Friday, August 28, 2009

can you feel it ...?

(sent to the crossing community on thurs., 8/27)

... that tingle of fall in the air? It means summer is coming to its close. Which means we'll be back at The Crossing next week! Come out on September 3, and bring friends, as we gather for worship, community, justice, formation, and all those big, churchy words that try to describe what happens when the love of God stirs and we start moving. So come out and be moved! And please do yourself a favor and read elsewhere in this blog for the humbling, wise reflections of Chris Ashley and Marie Harkey, Crossing members who are finishing up a mission trip in Maseno, Kenya, this week. And read on to see ways we could do something for God together in the waning days of summer ...

what's happening @ the crossing?
NOTE: We return for worship and a fall full of promise on September 3 @ 6pm. Until then ...

TODAY @ 6-6:45pm / Crossing Community Prayer Gathering on Boston Common
A simple gathering for prayer, scripture reflection and song, keeping connections alive during our hiatus. LOCATION: Meet on the Cathedral steps at 6pm; the group will head onto Boston Common near the State House and get started at 6:15pm. CONTACT Kieran Conroy at or 845.781.3706.

Two members of The Crossing community -- Chris Ashley and Marie Harkey -- return this weekend from a life-changing journey to Kenya, and their stories will no doubt stir us all. We still need to raise $800 to pay for their trip. CONTACT: Rev. Steph via email or at 617.482.4826, x318 if you plan to make a donation (checks made out to St. Paul's Cathedral, with "Crossing Priest Discretionary-Kenya" in the memo area -- mail to 138 Tremont St., Boston MA 02111). LEARN MORE:

FRI., 9/11 / Pray * Serve * Reflect
Mark your calendars now to join a National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11, responding to President Obama's call to commemorate the devastation of 9/11 by engaging in acts of mercy. Read all about it at and stay tuned for specific ways The Crossing could engage. Let's go into action that blesses our city, and let's do it together! Stay tuned ...

community notes
Giving @ The Crossing -- An Update
We're at the halfway point in our annual giving goal of $20,000 in 2009. Please prayerfully consider making a one-time gift or start pledging (setting out an amount you'd like to give over the course of a year, and filling out a pledge card so we know we can count on your contribution). Give however you're able: cash, check or credit cards. CONTACT: Chris Ashley at

You got stuff to share (a job, a couch, a theater gig you want people to attend …)? You need stuff (lost scarf, dog-sitter, a summer sublet …)? Log onto our new online forum to connect and share information about random community announcements -- including upcoming events, apartment sublets, job opportunities, lost-and-found, furniture exchange, help requests, etc.

ongoing justice and healing ministries
We're serious about joining ministries that serve our homeless and hungry brothers and sisters. Please join us any day of the week!

** Monday Lunch Program: Cathedral every Monday, 10am to help with set-up, or 11:30am-12:45pm to help serve & build community with our neighbors. Contact Rev. Steph at

** St. Francis House: Volunteers needed every day to help serve meals and provide care. Boylston St, near Chinatown. Lynn Campbell, our link to St. Francis House, is on her way to seminary. But if you'd like to help out, call (617) 542-4211 or go to

AND join Boston Faith and Justice Network to build awareness, relationships and action around fair trade and justice issues locally and globally. Go to for more info.

getting connected @ the crossing
If you'd like to be in touch, we'd love to connect with YOU! Look at the list and then reach out:
** Stephanie Spellers: / 617.482.4826, x318
(priest, communications, pastoral care)
** Jason Long: / 617.482.4826, x311 (small groups & formation, newcomers)
** Chris Ashley: (budget, hospitality)
** Kieran Conroy: (emerging church connections)
** Jamie Urquhart: (music ministry)
** Keith Nelson: (worship arts)
** Jenna Tucker: (general admin)

Blessings, rest and joy in the name of Christ -- Alleluia!
Rev. Steph

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pray. just pray.

(a post from marie harkey)

Hi all,

I didn't have internet access for the last few days of my trip. This
is my journal entry about my last day in Nairobi. There is still much
more to tell ...

Today Bakala drove us into town early when he took Joan to work.
(Gillian came along.) We went to a cyber cafe for about 40 minutes
because we were so early in town. That was good, since I hadn’t sent
an email since Monday morning, I think. Then he took me to some shops
to buy some souvenirs. What a contrast with what was about to come.

Bakala needed to go to Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, and he took
Gillian and me along. Bakala is a social worker. In the past, he has
worked in Kibera, doing a cash distribution program, where the
government gives cash to those who are taking care of orphans (defined
as a child without one or both parents) and then following up to see
how they are using the cash. This week, Bakala is working as a
supervisor to the supervisors of the enumerators who are trying to
take the census in Kenya. This is an enormous job because the
questions on the census are quite detailed. Not just names and ages of
household members, but where they get their electricity if they have
it, whether and how often they access the internet, how they deal with
waste, which children work and how much (many young girls do), who’s
in school and where, anyone who has left the household to go to
another country since 1995, and for girls over 12, information about
pregnancies and births. It would be a remarkable picture of the
country, if all that information could be collected.

