Monday, June 23, 2014

A Canterbury Tale

Ciao! It has certainly been a whirlwind couple of weeks here in Rome. Friends coming and going, high-ranking church officials visiting, receptions upon receptions upon receptions, and cap it all off: World Refugee Day! I've definitely not been as diligent about my blogging as I was last year, but you'll have to understand that it is wonderfully (and crazily) busy here. Where shall I start? Hmmm...

A few months back, Matthew Davies from the Episcopal News Service visited Rome to film a short piece about my time with YASC and the JNRC. Matthew has been traveling to many of the YASC placements this year and has created wonderful snapshots of the beautifully varying aspects of our shared YASC ministry. Mine has just been released! Take a look below, and make sure to visit the ENS website above to find more of the YASC videos.

Thanks to Matthew and everyone at ENS for supporting the work of the JNRC!

Archbishop Justin Welby
Shortly after Matthew filmed that video, we got word that the Archbishop of Canterbury would be making a visit to Rome. After weeks of planning, Archbishop Justin arrived last Sunday for a whirlwind tour of the city. The Archbishop's visit was to support the work of the Global Freedom Network. If you are not familiar with the Global Freedom Network, I encourage you to check out their website here. Basically, this organization is a major undertaking of both the Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Communion to fight human trafficking and forced slavery. Human trafficking rates are rising, and we are facing a global crisis. A good example of this is the Boko Haram kidnapping of the Nigerian girls that has been in the news recently. This is unfortunately only the tip of the iceberg. Many of the guests in our center have been victims of human trafficking, and the stories are just horrible.

The Global Freedom Network is one of the first major mission collaborations between the Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Communion. Even though we may disagree on many theological issues, we can all support this work to end the horrors of human trafficking and modern slavery. Ecumenism in action. Part of Archbishop Justin's visit to Rome was a visit to the JNRC. He came to see the center, but specifically to meet one-on-one of with one of our guests who had been a victim of human trafficking.

Maiga and the Archbishop
The Archbishop met with Maiga, one of our JNRC Artisans. We work very hard in the JNRC to make sure that the stories of our guests are well protected. We often get people who want to come in, with no mal-intent, simply to hear a sad story. While I believe that the stories our guests tell do indeed have transformative properties for those who hear them, we have to make sure they they are received in the most sensitive way possible. It is very difficult and extremely unhealthy for our guests to constantly relive their hardships over and over again to any one who asks, so we try and protect our guests from situations where their psychological health is put at risk. We never want our guests to feel like their story is being publicized for the benefit of the JNRC. This was not the case with the Archbishop. I spoke with Maiga after his talk with Archbishop Justin and he was deeply moved by the conversation, and I know that the Archbishop was equally as moved by Maiga's journey of overcoming some truly terrible hardships in his life.

The St. Paul's Crew

Packing Lunches
You would think that after such a big visit by the Archbishop we would get some time off to relax and recharge. You would be wrong. World Refugee Day was calling us! World Refugee Day falls every year on June 20th. It is a time to honor the struggles that refugees face everyday in their journey for freedom and peace. It is also a time to celebrate the many organizations and ministries that work with refugee populations in their respective communities. This year we celebrated in the JNRC with a special lunch for our guests. We also had nearly 50 volunteers come out to help make the atmosphere in the center fun and festive.

World Refugee Day

The larger St. Paul's community celebrated World Refugee Day this past sunday with a special liturgy for migrants and refugees. Archbishop David Moxon, the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative to the Vatican, preached a powerful sermon on biblical stories of people seeking refuge. We also celebrated the end of our shoe drive for the JNRC. The St. Paul's community raised nearly $450 to buy shoes for the center, on top of 15 pairs of shoes that were donated on Sunday as well. Thanks for everyones support in this!

Celebration After the Service

That's all for now!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Little Update

Here's a copy of a sermon I gave at St. Paul's this past week. You can find the readings I used here. You can also find audio of it here.

Easter 4 - May 11th 2014

Our first reading this morning came from the book of Acts. We hear about the devotion that many of the early Christians had to the teachings of the Apostles and Jesus. “They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” “They ate their food with glad and generous hearts.” The apostles were the first people to hear Jesus’ words and act on them. Not always perfectly, but they did strive to apply them to their everyday life. In essence, they are the first missionaries.

