Sunday, November 2, 2014

Connecting Home Parish to my Year of Service

I recently was interviewed by the priest and youth minister at my home Parish of St. Columba's about my journey through the church and how I came to be in the Episcopal Service Corps. He, Jason Cox, was the one who first introduced me to the program, so I consider him a mentor throughout this year of service, discernment and living in intentional community.  Below is the link to the interview which is on page 6! Enjoy!

-Kelly Crabtree

St. Columba's Newsletter October 2014

The face of homelessness

    If you Google search the best way to know a city you’ll come up with a variety of answers. Most of the answers are probably things such as guided Segway tours and double-decker buses around the city to major tourist sites. I'm sure those tours are the greatest and you'll get to see all of the fun and exciting things like Edgar Allan Poe's house and Oriole Park. Yeah, you’ll pass people begging for spare change but you go on with having an awesome experience. That’s the kind the Baltimore I knew growing up. I only knew it on the surface.
    I grew up 20 minutes outside of the city in Reisterstown. I was in and out of the city for various events and outings. Going to the Inner Harbor on cool summer days was and is still one of my favorite things. I just despised the trek from the metro to the Inner Harbor. I’d always pass the same homeless man who had the stereotypical “Please Help, Godbless” cardboard signs. He would rattle his empty McDonald’s cup at people who would pass by. You could hear a few nickels and quarters jingle at the bottom of his empty cup. I always felt wildly uncomfortable walking by him. Because 1) I was a broke high school student, 2) I didn’t want to be bothered, and 3) I had the assumption that he’ll turn around and spend the money on drugs or booze. At this point, a high school student, I would treat every homeless person like this. It’s what’s easiest, pretend that they don’t exist and continue on your way.
    Going off to college and living in the middle of downtown Pittsburgh I came to understand homelessness more. It wasn’t as much of a problem in Pittsburgh since it's a smaller city but it still existed. I met a homeless Vietnam veteran who changed my outlook completely. He called himself Kung Fu Joe, I never fully understood why since his name wasn’t actually Joe and he didn’t know Kung Fu or any type of martial arts. He slept around the South Side of Pittsburgh and would go around at night telling jokes that were so bad they were funny and war stories. I loved listening to his jokes. One in particular I remember was “what kind of tea is hard to swallow”. Kung Fu Joe hit me with the realization that theres a face to homelessness. Maybe that was his Kung Fu…
Being homeless isn't always the dude or lady with the smelly overcoat, long beard, and cardboard sign. That’s something that was confirmed moving into Baltimore city. Anyone can be homeless and they are people who have stories like anyone else. The person sitting next to you on the bus or at your job could be struggling with homelessness.
    Going back to the best way to know a city the answer is getting to know ALL of the people of the city. To use a metaphor; It’s great getting to know the gardener and looking at the plants and the trees, but you need not to forget about the soil and the dirt. The foundation. Homelessness has and still is a huge problem in Baltimore. It has affected several of the people in this city. Ignoring it is not going to solve it.
    Running has been my means to get to know Baltimore. I can encounter variety of people on my 10 mile run. I’ll start at 2015 St.Paul and run across North Ave. A block down there is a group of men who sit outside their house playing poker and jamming to Al Green. As I come to Penn Station there’s a line of taxi drivers and people rushing to catch the next train or bus. Turning down Fallsway I’ll pass people walking their dogs and even the occasional catwalker. As I continue southward I pass HealthCare for Homeless. People are usually camped out around this area and on the building’s steps. Some of them smile as I cross, others will give me a dirty look. I run past St. Vincent de Paul church, which is a powerful site. There is a community of homeless people living on the grounds. Some days you’ll see people handing out blankets and on other days bags of food. It’s nice seeing people taking the time on a Saturday morning to help others. Shortly after I reach the Inner Harbor, where I usually see all kinds of people. I usually turn around there and head back home the same way.
    Along with running, working in a homeless shelter, Project PLASE, has provided me with the chance to meet and help my neighbors in Baltimore. Each and everyday I’m always reminded of Psalm 23:5, especially the verse “You have anointed my head with oil, my cup overflows”. I believe my calling is to help those with empty McDonald’s cups and give them the tools and hope to begin to fill it. 
    This first month within the Episcopal Service Corps Maryland and Project PLASE, I have begun to learn what goes into everyone’s McDonald’s cup. Sometimes it’s just a simple “How’s life?” or giving them a blanket. Each day I hope to continue to learn and love something new about this city and about the people who make Baltimore.

