Our Rockstar Nursery Staffers!

Dear St. Luke’s,

Happy new Advent season!

I have been noticing, of late, how gifted our current nursery staff is, and how connected they are with our parish children. We are so lucky to have them, and I thought it might be nice to introduce them to you with a bit more complexity. Here are brief bios on our current frequent staffers. I encourage you to say hello when you see them, and to ask questions about parts of the stories that interest you!

Danielle:

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Hello, I’m Danielle! I’m from the teeny tiny town of Bad Axe Michigan located in the thumb of the mitten. I grew up in one of the (at the time) 7 rural schools in our county. This experience of going to school with less than thirty kids between the grades of kindergarten through eighth grade was fairly unique, to me and has had a large impact on how I have grown. While I love working in groups, I prefer when the groups are tight knit and feel more like family than anything else. I think that’s why I love working at the nursery so much. Not only have I become close with my co-staffers, but I’ve become very close with the children and the church body. It feels wonderful to enter a place and feel so at home. Everyone smiles and greets you and only wishes the best for you. It makes me feel almost like I’m back in my rural school setting.

I’m attending Western Michigan University. I’m hustling through the final year of my undergrad as a double major in Sociology and Gender and Women’s Studies. I will be attending Western’s Graduate school next fall to achieve my Masters level in Sociology. I hope to work in the field of sexual assault as a prevention advocate, either working with a nonprofit or working with a research company on developing advocacy programs.

A few fun facts about me: My last name really is Snow. I love having this last name until the holiday seasons are over…come January a lot of people become sick of hearing my last name and I tend to change my introduction to just my first name at this time. I started my own organization on Western’s campus centered on intersectional feminist ideologies, and we have been around for almost 3 years now. I absolutely love films. I could watch movies all day every day if I had the opportunity to!

Haley:

HaleyBio

Background: I am the oldest of five kids, so, taking care of kids is just something I’ve always done! As soon as I became old enough, friends and family knew I had plenty of experience so I started babysitting. From there, I’ve held a range of positions, most involving childcare. I’ve taught Sunday School, art camp, figure skating lessons, and provided childcare at various events. Additionally, I have nannied for several families.

Education: I moved from Minot, ND to attend Kalamazoo College about three and a half years ago. I’m currently in my senior year, and I’m an English major with an American Studies concentration. I will be graduating in the spring. I plan to attend law school this fall (I am currently in the middle of the arduous application process) with hopes of becoming a family lawyer.

Quirky facts: I was a competitive synchronized figure skater at WMU my freshman and sophomore years. In my sophomore year, Nationals were held right here in Kalamazoo, and we ended up taking fourth with our best skate of the season! And I lived in Copenhagen, Denmark for six months where I studied European literature.

Why I love St. Luke’s: Working here allows me to engage with the community of Kalamazoo in a much different way than I usually do as a college student. I have a chance, every week for three hours, to hang out with the coolest little humans and not think about school or homework or grocery shopping or paying bills and for that, I am so truly thankful!

Kenzie: 

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Hi, I am Mackenzie Prill, but I prefer to go by Kenzie. I am a junior at Western Michigan University, and I am majoring in Psychology and dual minoring in Integrated Holistic Health and Social Work. I plan on going to Graduate School to become a psychologist and then go back to my hometown of Bad Axe, Michigan where I hope to open a practice there someday.  I am a native of Davison, Michigan, but moved to Bad Axe in the 5th grade. After high school graduation, I decided to attend WMU because of their renowned Psychology Program, and to be a part of the Bronco Marching Band. I knew I wanted to be a psychologist early on because I’ve always wanted an occupation where I could help people, just like my parents. I am a very family-oriented person and am thankful that my family has always been there for me. My family consists of my father, the Honorable Gerald Prill, my mother Yvonne, my two sisters Lauren and Sydney, and my little puppy princess Bella Marie. As you can tell, my father is drastically outnumbered by females, but that’s the way I like it. My ultimate goal as a psychologist is to be there for others who don’t have a strong support system and to listen to them when others will not.

An interesting fact about myself is that on the day that I was born my two great-grandfathers passed away that exact day just moments after I was born. My birthday, January 13, was also my great-grandma’s birthday. My great-grandparents are all gone now, but I know that they are my guardian angels.

I love working at St. Luke’s because of the wonderful atmosphere. Everyone here is so kind and always has a smile on their face. I love walking in and instantly feeling warmth, love, and genuine compassion. I am grateful for meeting such wonderful people and having had our paths cross. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of such an amazing community.