Some 2000 years later, and here I stand as a current day missionary of the church. As a member of the Young Adult Service Corps, the Episcopal Church considers me to be a missionary. I have the wonderful opportunity to serve here at St. Paul’s this year, as well as an incredible experience working in the mountains of Lesotho last year with the YASC program. Both my time here and in Lesotho have given me great insight into the work that the church is doing in the world.
 But a missionary? Am I a missionary!? Certainly not me.

At a training seminar I went to before leaving for Lesotho a few years ago, myself and all the other about-to-be-missionaries were asked to stand on a line based on how comfortable we were with being labeled as a missionary. I didn’t even have to think about it, I tried to get as far away from the term as possible. I couldn’t even begin to think of myself as a missionary. I had this idea in my mind of what a missionary was, which is an idea that many in our world can resonate with. My understanding of a missionary was someone that was sent out from their home, usually abroad, with the sole purpose of evangelizing and converting people to Christianity. Yikes… That’s what I thought of as mission work, and I tried vehemently to stay away from it and not own it.

While there is some truth in this characterization of a missionary, it really misses the point on so many levels. What I like about our reading from Acts this morning is that it talks about the importance of practicing our faith with concrete actions, not just words. Selling our possessions to benefit the needy, spending time in community with others, celebrating the many gifts given to us by God. But to be fair, this passage comes directly after the account of Peter converting and baptizing 3,000 people with one speech. If you can do that, more power to you! The Apostles evangelization and mission work is two fold. I think the reason Peter’s words were so effective is because they are backed up by the actions of the church and community forming around him.

The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion have 5 marks of mission that briefly define what the mission of the church is. They are:

-To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
-To teach, baptize and nurture new believers 
-To respond to human need by loving service 
-To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
-To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

What I hear when I read those 5 short sentences is a balance between word and action. A single mark cannot define the whole mission. It is only together that they start to give a real picture of what we are called to do in the church. When I read these, I always question myself about where my initial fears of mission work came from? Why was I so scared to accept this term?

Before heading out to serve in Lesotho, I remember that I used the term missionary very selectively. I specifically remember never using it around many of my college friends, who didn’t have the same faith background as myself. I wouldn’t use it even in a church setting because when I did, it felt like there were a lot of predetermined expectations attached to the word that didn’t really define what I was doing. And these expectations are well founded. Unfortunately, mission work does have a nasty and ugly side. There have been some very dark times in the mission of the church; the crusades, the inquisition, and colonization to name a few. I have no doubt that these overtones played a huge part in my avoidance of the term.

What I’ve come to realize since those early days of my missionary experience is that when I don’t use the word, I am letting others define what the mission of the church is. By not owning the term, I am conceding to the negative influences that distract from our mission and our responsibilities in Christ. If you believe that the work that the church is doing is for the betterment of the world, then it is time that we reclaim this term and stop letting others define what our mission is and what our work can do.

Today’s gospel reading echoes this idea wonderfully. “Jesus said, "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.” Jesus calls us his sheep. We know his voice, and he leads us. When we let others define our mission, we are listening to the thieves and bandits that are trying their hardest to get into the fold, to distract us, and to lead us away from God. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly.

What forces in your life are thieves and bandits, robbing you of your connection with God?

Thinking back to my college days, I avoided truly owning my faith when talking about why I was going to Lesotho. I found ways to describing what I was doing without fully divulging that it was my faith that was calling me to head out and volunteer for year of my life. I caved to my perception of societal pressures, and was robbed of an opportunity to practice my faith. In this case, the thief was my own fear of being accepted for who I am.

No matter what the thieves and bandits are in your life, Jesus reassures us today that we, as sheep, will run from the thieves and bandits because we do not know them, we know that their way is false. He doesn’t say that we will run from them immediately, but eventually we will return to the true path. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and like all good shepherds, he will not rest until all his sheep have returned to the fold.

Apostolic succession is a term used in the church normally to describe a continuous line of ministers back to the early Church. The Pope is a great example of this, as there is a direct and documented line from Pope Francis back to St. Peter. Although our line back to the apostles may not be as documented as the Pope’s, we do have a line, a connection, back to the Apostles and the early missionaries of the Church, and thus to Jesus. Someone nurtured you as a new believer, brought you into the flock, just as someone else did it for them, and so on and so forth. Documented or not, we are the successors of the first missionaries, each and every one of us.