-Jarred Ervin 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Reflections on faith and climate action: the People's Climate March

by Clara Summers

When you have a group of 10,000 people (within a larger group of 400,000), how do you speak in one voice? What do you sing?

At the People’s Climate March in NYC a few weekends ago, we sang “We are marching in the Light of God.” I was surprised at how many people knew this song, but I guess it makes sense: the words are easy to learn and remember, the tune is accessible, and after all, the 10,000 singing were the Interfaith contingent, so many of us were familiar with the hymn. We went on to sing “We’ve got the whole world in OUR hands,” and after several hours of barely-contained excitement, we finally started marching.

The Interfaith contingent at the People's Climate March
I was at the People’s Climate March in my capacity as the Baltimore Program Associate for Interfaith Power & Light, an organization that does climate change education and advocacy among faith communities. Even though I’ve only spent just over a month on the job, I’ve already been able to carry out this mission on a variety of levels: through participation in the People’s Climate March (to which we bused 180 people from the greater D.C. metropolitan area), to testifying at a hearing on nitrogen oxide emissions from coal fired power plants, to organizing almost fifty Baltimore homeowners to install solar panels. Working with Interfaith Power & Light is incredibly rewarding and empowering, and even if there are quieter days when I’m doing data entry or taking conference calls, I know that I am working for something far greater than myself, and that keeps me motivated.

What is this “far greater” thing I’m working for, though, and why is it relevant to me as a person of faith? I will spare you all the scientific details about climate science—those are available in plentiful numbers anywhere you care to look—and instead address how climate change has impacted my life and faith personally.

I spent two years of my childhood in Indonesia. My mother, a conservation biologist, moved us there for her job, and proceeded to take me and my brother on trips to natural areas all around the country. I experienced a variety of natural wonders, such as seeing tarsiers jumping through the rainforest, watching baby sea turtles erupting out of the sand like lava from a volcano, and being chased by Komodo dragons. During these trips we always made time to go snorkeling, and soon coral reefs became a fact of life for me. I knew they were threatened, but only on an intellectual level; I figured they’d always be there.

Seven years later I returned to some of those same spots where I had snorkeled before, and was confronted by the reality of environmental degradation as a result of climate change. In less than a decade, many of the coral reefs that I had found so breathtaking and eerie had become coral graveyards, thanks in large part to ocean acidification.[1] The underwater landscape of my childhood was disappearing.       

Two years later, I did a research program in Australia focused on ecology. This was literally a dream come true, because if you know anything about me, you know that I love koalas. I was truly blessed: I found an expert on koalas who agreed to advise, fund, and provide two assistants for my project, and was set loose on a national park in central Queensland where koala research had been done before. My job was to do a vegetation assessment during the day and spotlight for koalas and other arboreal marsupials at night. It was the height of the koala breeding season, so the timing was perfect.

Why am I marching? The ribbon will tell you.
Or so it should have been. We spent four days searching for koalas at that site, and the most we got out of that time koala-wise was a week-old urine stain. That same time the year before, six koalas had been detected over a period of two days. I returned to my office to write a report on why there were no koalas. Ultimately, that year had simply continued the trend of koala decline, which had been attributed to severe drought. Drought also played a role in my study, but koala decline at the site was further exacerbated by a bushfire that had decimated much of the area. It would be bad science to say that the drought and bushfire were only due to climate change, but it would also be bad science to say that their intensity was not exacerbated by climate change.[2]

While I feel a growing sadness at the biodiversity we have lost in my own lifetime, climate change’s effect on me has been much less damaging than it has been to others. When we think of climate change and our energy usage, we need to broaden the scope to include the victims of Hurricane Sandy, flooding in Pakistan, and extreme heat waves in California. We need to think of those who live closest to coal fired power plants (which more often than not are racial minorities), where asthma rates skyrocket, and those whose water becomes undrinkable due to fracking. We need to think about communities affected by mountaintop removal in Appalachia, where whole landscapes are blown to smithereens (and where my own family cemetery has been disrupted by the blasts). We need to think about the fact that farmers in central Sulawesi can no longer grow cashews, because torrential rain prevents the trees from fruiting. We need to think about the fact that farmers in the Sahel could lose up to 50% of their agricultural output by 2020. We need to think about…we need to think about…we need to think about…

We need to think about...
The issue is overwhelming, and it is easy to throw up our hands and say that nothing we do can make a difference; that the battle is already lost. But as a person of faith, I cannot take the easy route of despair. I am compelled to do the challenging thing and address my own energy usage just as I lobby for change at the state, national, and international levels. To some, the idea that we need to take personal responsibility for our contribution to climate change may seem radical. To me, that has never been a reason not to do the right thing; Jesus, after all, was all about being radical. He called us to leave everything we know and follow God, and chided those who focused on following rules instead of loving their neighbors and acting for justice.

