In September of 2010, my son began confirmation classes at St. David’s Episcopal Church, Radnor. As he began this new stage of his life, I found myself also embarking on a new journey. Wanting to contribute in some way, I agreed to help with the outreach segment of the class when asked by a former priest, the Rev. Alison Harrrity. Thus, began the relationship between the St. David’s confirmation class and St. Gabriel’s, a church in North Philadelphia on the corner of Rising Sun Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard.
During the eight months, I learned so much from my involvement with St. Gabriel’s. When it was my Sunday to take our young people down to the Northeast the boys and girls in my car were bursting with excitement, a surprising fact given that it is 8:00 AM on Sunday morning!
We pulled into the gravel parking lot at St. Gabriel’s where Rev. Nancy and her congregation welcomed us. When we walked into the church, our arms filled with supplies, we are greeted with big smiles and heartfelt hugs. The members are so friendly and welcoming---they take us all in, as though we have known each other for years. I feel a sense of community that warms my heart.
Once we have everything organized for the upcoming meal we all joined together to worship. St. Gabriel’s is a small, unassuming church. Without a lot of elaborate decorations, it is, in fact, very plain, and yet, I find the church homey and comfortable.
Each time I went to the church I found myself moved to tears. The Gospel seemed to have such meaning when I was in a church filled with diversity. Yes, some from the confirmation class are privileged and some members of St. Gabriel's have little. But, here we are in North Philadelphia listening to the word of the Lord together. The experience moved me in such a profound way; I struggle to find words to express my emotions.
I had two experiences at St. Gabriel’s that left deep impressions on me. Both occurred during our visit in March 2011. First, I saw a young girl, 10 years old in the role of “Mother Hen”, taking care of four children between the ages of 2 and 5. She had no fear of crossing a busy Philadelphia street, no fear of not being able to care for these children. She just does it!!!! According to Mother Nancy, the young girl came to church on Ash Wednesday 2011 and brought all of her chicks with her. When these little people left the church in the dark to head home, they had ash crosses on their foreheads and lollipops in their hands that Rev. Nancy gave to them. They had no fear, because they knew God is watching over them.
The second experience happened when the teens of our confirmation class and the teens of St. Gabriel's gathered for closing discussion. I came up to the room to discover all of the St. David’s children on one side of the church and those of St. Gabriel’s on the other. Bill Dyson and Antoine Nazario were talking with them.The conversation was about why they weren’t sitting together. What was it that made them segregate?
FEAR! Fear was the source of their decision. Each of them felt comfortable being with people that they looked like rather than leave their comfort zone. And as one stated, we need to get to know each other better. With that, the teens decided to each stand and share again their name and what grade they are in. How remarkable that they recognized their difficulty and could articulate it.
Not only has my outreach with St. Gabriel’s brought me closer to God it has given these children of our confirmation class “real life” experience. God is everywhere, there is no fear in God, and God loves us all! Regardless of where we were born or where we live, together we have seen and felt God.
God is either everything or God is nothing. I am grateful to Rev. Alison P. Harrity and Rev. Nancy James Deming for giving me this blessed opportunity.