If you still have doubts about your missionary status, that’s ok. It took me a long time to come to terms with mine. If you want to build a community where we don’t just preach peace and understanding, but practice it, you are a missionary. If you believe in continuing the tradition of teaching others about our faith, you are a missionary. If you want to acknowledge and address the issues in our world, countries, cities, and homes, then you are a missionary.  If you want to let your faith in Christ shine forth and inspire others, then you are a missionary. The greatest thing about our calling is that we get to make the church the force of change that we so desperately need in the world. We are all missionaries, and I look forward to building this flock with you all.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Radical City

A few weeks back I had the amazing opportunity to go to Venice. The city is of course one of the quintessential Italian cities one must visit when they come here. The city has been romanticized in so many ways and in so many different mediums, and for good reason. It is one of the coolest places I have ever been. Venice has shown up in pop-culture so much that I almost felt like I knew the city before I went there, but it can only be experienced in person. It is a city that is just radically different from anything else, anywhere.

From Doge's Palace
It is easy to get caught up in the beauty of the city, and believe me I did. Doge's Palace, Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge, The Grand Canal, and all the smaller "streets." It's beauty is unrivaled by any other city I know. But what I found most inspiring about the city is the fact that Venice was founded by refugees. That's right, refugees. Fleeing persecution from the Huns who were attacking the Italian mainland, the original Venetians sought refuge in a lagoon with tiny islands. From these rough and probably terrifying beginnings, the city grew to be one of the most powerful forces in Europe.

Piazza San Marco 

View from Ponte Rialto 

Venice started as a place of last resort. I can't even imagine what it would have been like to live in early Venice, a stinky lagoon that constantly flooded. But it was the only option available to the refugees who settled there. It is empowering to think of the transformation from this place of last resort to the beautiful and treasured city that Venice is today. I'm sure for many of the guests that come to the JNRC on a daily basis, Rome is a place of last resort. They have no family here. They have few friends. They are stuck in a vicious cycle and don't really have a way forward.

What I've taken away from my experience in Venice is that the way forward for the refugees I work with is going to have to be radical. Just as the Venetians built a radically different city, so too will the refugees in Rome have to build a radically new system to free themselves from the vicious cycle where they are trapped. I think people are scared of the word 'radical.' It's taken on a bad connotation in our society, but the word itself is more encouraging than it seems. Stemming from the latin term Radix, meaning roots, being radical is simply asking us to return to our fundamentals, to our roots, and reexamine our lives from a different context.

In this most holy of weeks dedicated to remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus, I urge you to be radical in your prayer, radical in your faith, and radical in your actions.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Looking Expectantly

Lent is one of my favorite church seasons. It’s a season that allows us to truly recognize our humanity. Inherent in our humanity is the fact that we will sin. It is going to happen. To me, Lent is the season that lets us know that even though we are bound to sin, we will be forgiven. But Lent is not only about reflecting on our transgressions, it is also about repairing and strengthening our relationship with God.

Ashes On-The-Go
As you can probably imagine, the season of Lent is a very busy one for a church. St. Paul's started out the season participating in Ashes on-the-go on Ash Wednesday. We stood outside the church on Via Nazionale, one of the busiest streets in Rome, and gave ashes to people passing by. Over the 3-4 hours that we were out there, we must have given ashes to over 100 people. St. Paul's is offering a variety of different classes and spiritual formation exercises this year, and I'm happy to be a part of many of them. It is pretty tiring though! My calendar last week was crazy, with a different event each night of the week.

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust
 you shall return"

St. Paul's Intern, Areeta

One thing that has been great for me this Lenten season has been preparing a baptism class with fellow intern Areeta Bridgemohan, called Roots of Our Faith. The class is focusing on what we are all asked to do in our baptismal vows and specifically how the Episcopal Church equips us to live out those vows. The class is designed for those that are preparing for baptism at the Easter vigil. It has been wonderful for me during this season of reflection to look at the vows I’ve made to God.

Archbishop David Moxon and Me
One of my weekly practices since I've been in Rome has been going to the Anglican Center eucharist on Tuesdays. The Anglican Center is basically the Embassy of The Anglican Church to The Roman Catholic Church. It is headed by the The Most Reverend Sir David Moxon, who is the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative to the Vatican. Archbishop David was previously the Archbishop of New Zealand. Folks from Camp Henry will remember the night prayer that we use at camp many nights (Lord, it is night. The night is for stillness...). This prayer comes from the New Zealand prayer book, which Archbishop David had a hand in writing. This particular prayer was drafted for the New Zealand BCP by a group and then thrown away because they didn't think it was good enough. Archbishop David literally saved the prayer from the trash can, and now it is used all over the world. It is one of my favorite collects to end the day on, so thanks David!

