“…the glory of God gives the city light, and the Lamb is its lamp…” (Revelation 21,23).
This past week, interns from our young adult service program, Saint Hilda’s House, and I walked the Hill neighborhood of New Haven to collect prayer requests from folks around the neighborhood. Eight of our Saint Hilda’s interns now live in the Hill near Ascension Church. Ascension has not had a regular Episcopal worshiping community for many years now. We spent our time offering prayers, blessings, making connections, and handing out prayer cards. We will take the prayer requests we received and make them part of the prayer intentions we offer every morning together at morning prayer.
We met Luiz and Mike, two young men that are off drugs now and looking to share word of how Christ helped them find sobriety – they offered to help with translation so that we can better communicate with many of our neighbors. We also talked with Luke, Will, and Hector. They are guys who spend most of their day out in the park near the church. They asked for prayers and offered ideas as to how the church could be of help in the neighborhood. We also met Franklin who said his hope was for a neighborhood church that was diverse and prayerful. I also met Rosa who told me that she watches mass on the television in the morning and evening but has no church nearby to go to. A local deli owner offered donations of food so that we can begin some community dinners.
We are beginning these walking and listening exercises in the hope that we can hear what the neighborhood’s hopes and needs are. In the recent past two large Roman Catholic churches, Sacred Heart and Saint Peter’s have both closed. One parish had around 350 families and the other 225. There is now no Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Episcopal presence in the neighborhood other than Ascension Church.
One woman said of the closing of Sacred Heart, ““There is no dialogue. They just went through the motions. Basically, it is a death sentence for us. This will have dire consequences for the neighborhood.” Another said, “The poor minority neighborhoods have always been left out…when you see something that’s truly beautiful and has been well loved by the community threatened, it’s really soul-destroying.”
There is an obvious and deep need for a church in the neighborhood that hears and responds to the spiritual needs of its residents.
We are welcoming New Haven Reads as a new partner on the site to use the parish hall at Ascension. They are an organization that provides nearly 500 reading tutoring sessions per week with a backlog of more than 250 students. Our hope is that Ascension can become a place for many of those young people that attend a number of nearby schools to learn and grow. We are also in conversations to use part of the property for a children’s community garden.
These are first steps in making Ascension a resource for the wider community. Coupled with that service we plan to begin offering some sort of regular worship there. We are still thinking and praying about what that can look like. We are proposing a community that is a blend of a more traditional worship community paired with an intentional community of service and prayer.
We are now called to do more than pity and to offer more than worship. Those who are part of Ascension House live, pray, learn, struggle, walk, and work alongside those whom God calls us to love – our neighbors. We are engaged in work that is in some ways new and radical and in other ways is the very essence of tradition.
One of the keys to the ongoing work at Ascension will be both the work of the Saint Hilda’s House interns and those serving with a newly forming community, Ascension House.
A Proposal for Ascension House in New Haven
We seek to found a community of post M.Div. interns whose vocation it is to provide an oasis of prayer, silence and peace in the “desert” of modern cities. The multi-faceted community will live out the call to common life, prayer, work and welcoming others “in the heart of the city”, while striving to dwell always “in the heart of God” using the Ascension Church worship space and rectory in New Haven.
A key aspect of the program is the development of significant and comprehensive community service with a goal to nurture individual and community health and flourishing. The program would also be responsible for building a new Eucharistic community perhaps centered on a Saturday evening community meal and mass and would also share in the daily office which would be open to the community as well.
These “interns” would serve at various local parishes in a “curacy” and potentially assist in the administration of various local ministries such as Your Place at Saint Andrew’s. Their formation would include individual and group spiritual direction, theological reflection, mentoring, peer review, and corporate prayer in addition to the growth to be had in the daily labor and reflection at their respective work sites.
This program serves manifold needs:
- It provides curacy experience when the number of curacy positions is dwindling
- It affords parishes access to a “curate” at a substantially reduced cost as budgets are strained
- It serves as a nexus between parishes, community service sites, and ministries in New Haven
- It creates a new semi-monastic community to serve God’s people
- It rehabilitates a property that has languished and plants a new Eucharistic community
- It draws us deeper into God’s mission, the community of New Haven, and the Hill
The program would make use of several current programs in New Haven. For example, interns would be interviewed and admitted via the existing Saint Hilda’s House infrastructure, spiritual direction provided through existing Saint Hilda’s spiritual directors, food distribution coordinated with such ministries as Loaves and Fishes and the Saint Andrew’s food pantry, transitional housing arranged through ongoing partnership with Christian Community Action, and more. Each of these partnerships would be strengthened and their service expanded through the coordinating efforts of the new community.
Key Components of the Intern Community
- A group of five or six post-M.Div. interns that would live in the community and be responsible for the Saturday liturgy intended to serve the community.
- These interns would be admitted through the existing Saint Hilda’s infrastructure for a period of 18-24 months.
- One of those interns would organize the service life of the community and the use of the building for the balance of the week.
- The other interns would serve with local congregations and ministries in a “curate” capacity.
- A new Eucharistic community which gathers on Saturday evenings. This community would explore new modes of worship while drawing on our tradition.
- The interns would live in community, share a common prayer life, participate in both individual and group spiritual direction, and receive ongoing mentoring from experienced clerics.