broken down will be able to easily communicate to others the impact the resource center has on the community and the care provided by MCHLC. The reports that are generated will allow MCHLC to maximize community benefit.

While working I tend to spend most of my time in the resource center. While there, I sit at the front desk and make sure visitors to Mount Carmel feel welcome. I answer any questions visitors have and provide directions when necessary. This work is critical for the space because so many visitors are seeking comfort and reassurance they are headed in the right direction. I have witnessed genuine caring and love in all the in staff-visitor interactions in the MCHLC library. Working in the library attracts people into the space for their own needs/wants/desire while allowing MCHLC to advertise the large variety of programs, classes, and resources offered.day-2-photo

I help with programs held by MCHLC in whatever way possible. Frequently MCHLC programming is all hands on deck. Especially in the hour or so before an event starts. The team works together to bring the best event possible to attendees. One thing MCHLC hopes to see me foster in the community is a relationship with Franklinton Cycle Works. Ideas for collaboration already being generated and intersectionality of missions is being noticed. Keep an eye out in the future for programs and initiatives that place an emphasis on healthy living, bicycling, food access, transportation access and more!”