“I want your voice on my GPS,” my friend Kate remarked a few years ago. She was driving a group of us to a retreat at Holy Cross Monastery, along the Hudson River.
As often happens when traveling “country” roads, the GPS directions sometimes miss the mark. This required some brief backtracking more than once.
Apparently I was doing once again that thing that comes so naturally to me that I don’t think twice about it. “You’re doing a great job, Kate. You are awesome. Thank you so much for taking care of us in this way.”
What seems like a knee-jerk, habitual response on my part is apparently a “spiritual gift.” I’ll take it. One could be known for a lot worse habits than that of encouraging others.
These days, though, I find myself the recipient of encouragement from others – from some who know me well and long and from others whom I’ve just met. A few months ago, when I began exploring the possibility of a call to work with those typically relegated to the fringes, I visited with a number of clergy and lay people and was astounded and humbled by the encouragement and support I received. I sent an email to a retired priest in Maine, hoping to connect with some of her colleagues in the Boston area. Almost immediately, she phoned me to give me some sound direction but mostly to encourage me to follow and nurture this sense of call. She forwarded a spreadsheet – today’s version of a Rolodex – sharing contact information for an informal society of folk doing similar work.
As vision for a new ministry here in Jacksonville takes shape, I have begun to meet with lay persons and clergy alike, some “churched” and some “unchurched” and, again, have received nothing but enthusiastic, encouraging words (not to mention offers to help with much-needed gifts of time, talent and treasure).
This morning I attended a conference on mental health and spirituality. It is impossible to be a force for healing in this world without engaging the mental health community and those committed to their own mental health, as well as ensuring our neighbors have access to adequate mental health services. I was stunned to learn that Duval County (where I live) is the lowest funded county for mental health in the state of Florida, which happens to be the second lowest funded state in the nation (Alabama leads the way with the lowest funding for mental health). All the more reason for the church to work cooperatively to bridge the oftentimes enormous gap in care for our community, especially for our most vulnerable folk.
It seems we may be on the right track in the Episcopal Diocese of Florida. As urban missioner, I will be privileged to work with many beautiful people, as we share the love of Christ in shelters, community centers and on the street. If we are careful and intentional, we will build a community of equals, learning from those we serve and journeying to places beyond our wildest imagination.