Taylor:

TaylorBio

Hi, I’m Taylor Raaymakers; I am the Nursery Supervisor at St. Luke’s.  I am the oldest of four girls and am incredibly close to my sisters and parents.  I am originally from Caledonia, Michigan; I graduated high school in 2014; and I am currently a student at Western Michigan University.  I am studying behavioral psychology.  My 5 year plan includes graduating from Western Michigan University next fall and then attending *hopefully* the University of Nevada Reno to receive a masters in behavior analysis. After that I hope to be working in a center for autism.  I enjoy working at St. Luke’s very much and love all the little kids and how there’s never a dull moment in the nursery!  Lastly, a fun fact about me is I play percussion.  I grew up around music, and actually my parents met at band camp, so you could say we are a very musical family.

 

 

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Fall Formation Offerings

Each Sunday of this program year will feature a children’s formation offering and two options for adults: a session of an ongoing multi-week series and a standalone forum led by someone in the community whose work inspires us.

These offerings were chosen for their ability to help us remember our theme this year: that all really does mean all.

We look forward to learning in community with you each Sunday, 11am to 12N!

Sunday, September 17th:
Stand-alone: Lighthouse Project (led by Fr. Randall)
Stand-alone: Reception to Celebrate Kathleen Tosco and Bob Small!
Children: Doing Christianity Locally I (led by Deacon Greg)

Sunday, September 24th (St. Michael & All Angels):
Series: Doing Christianity Locally I (led by Renee Maria Lee-Gardner)
Stand-alone: “Be SMART for Kids” Gun Safety (led by Rick Omilian)
Children: Doing Christianity Locally II (led by Linda Snyder & Sara Flores

Sunday, October 1st:
Animal Fair!

Sunday, October 8th:
Series: Doing Christianity Locally II (led by Renee Maria Lee-Gardner)
Stand-alone: The Hispanic American Council
Children: Doing Christianity Locally III (led by Linda Snyder & Sara Flores)

Sunday, October 15th (St. Luke’s Day):  
Adults: Stewardship Brunch
Children: Brunch, followed by The Holy Spirit I (led by Brian Lonberg)

Sunday, October 22nd:
Series: On the Seven Week Advent I (led by Fr. Randall and Carrie Groenewold)
Stand-alone: TBA
Children: The Holy Spirit II (led by Brian Lonberg)

Sunday, October 29th:
Series: On the Seven Week Advent II (led by Fr. Randall and Carrie Groenewold)
Stand-alone: All Souls’ Roundtable (led by Renee Maria Lee-Gardner)
Children: The Holy Spirit III (led by Brian Lonberg)

Sunday, November 5th (All Saints’ Sunday):
Baptismal Reception

November 12th (Advent 1):
Adults: Seven-Week Advent Wreath Making!
Children: Spinning a Yarn: Art & the Catechism I (led by Jan Tucker) + Christmas Choir Rehearsal (led by Carrie Groenewold)

Sunday, November 19th (Advent 2):
Series: The Rector’s Advent Series I: The Catechism
Stand-alone: Sara Morley LaCroix, Kalamazoo Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition
Children: Spinning a Yarn: Art & the Catechism II (led by Jan Tucker) + Christmas Choir Rehearsal (led by Carrie Groenewold)

Sunday, November 26th (Advent 3):
Series: The Rector’s Advent Series II: The Catechism
Stand-alone: TBA
Children: Spinning a Yarn: Art & the Catechism III (led by Jan Tucker) + Christmas Choir Rehearsal (led by Carrie Groenewold)

Sunday, December 3rd (Advent 4):
Bishop’s Visit!

Sunday, December 10th (Advent 5):
Series: The Rector’s Advent Series III: The Catechism
Stand-alone: TBA
Children: Spinning a Yarn: Art & the Catechism IV (led by Jan Tucker) + Christmas Choir Rehearsal (led by Carrie Groenewold)

Sunday, December 17th (Advent 6):
Series: The Rector’s Advent Series IV: The Catechism
Stand-alone: TBA
Children: Spinning a Yarn: Art & the Catechism V (led by Jan Tucker) + Christmas Choir Rehearsal (led by Carrie Groenewold)

Sunday, December 24th (Advent 7):

Christmas Eve!

Sunday, December 31st (Feast of the Holy Name):
New Year’s Eve!

Connected to God

We all want our kids to know that they are connected to God. This year, the St. Luke’s children’s formation program is all about that.

Here are some ways we’re making it happen.

  1. We have a new children’s educator: Amy Hanson!

The details: We have grown and are ready to divide our children’s formation program into younger (3-5) and older (6-11) classes!

What won’t change: Children of all ages will still worship with us, receiving their own sermon during the liturgy. And the formation hour structure will remain the same: leaders from throughout the community will work with Renee to offer multi-week, in-depth studies of topics relating to our scriptures, tradition, history, doctrine, and liturgical practice.

But: While the older children work with an array of lead teachers, the younger kids will work with Amy for the whole program year! She will take the wider topics and help shape them for 3-5 year olds. There will be lots of art; more singing and dancing; more storytelling and imaginative play. And they’ll have her all year, the stability of which will be a gift to our littles!

