Episcopal City Mission Blog

Thursday, January 28, 2010

January Flowers Bloom In Dorchester

The following is a posting written by Kelsey Rice Bogdan, one of the Relational Evangelist interns from the Life Together: DIOMASS Intern Program, which ECM collaborates with and sponsors. Kelsey’s internship is with Trinity Church, Boston.

The business of planting seeds sometimes seems like a lot of work with very little to show for it. In the Relational Evangelism Pilot Project, we spend a lot of our time planting seeds in coffee dates, church services, volunteer fairs… anywhere where we can learn a little bit about others’ dreams for the world and inspire them with God’s dream. But as this fall wore on, I became impatient to see those seeds grow into full-blown flowers. We listened a lot, we talked a lot, but I longed for the time when we would see more fully how God is bringing about justice through our fledgling campaign.

Well, I can now say that I see some flowers blooming. The Hope in Action Leadership and Organizing Training, January 8-10 at Epiphany School in Dorchester, brought together more than 70 people from all over Boston and Cambridge to develop skills that will empower us to be agents of change in the community. A major part of that training was learning the practice of public narrative, a form of storytelling intended to inspire others to action. The library at Epiphany School was abuzz all weekend with clusters of people huddled together, listening intently to one another weave stories of hope and possibility based on their own experience. Some told humorous stories, such as the Hope in Action site event that seemed beset by every catastrophe imaginable only to create a powerful and meaningful action in the end. Others shared stories of courage, such as the woman who stood up to a group of men for verbally abusing a young gay man on a Boston street. And some were stories of pain and loss translated into work for justice. All these individual stories wove together to create the story of Hope in Action—one in which we speak with a collective voice to say that we have the power to act, and we will use it.

But why do we tell our stories? How do we presume to think that a roomful of people in Dorchester, coming up with stories about their experiences, is supposed to make any difference in the world whatsoever? What I discovered this weekend was that every time someone gets up to tell her story, she claims an agency she didn’t have before. One of the most powerful moments of the training for me was on the last day, when one young woman got up and told that room of 70+ people what it was like to find yourself homeless. It wasn’t just the story that drew me in, either—what moved me so deeply was the power the speaker claimed through storytelling. In the very act of talking about such a devastating experience, this woman refused to be the silent, downcast figure we so often associate with homelessness. She refused to allow others to define her, to talk about her as a statistic or an abstract problem. She challenged us to understand her experience in the context of her essential personhood, as a beloved child of God. And she invited us to be transformed with her in the end. After getting back on her feet, this young woman now works at a homeless shelter. She provides others with the generosity and respect so often denied to her in her own experiences. Those of us who heard her story are now also called to offer respect to the homeless we meet because of her narrative. And that is the beginning of power, for her and for us.

As I listened to so many stories this weekend, I realized that I was seeing the blooming of so many seeds we had planted in the fall—seeds of hope, seeds of empowerment, seeds of God’s dream for our world. It happened every time someone shared, saying in essence, “Yes, I am important! I am beloved! I am going to make a difference!” That was worth the work this fall. And it is only the beginning.

To learn more about the Life Together: The DIOMASS Intern program please visit: www.diomassintern.org


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