We can never be sure of God again

14 Jan

This December the Confluence Volunteers developed and led the liturgy for St. John’s Wednesday night His Place Service. The liturgy was built around Luke Chapter 2. During the service Melanie Williams asked the congregation to write down on paper hearts the places they had experienced good news or were hopeful for good news. This post features reflections from the Confluence Volunteers, and moments of good news experienced or hoped for from the congregation.

PART 1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2:1-7

When I read this part of the Christmas story I am reminded that I often forget who God is. I think our society and even the church, tends to talk about a powerful god. A god who sits in the clouds and grants us wishes if only we pray hard enough, or long enough, or believe enough. I think those verses show that there is a lot wrong with that image of God. I think the Christmas story is beautiful because it turns things upside down it surprises us.

Our God is not a powerful God at least not powerful in the way we understand power to be. God is a baby. God is displaced – displaced from heaven to earth, Nazareth to Bethlehem, the inn to the manger. God is vulnerable – needing to be wrapped in bands of cloth by his mother. God is homeless.

This changes everything. God is no longer distant. God is no longer one with power to fear. God surprises us by showing up in a baby, by showing up in a stable, and now we can never know where God will appear. In coming in this humble way, God gives up God’s power and hands that power over to us. A theologian wrote that the Christmas story means that “God is never safe from us!” God comes and makes Godself able to be abandoned and even killed by human beings.

As I reflect on this part of the Christmas story I’m struck by the truth and beauty of what this all means. Because of this story, we can never be sure of God again.

As we continue to prepare for Christmas, I’d encourage all of us to let go of the image of a powerful God so that we can look to the manger – to the places we wouldn’t expect God to be – and be surprised by the power of love, humility and vulnerability.

PART 2 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:7-14

One of the things I love about reading the Bible are the little notes at the bottom of each page that tell you things you might not have known about the story you’re reading. That’s my favorite part of the Bible, because I’m familiar with pretty much all the good stories in there. And some of the weird ones, too.

And so when I was going through my Bible I began to understand that this part, with the angels, really shows who the message is for. You see, God sends angels to deliver the greatest message, and who do they talk to? Shepherds. Those little notes at the bottom of my Bible page tell me that a shepherd at this time was considered the worst job. People thought they were unclean and they weren’t even allowed to testify in court. But they were the first people to hear the good news of Christ’s birth. This announcement shows that at whatever place you might feel like in life, whether or not you feel good or smart or strong, our status never gets in the way of God’s good news to us. – Nora Anderson

PART 3 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:15-20

What I notice in this story is that the shepherds and all who hear them are amazed and glorify God for what they have seen and heard, but Mary responds differently. She treasures these events and ponders them in her heart. I don’t know what Mary was thinking at this time, but I can imagine she may have returned to a question she asked earlier in the Christmas story when the angel Gabriel came to her to tell her she would give birth to the Son of God. She asked, “How can this be?”

How can it be that God has come to us in this way – by becoming a baby, fully dependent on his mother. Could this really be God? Has God really come? Why does it seem that nothing has changed? There is still no room in the inn. We are still homeless. We are still suffering. We are still persecuted. What kind of savior is this? He is just a baby!

Jesus was not the savior that people expected. God did not swoop in and wipe out the wicked or make everything fair and just. Instead, God came and suffered with us, endured injustice with us, took on all our same pains, all our same experiences, all our same doubts, but also our same hopes. Even when we are unsure, like Mary pondering in her heart – how can this be? – the beauty of this Christmas story is that God has come and shares fully in our lives.

We do not often stop to look for God, especially not in the unexpected places, and we miss the good news that God has come. We’re going to do an activity now where we reflect on our lives and remember where we have seen God with us or among us. You have paper hearts and colored pencils, and as we sing the next couple songs, please take the time to reflect on where you have seen God among you, or what good news you have heard, or even what good news you wish to hear. You can then write on the heart a sentence or a word or even draw a picture as you ponder this in your heart. Afterwards, we will collect them and tape them to the walls downstairs so they can continue to remind us of the hope of God is with us. – Melanie Williams

A Reflection from Nora Anderson about COHHIO.

12 Jan


Nora and her supervisor, Douglas Argue.