The Anglican Center's extensive library

The Chapel

Fellowship Lunch

Mantsonyane Lodge, paid for by the Community
of the Resurrection in England
Each week, a small group from St. Paul's heads over to the center to enjoy a eucharist and fellowship lunch with people from all over the world. You can never be too sure who you will run into at the Anglican Center. With Rome being a hot spot for pilgrims and travelers, the group that comes to the weekly eucharist changes every time. It's truly a microcosm of the Anglican Communion. It has happened on more than one occasion that I've met people at the eucharist that have not only been to Lesotho, but have been to St. James Hospital in Mantsonyane where I was working last year! The most recent time this happened I was speaking with Fr. Nicolas from the Community of the Resurrection in Mirefield, England. The Community of the Resurrection paid for the new guest house that St. James built during my time last year. The building is beautiful and has been a real asset to the hospital. The Anglican Communion is a smaller world than we like to think sometimes!

It is great, especially during this busy time of Lent, to be able to attend a service where I don't have to do anything other than participate. It is really nice to be able to sit in a service and know that I am not responsible for making anything happen. I just get to worship! Although we might not always be the best at it here, it is nice to be able to drop everything that is happening during the week and go pray. Even if things are extremely busy at the church, we all stop and head to the Anglican Center.

So, during this season of Lent I urge you to take time to stop what you are doing, no matter how important it is, and pray. Reflect on, renew, and strengthen your connection to God through prayer. And in the words of the New Zealand night prayer, "Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, and new possibilities" that will come after this blessed season of spiritual reflection.

Monday, January 27, 2014


You cant tell, but it's pouring down rain
Greetings from a cold and wet Rome! While a Roman winter may not be as bad as the winter many of you are experiencing in the USA right now, it's still pretty chilly (and very damp). Especially if you are part of the refugee community here and you don't have adequate housing. Housing for the guests of the JNRC is a constant concern. Many of these guys are living in places called a centro, which is a limited-time shelter for refugees. Once you've hit your allotted amount of time in a centro, you're back out on the street. There are a few other options for refugees when they've hit their time limit, like the tent center which resembles a refugee camp you'd see in a war-torn county, but even the tent has time limits set on it. Housing is a vicious cycle for many refugees in Rome. It's not possible to get sustainable housing without a well paying job (Rome is just too expensive to live in), and it's not possible to get a job until they've gone through the commission process to get legal refugee status (which can take a year or longer). Depending on how long the commission process takes, many of the guys run out of time in the centros and tents before they can even get their papers to start work. It's a very stark reality.

With all this in mind, Jill and I sat down with the new St. Paul's intern, Areeta, and two of the Artisans, Maiga and Syed, to discuss housing last week. If you are from the Diocese of Western North Carolina, then you might be familiar with a program called Room-In-The-Inn (RITI). RITI is a traveling emergency shelter for women in the WNC area. Each week a different church/business/school hosts the shelter. The host facility provides the space needed for the shelter, food for the guests, and volunteers to help out. RITI provides the infrastructure needed to make the shelter happen (beds, bedding, transportation, etc.). Jill had the idea to try and adapt the RITI approach to work with the refugee community in Rome. There are countless church spaces in Rome that are literally sitting unused, and there are countless more that are used but should be willing to host a group like this. It's going to take a lot of sitting down and working with different churches and figuring it all out, but I think this idea has a good chance of working. Will it solve the refugee housing issues in Rome? No. (But you have to start somewhere)

During this conversation, Jill mentioned that we should write the Pope. This struck me as funny because 1) I've never been in a situation where writing the Pope in hopes of getting something done was not just a shot in the dark/crazy idea, and 2) I've never been in a place where if I wrote a letter to the Pope about business, not only is there a good chance that the Pope would read it, but also respond to it. In Italy, it's all about who you know. If you know the right people, things get done.

Papa Francesco
The idea of different churches coming together to tackle the refugee housing crisis is very fitting for this time of year as we have just finished the week of prayer for Christian unity. The ecumenical community in Rome has been very busy this past week with all sorts of services, speeches, meetings, and conferences all about christian unity. The Canadian Council of Churches picked this years theme, "Has Christ been divided?"I had the opportunity to attend a few of these activities during the past week, including the Papal vespers on Saturday. The service was held at St. Paul's Outside the Walls, which is one of the larger churches in Rome. I think that anyone who has been paying attention to the work that Pope Francis has been doing can understand how much of an honor it was to hear the Pope speak on the topic of Christian unity (even though I didn't technically understand anything while he spoke). You can find a transcript of his homily here.