About Amy: Amy Hanson and her husband, Randy, have been coming to St. Luke’s for 27 years! Their daughter, Aubrey, and son-in-law, Ben, were married at St. Luke’s and live in Kalamazoo. Their son, Mitch, was an acolyte at St. Luke’s and now lives and goes to school in Atlanta. Amy works in Parchment Elementary Schools substituting and providing teacher support, and her husband is an attorney in Kalamazoo. She says, “I am so looking forward to working with the 3 to 5 year olds this year. One of my favorite things to do with this age group is to sing! I will enjoy singing God’s praises and sharing our stories with them. I have served in many different capacities at St. Luke’s, but working with children is the highest honor, in my opinion.” If you see Amy, please welcome her and thank her for taking on this sacred work!

  1. We have a new youth leadership team: Fritz MacDonald and Amy Vliek!

The details: Fritz and Amy will lead our GROWING number of youth-aged parishioners, with both Donna and Renee serving as staff liaisons.

Our first meeting: Will be held at 5pm on the 24th of September, and will be a time for group pondering, imagination, and reflection. Oh and: there will be pizza! Youth and their families are asked to attend; the entire parish is invited! Come be a part of a conversation that will shape this new program year.

About Fritz: Frederick (Fritz) MacDonald PhD is originally from Middleport, New York.  He attended State University of New York at Fredonia, majoring in Music, Speech and Drama and graduated from Mannes College of Music in New York City in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science in Music, majoring in Voice Performance (bass-baritone).  As a professional musician, Fritz has performed in the United States, Canada and Germany.  Specializing in Family Studies and Family Therapy, he graduated from the University of Tennessee with a Masters Degree in Social Work in 1977 and earned his PHD from UT in 1986.  His research areas are insiders and outsiders in Central Appalachia, cultural competence, and rural social work.  He has been Associate Professor (Emeritus) in the Western Michigan University School of Social Work for 27 years where he served as Associate Director before his retirement in June of 2012.  His second home is in Sonneberg, Germany where he spends several months each year with his wife Linda.  He has taught as guest professor at the Universities of Applied Sciences in Coburg and Kiel, as well as the Alice Solomon School of Social Work in Berlin, Germany. His most recent passion is the tuba, an instrument he played enthusiastically as a teenager. After a fifty year hiatus, Fritz offers solo recitals and plays in several local concert bands and a brass jazz ensemble (The Brass Rail) in the Kalamazoo area.  He and Linda are grandparents to two lovely little girls, Elizabeth and Isla MacDonald and  four-week-old Ethan Folger MacDonald.

About Amy: Amy is a social worker (who will, as of this year, have earned a PhD in Social Work from Western Michigan University!) who lives on Westnedge Hill with her three kids, Grace (13), Alexandra (12), and Elijah (9), as well as her “family of choice” daughter Elli (20). She currently works at WMU and is on the board for Fire Historical and Arts Collaborative. She has a passion for middle and high school kids, ice cream, good books, and lots of other stuff. She is very excited to work with our youth this year!

If you see Amy or Fritz, please tell them how grateful and delighted we are to have them join our formation team.

More to come on the topics we’ll explore and who will lead them!

A Breathtaking Year of Children’s Formation  

This past Sunday was our first children’s sermon of the summer, and I had prepared a light offering of song and fellowship. I did so out of a sense that – having doubled the amount of time our parish children participate in religious formation this year – they deserved and would be ready for more playful and informal worship. I was wrong.

As I wrapped up the short words I had prepared about Sarah, her laughter, and the closeness God shares with her, I got questions. Questions from an eight-year-old about how many of our stories are about men and not women. About how even when they’re about women, they’re often about mothers. Questions from a ten-year-old about the Gospel reading, which we hadn’t even explored: how Jesus tells his disciples about the suffering they will endure – “he pretty much seems to say, ‘you will die for me’” she said – and whether or not our faith offers us enough to make that bearable. Real questions. Meaningful ones.

Their questions were a great privilege to encounter, and I answered them as thoughtfully as I could, making space both for the ways in which our scriptures do speak to their doubts, and the ways in which we’re left to wonder. More importantly, I promised them that I would take their questions seriously. That we would wrestle with them – those questions and the ones to come – in the months and years ahead. That I would be beside them as we took up this beautiful and challenging lifelong work of following Christ.

And I thanked them.

Though I had anticipated a lighter worship service, I wasn’t at all surprised to find them reaching for more. This past year has been a deep dive into gorgeous material, and our children soaked it all up. But rather than tell you about that myself, I’d like to offer you insights from this year’s generous team of children’s formation guides.

