This summer I learned that when we say, “And it just so happened,” that’s a pretty good indication that God was in the midst of it. As you read through this lengthy epistle about St. Francis Way (SFW) and friends, I hope you see all of the connections and developments that “just so happened.”
Recently Holy Cross opened SFW to our Muslim neighbors. It was a cold Saturday morning when 27 women and children from the mosque right down the road came to romp in the woods, climb trees, and frolic. It was a simple gesture towards friendship. An invitation to come together to celebrate our beautiful, natural setting complete with coffee, hot chocolate, and doughnuts gave way to friendships forming and trust building.
Since my retirement three years ago, I’ve had the luxury of volunteering at my grandson’s school. This year I’m helping the first graders in art class. The art teacher recently thanked me for encouraging the children. I thought about that and realized I don’t know what these children face in their daily lives at school and home, but I do know that my role is to be supportive and encouraging. And, all of us need a little extra love and support along the way.
At our playdate with our Muslim neighbors, imagine my surprise when I was snapping pictures and looked right into the eyes of a little fellow in the first grade art class! What a boost to our art class connection. He has now seen me in another role – in a fabulous wooded play area, at my Christian church, opened to his mosque right down the road – my neighbor. I am reminded of the teachings of Jesus as he reached out to various groups. He reached out to and advocated for women, the poor, the unclean, oppressors, and racial enemies. The struggle we face today with loving our neighbors is nothing new. What we do with these struggles can be new. All of us can help in small ways to add a bit of encouragement and support to others. This is not something that any one of us can do alone, but we are fortunate to be a part of Holy Cross who lives up to “all are welcome.” Together we are strong.
A few years back, our congregation took part in Renewal Works. A parish survey showed 61% of the 88 responding congregants agreed it is important for people of different faiths to be in conversation. 41% responded that we are to serve the poor and suffering. Renewal Works helped us discern where we felt called to go. With these two points in mind, we have opened dialogue with our Muslim neighbors and we have hosted a Lenten study series to include presenters from various faiths and traditions. In serving the poor and suffering, it is well known that Outreach is a top priority for Holy Cross.
The SFW Committee met numerous times, and we came up with a plan for meeting with those of different faiths and caring for the poor and suffering. Rene Gouverneur, our committee leader and an environmental educator, envisioned children learning about nature while being in the midst of it. Our Committee knew we wanted to share our natural setting with our neighbors. We chose to start with our Muslim friends, and we will be reaching out to Mary C. Williams, a Title 1 school, 3.3 miles from us. Title 1 schools have 40% of the children enrolled living in poverty. When living in poverty, outdoor play is often not an option. Living in poverty does not lend itself to having a home filled with reading materials either. Our plan has grown to include encouraging reading. “It just so happens” that a few of us at Holy Cross are involved with Team First Book – a charity that provides new books for children in Title 1 schools. These children own the books thereby benefiting all members of the household. Outreach has agreed to fund two new books for K-2 classes in 2020. Our vision is coming together.
There are opportunities for you to be involved. Rene and I will meet with the school’s principal in January. We will extend an invitation to the school to learn and play in our woods – and if we hit a snag and they can’t come to us, we will take part of our woods to them and educate about caring for ourselves (playing) and learning about our environment (preserving and protecting). We will ask members of the parish to take part in helping children choose books during a distribution sponsored by us. Brand new top quality books will have book plates that read: “This Book Belongs to ______. Given by Holy Cross Episcopal Church.” We are hopeful that there will be additional ways to serve the students and teachers at this school – pending the outcome of our meeting with school officials. We believe our involvement will not only boost Mary C. Williams’ State report card rating; it will also boost the morale of the students and teachers. “It just so happens,” we’ll be letting you know more after our meeting with Mary C. Williams officials.
St. Francis Way Committee