"We are all journeying together, fraternally, on the road towards unity, bringing about unity even as we walk; that unity comes from the Holy Spirit and brings us something unique which only the Holy Spirit can do, that is, reconciling our differences. The Lord waits for us all, accompanies us all, and is with us all on this path of unity."

The group of us waiting to get into St. Paul's

St. Paul's is HUGE

Christian unity is an easy thing to hope for, but it's definitely not as easy to implement. The final service of the week of prayer was on Sunday at San Silvestro. A congregation of Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, and more came together for a chance to all pray as one. I thought it was beautiful that after a week of talk of unity, these churches came together and raised a pretty sizable donation for the JNRC emergency housing fund. Actions almost always speak louder than words. Even though the week of prayer for unity is over, I encourage you all to seek as many ecumenical opportunities as possible. Reach out to someone from a denomination that isn't your own. Or better yet, visit a church different from your own denomination. Even though the church may be divided, I think we can all agree that Christ is not.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Meet my friend Saho. Saho is one of the JNRC guests that works with our Artisans group on Wednesdays and Thursdays. He is a multitalented artist who makes a majority of the peace flags that the Artisans group sells. Since I've met him, I don't think that I can remember a time where he hasn't had a smile on his face or a positive attitude. All around good guy. He's been working with the Artisans group since it started last spring.

JNRC Peace Flags

Saho is from Mali and he is here in Italy seeking protection from the war happening there. I don't know the full story of how Saho came to be in Italy, but it is pretty incredible from what I have heard of it. He originally left Mali and fled to Libya, just in time for the turmoil happening there. When Libya became too dangerous, Saho paid a smuggler to take him by boat to Italy. That boat unfortunately didn't make it to Italy. It broke down in the middle of the ocean for several days. The waters between Northern Africa and Europe are pretty well patrolled by various European coast guards, which means that Saho's boat was well within sight of people that could have come to rescue them at any point, but chose not too because of politics and bureaucracy. I don't know the exact number of days Saho and his boat-mates spent adrift at sea, but it was far too long.

Eventually Saho's boat was rescued by the Maltese Coast Guard. You might remember the story from a few months back about a boat of immigrants that was adrift for several days before it caught fire and sank less than a 1/4 mile off the coast of one of Sicilian islands. 150 people died and 250 more are presumed dead. So the fact that Saho's boat was rescued and did not suffer the same fate as the other boat is a huge blessing because it could have easily gone the other way. When a boat is picked up by the Maltese government, the people on that boat are then sent immediately to a mandatory 18 month detention. After detention it isn't clear what will happen to immigrants. Some are deported, some seek asylum, some move on to other countries. I know very little about the detention center in Malta, but from what I can tell it is a hell hole. The next part of Saho's story isn't clear to me, but he somehow escaped detention and fled to Italy.

Italy is sort of a safe haven for refugees because it has a very lax border. Almost anyone can come in, but once they are here there are few options for them. They aren't allowed to legally work, or even legally live here, until they gain actual refugee status from the Italian Government, which involves a long process called commission where they give refugees a "permesso di soggiorno" or Permission of Stay. Saho has been preparing for his commission hearing since he got here and he finally had his commission hearing a few weeks back. Saho was given a permesso di soggiorno of one year, which is the standard amount given to most Malian refugees. Commission hearings take into account many things, like a refugees family ties back in their home country, the state of that country, and the amount of danger involved in a refugee returning to that country. By the Italian Government's standards, the situation in Mali is improving, so they give Malians one year to stay in hopes that they can return afterwords.

The problem with this system is that it generalizes the whole conflict in Mali, and it generalizes every single Malian refugee that is in Italy. To me, it seems like it turns refugees into statistics and forgets the fact that they are human beings. For many, to return to Mali within the year would simply be impossible, which is Saho's case. I went with Saho yesterday to a meeting with a lawyer so that he can begin to appeal his commission decision. It's a long process that will involve somehow proving that Saho would likely be killed if he were to return to Mali. It seems a bit strange to me that refugees are asked to prove that they might be killed so that they can gain some kind of life. Prove your imminent death to live. That seems backwards to me in more ways than one.