In the year’s first series, “Understanding The Book of Common Prayer,” the wise and thoughtful Dr. Elizabeth Kraatz introduced the book and its history; guided our youngest parishioners through the daily offices; taught them the structure of a Collect and helped them write their own; explored how our sacraments are outlined there; and moved through our Holy Eucharist, taking the time to dwell in the language that helps us remember those four holy actions: took, blessed, broke, gave.

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This led beautifully into our second series: Brian Lonberg’s rich and moving exploration of the Holy Eucharist. Of that series, Brian offers the following insights:

In the fall the wonderful children of St. Luke’s and I came together to talk about the Eucharist. We focused on three aspects of the sacrament: Community, God, and Forgiveness. In the first week we talked about what makes a community: who gets to be in, and who is excluded; what rules we place on membership; why community is important; and how the Eucharist creates and sustains our community. We each took a turn waiting to be invited to the table, being welcomed to the table, and inviting others. I saw the stress, joy, and generosity in turn from each of the kids, and it really opened them up to thinking about what limits we can place on things – especially precious things like a favorite group, toy, or the Eucharist itself – and where we have to let limits go for the sake of others.

The second week was spent looking around the back of the church, touching and seeing up-close the liturgical tools we use to, as Fr. Randall would say, “Make Eucharist.” We talked about sacramentals like incense and stained glass, and how we use those to heighten our senses and our experience sharing a space with God. And we talked about Covenants with God, as with the Eucharist – places we know God is, and where we can experience God. Our final week together we talked about forgiveness. We read the story “What if Nobody Forgave?” and talked about what forgiveness is, what it means, and how it felt both to forgive and to be forgiven. And we talked about forgiveness in conjunction with Jesus giving up His life, and by giving us this Sacrament. Then we spent time as our small community making the bread that we as a whole community would use for communion on the following Sunday.

I was amazed by the depth of our children. Growing up in the Roman church, I was used to the standard 2nd grade first communion. The idea that you had to “understand” what you were partaking in. After spending time with these kids – all but one of whom wouldn’t have been allowed to stand with the adults at communion in the Roman church – I could see that even when they lacked facts or history, they felt and understood the Eucharist in a place deep within their bones that not all adults can access. It showed me the importance of having this open table, and the importance of having all of our community welcomed.

The third series, “Home as a Family’s Spiritual Center,” was led by warm and gifted teacher-parishioner Amy Hanson. Amy writes:

It was my great privilege to work in children’s formation this past year. I loved sharing with the children how our family made our home a spiritual center in November. We talked about how home devotions can start when children are small and then change as children get older, incorporating bible reading and prayer. We made our own “prayer books.”

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This brought us to Advent, and many of you saw the fruits of Becky Edmonds’ work with the children that season. Having completed three rich fields of study, these weeks gave kids the space to use their hands, to make tiny nativities, to offer God their love by imagining and then recreating the Holy Family.

During Epiphanytide, Amy Hanson once again graced us with her kind and loving guidance, returning to teach the “The Story of Joseph,” the fruits of which have been visible all year in their new and clear understanding of the book of Genesis. Of this unit, Amy offers these words.

In January, I was happy to be invited back to delve into the story of Joseph. Renee provided wonderful materials: a beautiful robe, gorgeous story books, and other meaningful objects. We read the story, acted out the story, and talked about it. Joseph’s story is such a rich trove of biblical learning. Writing the Hebrew word for “dream” in clay as part of our response was a huge hit!

Dr. Fritz MacDonald led our next series: “Matthew & First-Century Nazareth Context.” Fritz is, of course, a life-force in the classroom. He writes,

It was fun for all of us and most enjoyable for me to work with the children.  Renee was always available for guidance and inspiration. Thank you Carrie for helping us learn the Hebrew song, “Shalom Chavarim.” The kids were quite curious when I brought my Euphonium to class to accompany them in song and dance. The “Beatitudes” are not simple to comprehend and our discussion with children and parents was very stimulating. Thank you everyone for your support.

We then carved out space, once more, for acts of creation, as Madeleine Roberts joined us to lead the Lenten Series:Exodus, Art, & Music.” We all saw the fruits of that series on display in the chapel for Eastertide.

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Of the work itself, Madeleine writes:

The story of Exodus in its dramatic telling of the power of God is arguably the most important to Jewish people, is remarkably easy to read, and children enjoy the dynamic storytelling. In Exodus, Art, & Music, the story was taught first, using a beautifully illustrated children’s book, then moving to the Bible. Painting five Chagall inspired canvases showcasing five scenes from Exodus allowed the children to interact with the story, solidify the plot to memory, and a chance to show creative prowess.

Comparisons were drawn between Moses as “The New King” and Jesus as the “New Moses.” For this lesson, only the second week of the unit, I fully expected the children to need some refreshing on the details of the story and of what they learned about Jesus in Matthew, so I made the activity a Bible scavenger hunt, marking helpful pages in a Bible and coming prepared to prompt their memories. To my surprise, the children remembered details from the week before (only having learned them once) and from other units to reach the ultimate comparison completely on their own.