Working at COHHIO has been a great experience so far. Because of the range of projects that COHHIO has a hand in, I can be working on designing an advocacy webpage one day and calling to get out the vote the next. I’ve also been able to travel around Columbus to help with trainings and charity fairs, so I’m able to share the work that COHHIO is doing with others, and hopefully they’ll support our efforts. Mostly, I use my skills in design to help COHHIO visually communicate its message.

Nora Anderson and her supervisor at COHHIO (and Deacon in the Episcopal church), Douglas Argue, encourage you to support the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio in one of the following three ways.

1. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, and spread our social media messages as much as possible.https://www.facebook.com/pages/Coalition-On-Homelessness-and-Housing-in-Ohio/111253932244739

2. Become a member of COHHIO for as little as $35, which entitles you to a generous discount to our annual conference. The conference is a great place to attend workshops on all kinds of housing related issues like veteran and youth homelessness, permanent supportive housing, housing for victims of domestic violence, and many others.

3. Finally, You can donate to COHHIO. These funds are used to fund our our advocacy work on issues like fighting payday lending, fighting threats to fair housing laws, and increasing the availability of affordable housing in the state. http://www.cohhio.org/donations

A Familiar Face

12 Nov

A reflection from Melanie Williams on her experience working with Community Refugee & Immigration Services.


Although many of my responsibilities at CRIS involve buying household items, ordering mattresses, scheduling furniture bank appointments, and organizing the donation room, my favorite moments are personal interactions with recently arrived refugees. I love when a client smiles at me just because they recognize me from driving them to an appointment and I have become a familiar face. I love accepting an offer of tea in a client’s new apartment after we return from a long wait at the social security office. I love hearing stories about life in Kabul, Baghdad, South Africa, and wherever our clients call home.

I feel lucky to know and work with so many people from across the globe, and am daily challenged by our diverse staff at CRIS. Many of our caseworkers are refugees themselves, having arrived in the U.S. anywhere between one and twenty years ago. I’ve learned a lot about patience and how to love and care for clients well from my coworkers. Having such a diverse office staff makes for lively days and so much great food. I love when a coworker sits down at my desk with a plate of Somali food and insists, “Eat with me. Enjoy. I hate to eat alone.”

There are definitely difficult days, like when we get notice that a family of ten is arriving in a week’s time and we have to find housing for them immediately, but I’ve always felt supported by the CRIS staff when things get stressful in the office. I am thankful for what I have learned so far, the experience in non-profit social work that I’ve gained, and the friendships I’ve made working at CRIS.

Shaped by Stories

5 Nov

A reflection by Confluence Volunteer, Carolyn May, on her work with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

Carolyn May

Carolyn delivering a press briefing on the results of a statewide hunger study to her Senator, Charleta Tavares’, office.

I love stories. And I love storytelling. I tend to be of the belief that stories are really powerful and maybe even have the potential to change the world. I guess maybe I’m still a dreamer in that regard. Even if they can’t change the world, I know that in the short 2.5 months that I’ve been working at the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, I have been changed by the hundreds of stories I have encountered.

Since starting here, I’ve learned a lot about the issue of hunger in Ohio and about the vastness of the issue. I’ve been struck by a number of statistics and I’ve been both encouraged and discouraged in hearing and reading about the responses to the issue by our legislators. However, the best part of working here so far has definitely been being involved in our storybanking and Paper Plate projects. Through the storybanking project I have had the chance to go out to local pantries and listen to the stories of people who are experiencing hunger or living in the struggle of trying to make ends meet.

In addition to hearing these stories, I’ve also had the chance to read hundreds of stories which have been written on paper plates which will soon be sent to legislators. Both of these projects have helped humanize the issue of hunger and have reminded me of the importance of the work being done by this organization. I’m thankful for these stories and for how they’ve shaped me. I’m thankful to get to be here and play a small part in some of the work being done by the association.

Checkout the work Ohio Association of Foodbanks is doing on their website. http://ohiofoodbanks.org/

And Grace Changes Everything….

16 Oct

A Reflection from Confluence Volunteer Carolyn May.

I think this all sounds really obvious. But when you really think about what it all means, it does something to your heart. Or at least it does something to mine.

