A reflection (and farewell!) from Mia Benjamin, Summer Pastoral Assistant
As my brief internship at St. Paul’s comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to sincerely thank you for all that you have done for me in the past eight weeks. In such a short time, you have taught me so much! I learned how to weave a pony-bead cross necklace, pack sandwiches for veterans, and rig up an amplification system. You’ve fed me with doughnuts and coffee and pulled pork--and fed my faith with your precious, sacred stories. Thank you for inviting me into your homes and meaningful moments in your lives. And thank you, as well, for shaping the Christian and priest I am becoming.
It’s impossible to summarize everything I’ll be taking away from my time here at St. Paul’s, but I thought I’d highlight three of the most poignant lessons I’ll be carrying with me:
1. Curiosity and wonder doesn’t stop with the end of childhood!
It was an absolute joy to explore Bible stories with your children at the Vacation Bible Camp. Godly Play’s open-ended format allowed us to imagine together--what happened before this story? What might come next? What part of the story is about us? Most memorable, however, was getting to tell my favorite Godly Play parable, The Parable of the Great Pearl, to children as a Sunday children’s homily and then again to the adults in my Sacred Stories class a few days later. It was fun to watch the children get caught up in the suspense and mystery of the parable; it was profound to witness adults doing the same. Both groups dove deep into one small sentence Jesus spoke and I was amazed at how challenging it was for the adults to reach for the conclusions the children jumped to with ease. Jesus couldn’t have possibly meant for us to give away everything for the Kingdom of God, could he?
I am deeply grateful to my Sacred Story class for wholeheartedly participating in somewhat-less-than-orthodox ways of being curious about the connection between story-telling and the Christian faith. We pictured ourselves smelling and tasting a Gospel story, we drew with crayons, and we looked for ourselves in modern art. I found myself in awe of the mysteries we unlock when we give ourselves permission to get creative and feel ownership of the stories of both the Old and New Testaments.
2. Music does make community.
I did go to a workshop entitled, Music Makes Community, so I would hope that I would have gotten to this point. But I’ve also been discovering this lesson in all sorts of moments here at St. Paul’s. I felt it in the enchanting tones of a handbell choir. I glimpsed it in the idiosyncratic pantomine of a five-year-old as she belted out the song she learned about her own empowerment. It was there in the room when our staff stood and sang together before our weekly meeting and at the brewery when the small group of all sorts of Christians were willing to make fools of themselves in public through sacred song.
I saw how musical boldness brings people together, and how it brings people to church. At the U2charist this summer, the sanctuary was not just filled with strong voices and beloved songs, it was also filled with people experiencing their faith in a whole new, yet lovingly familiar way. I am sad that I will not be able to join you for the Beer & Hymns event at Caliente’s Pizza and Drafthouse on August 15, but I have high hopes that moment can do the same for many others.
3. Pastoral care is done by all the people of God.
One of the primary reasons I came to St. Paul’s was to learn more about how pastoral care happens at larger, thriving parishes. I hoped to get a chance to get what it is like to provide pastoral care as a clergyperson and I’m deeply grateful to Garrett and Noah for inviting me into their ways of being pastoral leaders.
The more significant lesson I’ll take away is that authentic and effective pastoral care is best done by all the people of God, together. For the first time, I got to see lay Stephen Ministers in action. I learned about how the parish comes together around a couple in crisis, how the altar guild quietly and faithfully sends flowers to those who need a little bit more cheer, and the dedication of lay eucharistic visitors month after month. Most of all, I was struck by the everyday caring I saw between people of different generations and backgrounds.
Together with the Pastoral Care Commission, I was invited to imagine the even greater potential of the pastoral care ministries here at St. Paul’s. I’m excited and encouraged by how much this parishes cares for its people, and the investment you are willing to put into being there for each other in times of deep need.
Thank you to everyone who already took time to say goodbye to me and for those who’ll be praying for me as I take my marital vows on Saturday, July 28 and return to Berkeley for my final year at seminary. I wish this parish all the best with all the incredible things God is already doing with your life together!