After underscoring the importance of Moses to the Jewish people by comparing him to Jesus, we moved on to the story of the first Passover. We discussed traditions as taught in the Bible that are maybe not practiced today, such as the household slaughtering of the perfect lamb, and others that are, such as ridding the house of unleavened bread. Finally, we told the story of the Last Supper, one that they recognized from church, connecting our entire unit back to Lent.

In a special moment together, we recited the Shema prayer in English (and to my surprise, heard it in Hebrew from memory from two children). As the first prayer many Jewish children learn, this allowed our children to learn more about the traditions of their Jewish brothers and sisters, and fostered a sense of same-ness with the community outside our church walls.

I had the privilege of leading our penultimate field of study, which was an in-depth look at the Acts of the Apostles. Together we explored what that book tells us about being the church: the model it offers for following the apostles’ teachings, leaning in to fellowship, continuing in the practice of breaking bread, and committing to a life of communal prayer. For the final week, we gathered costumes and performed six Acts scenes, from Peter healing a disabled homeless man to the apostles’ persecution, arrest, and release; the conversion of Saul; and Paul’s dramatic shipwreck. Watching them perform these stories was joyful and heartening. They were silly and playful, all while engaging with reverence these accounts of our earliest Christian brothers and sisters. I wish you all could have seen them.

Finally, Dr. Jeremy Sabella led our last series, which mirrored the adult form series of “Ecclesiology, or ‘What is Church?’” Jeremy brought studious wonder to the program year, taking our children seriously and offering them whole new depths of knowledge. Of this final series, Jeremy writes the following.

I led the ecclesiology unit. I’ve long believed that, as complicated as the finer points of theology can get, virtually everyone is able to grasp the essential points of the Gospel. Figuring out how to explain the concept of the church to children as young as three years old certainly put this to the test!

The three sections took the form of an extended meditation on the Body of Christ.

For the opening section, we talked about the human body and how necessary every part of the body is. When we hurt even a small part of the body, like a finger or a toe, doing everyday things becomes a lot more difficult. We then talked about how groups of people function like a body and how Christians are Christ’s body on earth.  We thought through all the things that people needed to do to keep St. Luke’s running week in and week out (somebody needs to change the lightbulbs, buy the donuts, do Scripture readings, etc.). We also emphasized how children are an important part of the body. Jesus tells us that to enter the Kingdom of heaven, we must become as children. Children remind the adults of how to be childlike before God.

For section two, we examined how the “body of Christ” metaphor applies, not just to individual churches, but to the worldwide network of churches. We used photos of amazing churches on every continent, from underground, medieval-era churches in Ethiopia to a spectacularly colorful earthquake-resistant cardboard church in New Zealand.  The children would locate each church that we looked at on a giant inflatable globe.

For section three, we talked about what the Body of Christ looked like in action. Jesus’s ministry emphasized the importance of healing the body. We examined how early Christians followed in Jesus’s footsteps by starting the first hospitals, and how Christians have continued Jesus’s work by caring after the sickest and most vulnerable people in society. We also talked about how ministries such as soup kitchens, diaper drives, and shelters allow Christians showing the love of Jesus to others by caring for their practical needs.

Thank you all for the support you showed this program year. It was an enormous undertaking to move from holding children’s formation during church to keeping children in church, offering a sermon just for them, and then guiding them through an entirely new educational program during forum hour. Though the creation of such a year was challenging, it was likewise an incomparable joy.

My enormous gratitude, too, for the whole team of wise and generous guides. It was a pleasure to plan, research, write, and teach alongside you. The conversations that emerged have fed this parish in ways I cannot even begin to describe.

Finally, my love to all our parish children, who again and again brought their curiosity, growing knowledge, faith, doubts, insights, instincts, and wonder to the shared work of understanding our faith tradition, our history, our God, our community, and ourselves. It is a great privilege to do this work alongside each and every one of them.

Yours in Christ,
Renee

Accessibility & the 2017 St. Luke’s Music Camp

Dear friends,

Preparations are underway for our third annual St. Luke’s Music Camp, which will be held from Monday, July 10th through Friday, July 14th. As most of you know, our camp offers children the opportunity to learn about music history, culture, and composition. They sing, study some of the great composers and periods of music history, and explore cultures from around the globe. Campers develop rhythmic ability on Orff instruments and are introduced to basic concepts in music theory. They become more aware of themselves, their communities, and the music at hand by participating in various art and mindfulness projects. In a follow-up essay to this one – which we plan to publish in the next week – you’ll find details about this year’s thrilling theme and structure. Stay tuned for that! But for now we wanted to share some details about this year’s focus on accessibility.