I'd love to tell you that Saho's case is unique. I'd love to say that there aren't hundreds, if not thousands, more stories very similar to his. I'd love to tell you all those things, but I can't. There are parts of me that are very grateful to the Italian Government for even allowing people to come into Italy and seek protection, because even that is much more than many countries are willing to do. But there are other parts of me that are completely disillusioned with the system as well. There isn't a single part of the system that is easy for a refugee to navigate. You basically need a law degree to understand the complete in's and out's of the process.

There is a severe lack of humanity in the whole process, which is really what these refugees need when they've come from such terrible trials and tribulations. There is no humanity in letting people sit at sea because of the simple fact that they are refugees. There is no humanity in throwing people into detention simply because they are fleeing persecution by the only means they know how. There is no humanity in turning refugees into statistics in a report. This lack of humanity is why when Saho comes in on Wednesday with his giant, genuine smile, I'll smile back and chat with him as the friend that he is. This lack of humanity is why when a guest comes into the center, the staff and volunteers will smile and try to treat them with the dignity that the world forgot they deserved.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The New "Normal"

First, my apologies for not writing for several weeks. It's been absolutely crazy here at the church and I've literally not had a spare moment. So much has been going on in the past couple of weeks that I don't even know where to start with this post, but I'll do my best.

The craziness started with the St. Paul's board visit 3 Sundays ago. St. Paul's has been undergoing some  major renovation for the past 10 years, and this visit was a celebration for reaching the halfway mark. Austin worked really hard on setting up things for the board to do and see that are outside of the regular tourist experiences. Somehow I got on the good side of the group and was able to tag along on some pretty incredible Roman experiences. I could write a blog post about each of them, but I don't have time so you'll just have to deal with a quick overview. Tea with the British Ambassador to the Vatican at the highest vantage point inside the walls of Rome, a private tour of the Vatican observatory (which just happens to be located at Castel Gandolfo, you know, the Pope's summer residence), a private tour of the US Embassy's art collection, a private tour of the Villa Aurora with the Princess who still lives there (Yes, I did say Princess), and more food than I care to remember.

Tea Time!
It's a shame they didn't have this during the
whole "Galileo incident"...
These chairs are only 500 years old...
The Princess casually holding a letter from
Marie Antoinette

Fr. Austin, Rev. Jennings, Me, and Bishop Pierre 
Now if all that wasn't enough for one week, the Convocation's Convention started in the middle of the week. Since there are only 9 Episcopal Churches in Europe, spread out over Belgium, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and France, they band together to make a pseudo-diocese called The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. Convention is held in a different church each year, and this year it was St. Paul's turn. It was really great to meet people from all over Europe and make some good connections. I even got to meet the Rev. Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies. She gave a great talk about the state of The Episcopal Church. Everything with the Convention went off without a hitch, which was a huge relief to the St. Paul's staff. We also had a Peace Party with the the Artisans group from the Refugee center and we were able to sell a lot of their crafts. These parties are a great way to spread information about the Artisans group and the JNRC.

Peace Party for Convention spouses

Now as you can imagine, the church staff was quite tired after such an eventful week. The church closed down for a few days last week so everyone could rest, which was perfect timing for my good buddy James to arrive from Madagascar. James has been with the Peace Corps in Madagascar for the past year and a half and this trip to Rome is the first time he's been off the island since he arrived. You can imagine that he might be a little culture shocked. James, Austin, and I took a trip up into the Italian mountains around Umbria. Just an absolutely gorgeous area. We spent a night in a town called Norcia, which is famous for two things: Pork and Truffles. The Italian word for pork butcher is norcineria, which is derived from Norcia, so as you might guess the pork is ridiculously amazing. Norcia also happens to be the town where St. Benedict was born. There's a large benedictine monastery in the town where they make beer. Beer, Pork, Truffles. Sounds like my kind of place. We also stopped in a small town called Todi, which is where all Italian restaurants in the USA come to get their stereotypical views of the Italian countryside. Ok, thats not true, but its one of the prettiest towns I've ever been to.


St. Benedict

Needs no caption
One of St. Paul's parishioners asked me yesterday how I was settling in after 3 weeks, and I told him that I was doing well, but I hadn't seen what a normal week working with the church was like yet. He replied that I had indeed seen a normal week because "normal" doesn't exist. Even though he may be pretty accurate in that statement, it'll be nice that everything is settling down now and I can get a grasp of what this new "normal" will actually be like without so many events and guests. But it has been an incredible time the past couple of weeks and I'm still in shock about some of the experiences I've been able to have. That'll do for now!