A few Sundays ago we had the chance to go with Deacon Craig to the closing of a Kairos weekend at the prison in Delaware. After an intense  weekend of diving deep into the gospel and deep into community, the group of men who attended had the chance to stand up in front of a room  full of both familiar faces and strangers and share their stories. They talked about where they were going into the retreat, or why they wanted to attend. And then they talked about how the experience changed them. I sat and listened to their stories, I couldn’t stop crying. It was such a beautiful and powerful experience and I felt privileged to be able to listen. I needed to be there. I felt redeemed simply in hearing their stories of redemption.

I think grace is always overwhelming to think about. It’s incredible to think that God still loves and me and calls me God’s own when I know all the ways in which I’ve failed at loving God and loving others. It’s overwhelming. But even more overwhelming was listening to these men living in prison talk about grace. To hear these men talk about the freedom they found during their weekend at Kairos.

I can’t get over that. These men live their lives within walls that they aren’t allowed to move beyond. They are living in prison which seems to be the opposite of living a free life. And yet, as these men shared their stories it was freedom they were describing. Knowing the love of God and the forgiveness of God set them free. Having the chance to speak and really be heard and having the chance to listen deeply to the words of others set them free. I can’t wrap my head around the power and the beauty of that. It’s too much. This is the gospel, I think. Freedom even for those in prison.

I sat there crying and realizing that God’s grace extends to us even in our darkest moments, even when we fail to have grace for ourselves, even when the rest of the world refuses to believe we deserve new life. And grace changes everything—how we think, live, interact and respond in and to the world the around us.

Taking the Plunge

22 Aug

by Nora Margaret Anderson

As the news of the Ice Bucket Challenge continues to spread across nearly every form of social media this week, for the last two weeks I’ve gone through an immersion of my own.

On Sunday, August 3, I moved into a small, three-bedroom house in the Columbus, Ohio neighborhood of Franklinton. Although it was a five-minute drive from my parents’ house where I had crashed since graduation, it was a giant step socioeconomically. The median income in Franklinton is about $14,000, whereas one semester at my private liberal-arts college is about $45,000—not including textbooks or lab fees. Brand-new apartments and High street suddenly became houses stuck with orange “VACANT” signs and the cracked sidewalks of Broad street.

But it wasn’t just a desire to move out of my parents’ for a year while I prepare for law school that led me to the west side. My university was constantly stressing a doctrine of “learn the theory, then put it into practice,” and I’d had enough of academia. I wanted to put everything I’d learned about social and economic inequality to use. So I made the choice to join an intentional community, Confluence Year, and dedicate my time and my knowledge to a neighborhood that had little of either.

My entire first week was a barrage of meet-and-greets, and I say that as an extrovert. Usually, I gain my energy from talking, working, and interacting with others, but at the end of the day, even I was exhausted. Not only was I (and my two new housemates) meeting residents of the neighborhood, but also learning the geography and institutions that work to improve the quality of life in Franklinton. From Gladden Community House, which has been serving for more than a century; to the Franklinton Development Association, which built the first house in the neighborhood since the 1950s, we never really stopped moving. It was, as the director said frequently, “like trying to drink from an open fire hydrant”.

The second week was slightly more spiritual in nature. Confluence Year operates under the purview of the Episcopal Service Corps and includes spiritual formation as part of its holistic approach to support its participants. My housemates, with the help of our director, took the better part of two days to develop a Rule of Life by which we will live for the coming year. It wasn’t exactly one of those retreats in which everyone bares their soul and ends up crying for one reason or another, but I came away with a much deeper understanding of the backgrounds and motivations of the people I’ll be living with for the next year. It’s amazing to think that just a few short weeks ago, I was living with complete strangers, but we’ve quickly become friends—and learned to live fairly well together despite different backgrounds and opinions.

I’m not entirely sure where the year will go—and I’m looking forward to the twists and turns—but if my first two weeks were any indication, this might be the best year of my life so far.

Confluence at Street Church

4 Jun

Every month Confluence volunteers prepare and serve the meal for St. John’s second service, Street Church. Street Church has been gathering Sundays at 1pm in an abandoned lot at the corner of West Broad St. and Central Ave for over eight years, rain, snow, sleet, or shine! The community gathers for liturgy and the Eucharist before sharing a meal together. A great community is built among neighbors who might not otherwise venture through the doors of a traditional church. If you live in Columbus, all are welcome to join us for worship.

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