In “The Families that Can’t Afford Summer,” KJ Dell’Antonia asserts that only 7% of Michigan families fits the traditional stereotype, and that 35% are single-parent led. Students have a 10- to 11-week break each summer, yet only a quarter of American families are able to have one parent home. This means that three-quarters of American families have to find care for 440 hours per child. Because of the impossibility of meeting such an expense, many parents are forced to leave children home alone. In one of far too many examples, a South Carolina mom was sent to jail for leaving her 9-year-old to play in a park while she worked.

According to the Michigan Wage Calculator created by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a single parent working full-time for minimum wage earns $17,680. For that parent to meet the full living expenses for her/himself and two children (housing, healthcare, nutritious food, childcare, transportation, et cetera) s/he would need to earn $56,693: more than three times our minimum wage. Additionally, the average American one-week day camp costs $304, which is only $34 short of a full week of minimum wage page. This clearly means that for many, camp is not an option.

Additional barriers for summer camp access include the fact that most summer day camps run either in the morning or the afternoon, while most full time jobs require employees to be present for nine consecutive hours with the exception of a lunch break. Families without a stay-at-home parent often simply cannot coordinate mid-day pick-ups and drop-offs. And many families rely solely on public transportation, which makes three hour camps a logistical impossibility.

Also disconcerting is the impact of inconsistent summer care over academic achievement. Dell’Antonia contends that while “most kids lose math skills over the summer…low income children also lose, on average, more than two months of reading skills — and they don’t gain them back. That puts them nearly three years behind higher income peers by the end of fifth grade, and the gap just keeps getting wider. She concludes that this regression accounts for nearly “half of the overall difference in academic achievement between lower and higher income students.”

Finally, a disproportionate number of families living in poverty have experienced trauma, which is itself a barrier to both enjoyment and education. Across Kalamazoo, programs that help children deal with trauma have waiting lists. Trauma and ongoing toxic stress interferes with a child’s ability to pay attention, complete tasks, and learn new skills, which adversely affects their social and emotional well-being.  Recent discoveries in neuroscience demonstrate that repeated childhood trauma (or adverse childhood experiences) can disrupt brain development and effect changes both at the biological and psychological level.

In more heartening news, however, a study from Frontiers in Psychology reports that “The directed use of music and music therapy is highly effective in developing coping strategies, including understanding and expressing feelings of anxiety and helplessness, supporting feelings of self-confidence and security, and providing a safe or neutral environment for relaxation.” In this manner, music heals and helps individuals reach their wellness goals. Over the past decade, music therapy has emerged as a creative art form that has been used to address stress and coping with survivors of trauma. And the American Music Therapy Association identifies some of the benefits of music therapy treatment in cases of traumatic incidents, which include anxiety and stress reduction, positive changes in mood and emotional states, enhanced feelings of control, confidence, and empowerment. Engaging creatively with music can also lead to positive physiological changes, such as lowered blood pressure, reduced heart rate, relaxed muscle tension, and improved emotional intimacy with peers, families, and caregivers.

Through our partnership with the YWCA, the 2017 St. Luke’s Music Camp will offer opportunities to engage in art and music in ways that are specifically designed for trauma mitigation. Children will make drums to take home, which will help them alleviate aggression in a healthy manner. They will sing songs together, helping them understand their importance in a community of voices. They will learn breathing techniques and mindfulness practices that they can take with them after camp ends. They will create art and be encouraged to trust their creative impulses. And they will learn history lessons about people from around the globe who have known difficult times and have used music to not only survive, but to thrive. Additionally, we will set up “comfort spaces” in each educational area – spaces where children can recede to feel safer without having to leave the learning site altogether – and the YWCA will offer training to all staff and volunteers to prepare us for the work of facilitating education for those who have faced trauma.

These new measures will allow us to expand access to our rich and meaningful camp. Moreover, including kids who are living in poverty and with trauma will benefit children with more stable and secure home lives as well. Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo of Teachers College Columbia write that “students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.” Additionally, researchers out of Queens University, Charlotte assert that “Diversity among students in education directly impacts their performance. Studies show that students work better in a diverse environment, enabling them to concentrate and push themselves further when there are people of other backgrounds working alongside them. This promotes creativity, as well as better education, as those with differing viewpoints are able to collaborate to create solutions.”

Our collaboration with the YWCA has helped us meet the needs of low-income families by creating trust for our program with mothers in-residence at the shelter; helping us to plan and implement full-day wraparound care to make for A FULL WEEK of free childcare and no mid-day pick-up and drop-off needs; and offering transportation for YWCA folks to and from St. Luke’s. The YWCA is donating the trauma-mitigation training sessions, and lending us two full-time, experienced staffers for the week.

The biggest hurtle we therefore now face is expense. In the past, music camp has been free of charge to all children. However, running the camp was not free. Donations were used to purchase instruments, musical resources, art supplies, and snacks; to hire an accompanist and several guest lecturers; to provide T-shirts for all children and team leaders; and to host an end-of-program ice-cream social. This year, our proposed expansion in numbers and collaboration with the YWCA led to the decision to ask for a fee of $125 per child for families for whom this is not a burden.