People of faith have a duty to stewardship of Creation, no matter how hard that duty might be. No one ever said that religion was going to be easy. As people of faith, we must acknowledge that wider, systemic change needs to happen to combat climate change, but we also need to take action in our own individual lives and not be complacent. The Good News of Jesus Christ, as my dad always said, is that we as Christians are always given grace to overcome difficulties, no matter how overwhelming they may seem.

There are many actions that we can take to address climate change and our energy usage: turn off your lights and unplug your appliances when you’re not using them. Walk, bike, or take public transportation whenever possible. Buy locally-grown food and use energy-efficient light bulbs. If you’re a homeowner or pay a utility bill, look into switching to solar or wind energy (it’s cheaper than you think!). Minimize your use of plastic and reduce waste. Join your local IPL affiliate (find it here). And throughout all of these efforts, whenever you get discouraged, know that you are “marching in the Light of God,” and that “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”

I want to take a moment to acknowledge Episcopal Service Corps Maryland and all who are involved in making it a success. I’m so happy to be a Gilead this year and to have the opportunity to work on issues I care about! Thank you for making it possible.

[1] A brief lesson on how climate change affects coral reefs: rising concentrations of carbon change the pH quality of ocean water, which leads to ocean acidification. This creates a toxic environment for corals, which are very sensitive to acidity and temperature. The final result is coral bleaching: the tiny, colorful polyps that make up a larger coral wither and die, leaving a skeleton that looks like pockmarked, bleached rock. Without corals, many of the more eye-catching and interesting reef-dwellers either die or are forced to move to a healthy reef, and snorkelers like me are left with only a memory of what once was.
[2] Want more details on climate change impacts on Australia? Read this article.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Another year of Maryland Episcopal Service Corps, another blog and blogger.  To start this year off only a month behind, let's begin with introductions and explanations.

Who are we?

If you've just arrived from some random point on the internet and haven't yet figured out why you've been directed here, we are the Episcopal Service Corps interns for the diocese of Maryland.

That's great.  Now what the heck is Episcopal Service Corps?

Episcopal Service Corps is a part of the new ministries of the Episcopal Church.  Young adults between 21 and 30 spend one year living in intentional community and doing service work in various different diocese around America.  We're sort of like Americorps, only smaller, and run by a church organization instead of the government.  There are similar programs in many other religious groups.

Wait, intentional community?  What's that?

So, in many service organizations you're part of a program, but you find your own housing and live by yourself.  Episcopal Service Corps programs include the concept of intentional community, that the service corps members will live with each other in housing provided by the program, and that part of our year of service is learning to live with one another as part of a planned community and household.  Our program, ESC Maryland, has a house in the city of Baltimore that we as interns share.  We have communal meals, communal worship at least once a week, and in general, have to learn to live with one another and grow as a group as well as as individuals.

This is important for us and for our faith lives.  After all, a core part of Christian belief is that where two or three are gathered in God's name, God is present.  We decided to go the extra mile and have seven people in the house.

So, all of you are Episcopalian?

Nope!  Although most of us have at least a bit of familiarity with the Episcopal Church or other mainline Protestant churches, you don't have to be Episcopalian to join this program.  There are some Episcopalians this year, some who are various denominations of Christian, and some who are still actively engaged in figuring out what they believe and where they fit into any religious community, if they fit at all.  We're all just committed to continuing our faith journeys together for this next year, and seeing where the road will lead us.
Okay.  So what do you do, aside from live together?

Each of us has a work site that we spend 35 hours a week serving as an intern at.  These are service organizations in and around Baltimore City itself, many focused on issues of urban poverty and it's effects.  Over the next months we should be talking about each intern's particular job site and what the intern himself or herself does there.  As it is, we've only been working at our jobsites for two weeks now, so many of us are just finishing up our trainings before we find what our actual work for the year will be!

Right.  Okay, now who are all you people?  Just a mass of faceless interns?

I can promise you that all of us do actually have faces, though someone better at me at doing pictures will be the one providing you with proof later on.  This year, 2014-2015, the intern batch includes Margaret Clinch, Kelly Crabtree, Jarred Ervin, Sarah Harrs, Matthew Konerth, Dan Sherman, and  Clara Summers. 

And which one of you is writing this?

That would be me, Margaret.  I'll probably be the primary one posting, unless someone else in the group hijacks the blog to talk about how awesome their work is.