We began Sunday morning with worship next to the New River. Our host at New River’s Edge, Paul Moody joined us for worship. We began by singing “Shall We Gather at the River” and then shared a time of confession and forgiveness. I (Pastor Matt) offered an early “bonus reflection” over the sound of a long freight train hauling coal passed by. Taking a note from Bill Mallonee (a favorite songwriter of mine) I told the group that trains are interesting because they are usually on their way from “Point A” to “Point B” and are somewhere in the midst of the journey. Like that train, we know where we are headed, but we haven’t gotten there yet. This was true for this week as we prepared to depart for St. Paul, but also for our faith journeys as a whole. We have a promised destination, but we are still travelling toward it.
Youth volunteer Emily L. read the story of Jesus’ baptism from the Gospel of Matthew. We then paused to look at the river in front of us and imagined the scene as John was baptizing and Jesus came to him. I shared with the group that the baptism of Jesus marked the beginning of his “ministry” which I defined as “Jesus doing things that changed the world.” I reminded them that our own baptisms mark the same beginning for each of us as we are claimed as children of God and sent out to do things that change the world. Our mission for this week will be “Change the world. Together.” We reflected on the ways that we will make a difference through the work we do, but also through the relationships we become a part of. I then spelled out the importance of doing this work together and unpacked our plans to work together and support one another. I also shared my hopes and plans as I serve as pastor during this week. I told them, referring to last week’s sermon, that my job was to help Jesus ruin their lives. I look forward to this unique opportunity to connect with each person on this remarkable team.
We then moved to edge of the water. I waded out into the river, mandolin in hand, and led the group in a worship song that I wrote last year (Spirit: Wind and Fire). We sang a new stanza to the song that was appropriate (“Spirit. Living water. Be poured into us.”) Between singing this refrain, everyone shouted out a prayer for the week as they cast a stone into the river. When the prayers ended, we broke off into pairs and each person stuck their finger in the river and made the sign of the cross on their partner’s forehead as we remembered the calling of our baptism.
Worship concluded by celebrating Holy Communion in a way that none of us had ever experienced before. Remembering our baptism, each one of us waded into the river where we received the bread and the cup as the waters of baptism trickled through our toes. It was holy ground.
After worship, we took another tubing trip down the river. It seems to me that every worship service should be followed by tubing!
After packing up and eating lunch, we took to the road and arrived at the #ASPWISE center located at St. Paul Elementary and High School in St. Paul, VA. We met our ASP staff and set up our living quarters for the week. Those of us who served in Hinton, WV last year were overwhelmed and excited to be sleeping on the floors of air-conditioned classrooms and having the gym available for sports instead of sleeping quarters. There is also a lot of nice outside space. The accommodations are still a far cry from most vacations (except for camping), but we are fortunate to be staying in a very nice center. We were also glad to have our group become complete with the arrival of Harrison C.!
At 5pm we had our first official #ASP2014 gathering where we met the staff of the #ASPWISE center and shared introductions with the other groups we will spend the week with. The two other churches here are both United Methodist congregations form Connecticut, both avid participants in ASP, and have an interesting connection to one another. Jesse Lee UMC is now in their 31st year with ASP. They sent approximately 35 volunteers to this site and another similar group to another county. They have used ASP as an ecumenical and community-outreach ministry for youth, so they draw in many participants from outside of their congregation. They have created a year-round program that involves local construction projects, robust training for ASP, and fundraising. Danbury UMC began their relationship by participating through Jesse Lee UMC. Now in their 6th year, Danbury has adopted the same approach to ASP and has 56 participants serving at two centers this week. These are exciting, experienced teams to meet! One of the adult leaders from Jesse Lee UMC is doing this for the 28th time!
We introduced ourselves by sharing how ASP has captured the imagination of our congregation over the past 2 years and then, Led my Mike S., the youth participants shared a series of rhymes about ASP that they had written and then everyone introduced themselves along with their favorite ice cream flavor.
Our three teams for this week are listed below by the ASP “site name” and the team members.
Team Prince Edward: John, Elizabeth & Sam M., Harrison C., Tommy W., Gillian H., Shannon R. (pics from #ASPWISE)
Team Agua: Dave W., Kim & Michael S., Tommy S., Amani H., Natalie M., Miranda M.
Team Simbo: Steve & Mason M., Claire & Emily L., Gabe H., Kaylin B., Pastor Matt Staniz (I plan to switch with others to visit each site for at least one day) (pics from #ASPWISE)
Both Team Agua and Team Simbo will be working at houses where another team (from Connecticut) will also be doing work. I am hopeful this will open the door for some stronger connections between our people and our new friends and co-laborers.
After dinner, an adult and a youth representative from each team traveled with ASP staff to visit their team’s worksite and (more importantly) the people they will be serving. Other members remained at the center getting oriented to the routine of chores that they will be doing throughout the week and getting settled. Work starts in the morning!