This is low compared to the average summer camp in Kalamazoo. Additionally, families can take advantage of the wrap-around care and lunch, easing or eliminating childcare costs for the week. Finally, scholarships are available to anyone who desires to attend but cannot afford the suggested fee. Our camp is a space where children grow intellectually, artistically, musically, emotionally, and socially. We want all of the children of Kalamazoo to know that they deserve such a rich education. We could make this happen this year if only 50% of families were able to pay, and if we continued to secure the generous level of donations from the congregation that we have in the past.

We have additionally applied for two grants: one from the Gilmore Foundation and one from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Through that process, we learned that the ability to demonstrate strong internal funding support is necessary for securing grants, which is another reason we’re asking for a fee from those who can afford one, as a fee this year will make grants more likely next year. We anticipate that grants will eventually be our main source of funding.

Funding this camp will allow us to practice “spirituality in action.” Music Camp offers a one-of-a-kind ministry to community children and benefits Kalamazoo-area parents, who can take advantage of our wrap-around care. Our parish kids will get an even richer educational experience because of the diversity of their fellow campers. And it makes it possible for us to restore and deepen into our rich parish history of offering music education to children.

Thank you for supporting us in this community endeavor. We remain, as ever, grateful to serve Kalamazoo alongside you.

Yours in Christ,
Renee & Carrie

A Letter to the Women of St. Luke’s

Dear women of St. Luke’s,

In my time in this parish, I have been privileged to witness the strength of the women who call this place home. We are courageous, communal, generous, nurturing, and invested. We serve with a willingness that is startling to behold. I trust that you all have generations’ worth of stories to tell: stories about St. Luke’s women who have offered wisdom and insight; who have nurtured, fed, and healed you; who have listened and offered a steadying voice or hand. I already have more such stories than I can number. When I think about what our community of women is teaching our children – about grace, about relationships, about what it means to follow Christ – I am especially grateful.

But we are stretched thin. Our obligations can be demanding. We come together to be fed by the liturgy each week, but we may not always have time for other practices that nurture us or offer space for restoration.

Becky Clore and I have been working together to discern a way that we might more intentionally celebrate the sacred, multigenerational community we share in one another. We want also to address the fact that women’s own needs often go unmet. In the spirit of Christ – healer, listener, nurturer – we feel called to gather in a multigenerational sisterhood.

We are therefore thrilled to introduce a reimagine ministry: the St. Luke’s Women’s Group. As our first act, we want to offer some rest and restoration. Therefore, we invite the women of St. Luke’s to gather with us for an overnight retreat at Transformations Spirituality Center from the morning of Saturday, April 22nd through the afternoon of Sunday, April 23rd. As a community of women, we will be nurtured together, sharing as we feel called in periods of silence, leisurely fellowship, meditative walks, the breaking of bread, communal prayer, and worship.

Joan Chittister writes:

It is women’s experience of God that this world lacks. A world that does not nurture its weakest, does not know God the birthing mother. A world that does not preserve the planet, does not know God the creator. A world that does not honor the spirit of compassion, does not know God the spirit.

In celebration of the holy and vital work that falls to us as women of God, please mark your calendars for the weekend of April 22nd and 23rd. Please watch for more information on both the retreat and the women’s group in the weeks ahead. And please see me or Becky with questions, concerns, expressions of interest, creative offerings, or stories that bear witness to the work, fellowship, and history of the women of St. Luke’s.

Yours with love, in Christ,
Renee Maria Lee-Gardner

2016: Communal Grief and its Lesson

In addition to the difficult personal losses we’ve sustained as a parish this year, public figures keep dying: actors, artists, musicians. People whose lives were creative offerings; they keep dying. This isn’t new: people die; we know to expect that. But it seems, to many of us, that it’s happening more right now. More frequently, more quickly, on a grander scale.

In social media and elsewhere, there’s a sense that 2016 is to blame for these deaths. It’s this year – we seem to be saying – which has, let’s face it, been a difficult one. Syria, Russia, the destructive violence of a divisive election cycle, and now this sense that amidst so much hardship, 2016 has robbed us of some of our favorites. We are hurt. We are indignant.

But this communal sense of grief is intriguing. It isn’t just that, for example, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, and Leonard Cohen died. Instead, the sense is that we lost them. It’s about us; that’s what’s different right now. Collectively, these losses feel like ours. We are weathering them together. In the story we’re telling, we occupy the position of the bereaved. Not as family members – nor even as individuals – but as a nation. We; me and you; us.

Witnessing this public reaction has brought to mind another time when loss felt communal: when it seemed to reach across class and race divisions and political divides. Most of us can recall that in the wake of 9/11, there was a strong sense of bearing so much death collectively. Even as we differed in our beliefs about how to move forward, we came willingly together to carry the pain. Few among us actually knew victims that day and yet: we had lost them, and along with them some sense of who we were.

A field of scholarship emerged in the decade following September 11th in which researchers considered that day and its aftermath through psychological, historical, sociological, and literary lenses. Theorists wrote about our collective grief, and a picture began to emerge of how it functioned. The sense was that our sorrow had much to teach about pre-9/11 culture. That the relief we found in collective mourning revealed a need to engage with those emotions in our own lives. Fear of death and resistance to grief are dominant norms in contemporary American society. For this reason, we as a nation struggle to allow ourselves sufficient space for the work of grief. We aren’t good at it. Considered in light of this cultural weakness, the atrocities of 9/11 offered space for depths of mourning that we, as a culture, otherwise avoided. We were already grief-stricken, the theory goes. But planes flying into buildings – the shock of it, the horror, the staggering death count – served as an invitation to mourn rigorously. To do so publicly. To do so in communion with one another. We could righteously lament all that wasted life, and as we did, we could perhaps yield more fully to our own unacknowledged distress.

It feels worthwhile to consider our collective reaction to the various deaths of this year through a similar lens. If we accept that for most of us, this particular grief is less about the public figures we’ve lost and more about our sense of having lost them, we gain access to insights about our current state as a nation. So too, if we take space to consider our scapegoating of 2016 as the reason we have had to endure these public losses, we might come to understand with more depth what this year has cost us.

Here’s what I’ve witnessed, and perhaps you’ve noticed it too. Public figures for whom we feel affection seem to be dying suddenly, and friends, families, and communities are commiserating with one another about the sadness and injustice of those losses. We’re sharing with those around us a sense of affront: coming together with humor, anger, and sadness. Thus I argue that this year, public loss is serving a profoundly important function: it is granting communion. This is so because when we see these emotions, we recognize humanity. We can’t not. Our grief makes us human. It helps us see ourselves in one another. It helps us look with kindness upon those around us in a way that we haven’t been doing enough of this year. And we’re leaning in to that grief, I think, for precisely this reason: we need to see one another; we crave it.

2016 was divisive. It saw unfold a polarity that has dangerous historical antecedents. In the U.S. alone, 2016 bore witness to threats and actualized violence against marginalized groups of citizens. It bore witness to anger, fear, and hatred. And perhaps most frighteningly, it revealed a widespread and startling resistance to the hard work of real listening. It gave rise to a destructive and ever-deepening sense that we as a nation are an “us” and a “them.” But however painful this is to face: anger, fear, divisiveness, and refusal to listen aren’t a product of this particular year. Instead, those reactions are a product of us.

This piece too is familiar. In the wake of September 11th, 2001 – in addition to uniting us with one another in sorrow – collective grief led us to search for someone to blame. In part as a result of that search, we retaliated against hidden terror cells in Afghanistan. Whatever your sense of the political necessity of the bombs we dropped, few would argue that the killing of Afghani citizens brought about collective healing. Facing that lesson, we would do well to acknowledge that as painful as 2016 has been, 2017 will not heal us in any substantive way. This is true, again, for the reality articulated above: anger, fear, divisiveness, and a refusal to listen are a product of us, not this year. We will only be free of those realities when we refuse to perpetuate them.

With this in mind, I want to suggest that as we welcome 2017, we do so with a sense of having acknowledged our collective sins of 2016: foremost our willingness to allow our brothers and sisters to be defined by a short list of political associations and perceived as less human whenever that short list differed from ours. I want to suggest that we recognize in our cathartic sense of collective grief an indication that some of what this year has cost us is the ability to see ourselves as one in Christ: to understand ourselves as in communion. And I want to urge us to see in our reaction to public loss an immense and unmet need for connection. To meet that need in other, more intimate ways. To reach out, in this new year, across the divides we’ve let define us; to begin again the work of listening and seeing to which Christ calls us.

Paul tells the Ephesians, “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” Public figures need not die for us to know ourselves to be one dwelling place for God: to understand with gratitude that which joins us together as one holy temple in spite of our differences. Enormous as our current cultural divisions truly are – and critical as it is that we commit ourselves to the work of addressing them – our shared grief reveals that part of our suffering comes from our willingness to give in to those divisions. It is worth considering what – of ourselves, of our culture – might begin to change if instead we “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” by seeing one another as members of God’s household; by listening; by committing ourselves to kindness. We may well discover that such work lends itself to the political aims we are otherwise finding frustratingly unmet.

May this new year of our Lord bring you healing, comfort, and communion. May you enjoy one another with the freedom and unguarded pleasure of our creator God. And may a collective desire to meet one another in full recognition of our shared humanity heal us and our wounded nation, showing us a worthy path forward.