So Bakala went to meet with his supervisors in Kibera this morning,
and I got a firsthand look at a slum of 1 million people in a
developing country. There will not be pictures. I could not do it. It
seemed wrong, intrusive, exploitative. So you will have to imagine
from my description, but I assure you, you will not come close. Not
with your first-world minds, not unless you too have been somewhere
like this in the developing world. You must take the worst you can
imagine and then make it worse than that. And even then you will not
be close.

The “houses” are all in a row, no separation, connected completely.
Only thin walls separate one from another. They are made of whatever
there is: corrugated metal, wood planks, mud bricks, sometimes all 3,
sometimes more materials that I couldn’t identify. There are no
windows, no proper doors. It seems that life is lived outside, except
perhaps for the night time. There are also buildings of flats, where
entire households live in one room, and thus 3 or 4 households live in
one flat. There are some cement-block homes, again with many
households crowded inside. And the households are huge. The
enumerators were running into problems because there is only room for
10 people on a census sheet. Many of the households in Kibera contain
15 to 20 people.

Behind a row of shacks, I saw a Masai child herding 5 or 6 emaciated
cows. Chickens run all over. People stand around, talking, or sit in
“shops” that look just like the shacks except with no front walls.
They sell foods, cell phones, clothing whatever they’ve managed to
make or acquire. In the slum, there is no running water, no
electricity unless stolen. Nothing is easy.

As we walked deeper into Kibera, down a road lined on both sides with
shacks, conditions were worse. (It’s a good thing Bakala didn’t ask me
if I wanted to go. I doubt I would have had the courage.) We passed
over a drainage ditch. You cannot imagine the smell of rotting
garbage, fetid water, and God alone knows what else. We continued down
the road and Bakala showed us how the enumerators use chalk to mark
the households that have been counted. (Anything sounding Biblical
yet?) Then we came to a sort of T in the roads. Shacks in front of us,
but also an open area. Some very small children were playing with half
a plastic bottle (the kind the we drink bottled water from) in the red
clay. Bakala said it’s good to at least see them play. Some are
apparently working all the time. Many take care of younger family

In the midst of this, Bakala sent Gillian and me back up the road
while he went to “pick” the car. (I love this expression: you “pick”
someone at the airport, instead of picking them up.) He assured us of
our security, but I was completely ill at ease anyway. Gillian is
young, beautiful and well-dressed. And I, well, I am a mzungu, which
means there’s no way NOT to stick out.

But Bakala was right. We continued on our way toward the main road and
I realized we were safe. There was no violence, no yelling or
screaming. No one looked like they were threatening to us or to each
other. No one asked me for money. (I could never say that after a trip
into Harvard Square.) Bakala said that disagreements among different
groups can happen and can get ugly very quickly, but I saw no evidence
of such.

And I noticed something else, and the fact that I noticed screams my
privilege, I know. As I looked at the people who were headed out with
us, they were well-dressed, neat, clean. I would never have guessed
the conditions in which they live. As Gillian said as we stood at the
end of the road, at the main road out of Kibera, “These people really

I don't have some facile ending to this story, some trite lesson that
I've learned from walking through Kibera. I only have a deep sense of
heaviness in my heart and a sadness that's not easily defined. Please
join me and pray for the 1 million souls in Kibera.


Monday, August 24, 2009

(marie) an abundance of church

(posted by marie harkey)

On Sunday morning, Chris A, Chris F and I set out for All Saint Church, Esabula with the Rev. Joash Owila at 9 a.m. He had walked to St. Philip's to collect us, a feat I only appreciated as we walked with him back to the church. We crossed the main road (which does not mean a paved road) and headed down what we in the States would call a path to his church. Thirty minutes and many dips, turns, rocks, gulleys and a couple of ankle-twistings later, we arrived at the church. All along the walk (during which I looked mostly at the ground to see what the next obstacle would be) I was reminded of the red clay dirt of my youth in Georgia. The dirt here in Maseno looks exactly the same. And it stains your toes and ankles in exactly the same was as Georgia dirt does.

We arrived at the church around 9:30 and the youth service was already underway. The Padre (that's what his parishioners call Rev. Owila) says that when he came the youth group at All Saints was very strong, but that they needed a priest who understood them. Although the bishop isn't terribly fond of services that don't follow the prayer book, he allows the All Saints church to have this "youth service" conducted all in English. The younger folks prefer that because they learn English early in school and Luhyia isn't a written language. They love what they call praise music, which pretty much means anything in English. Chris and I are bringing home a song called "When Jesus Says Yes" to the Crossing.

The youth service is led by a young man perhaps a couple of years younger than Chris. There is sharing and testimony from each person present. Most begin with "Praise the Lord," to which the congregation responds, "Amen," and then "Praise the Lord again," to which the congregation again responds "Amen." Many of the young men and women offer their testimony with the words, "I want to encourage you from..." and they quote a scripture to which all rapidly turn in their Bibles. Chris was able to follow suit when we were called upon to
offer a word and encouraged the congregation with Paul's words to Timothy about not letting anyone despise his youth.

After the youth service, the choir began to practice and a more beautiful sound I can't remember hearing in a very long time. Thanks to the new iPhone voice memo software, I recorded much of it. The choir at All Saints is quite famous and they are working on buying a tent and chairs so that they can go on the road to other places with everything that they need.

Chris A., Chris F. and I processed in with the choir and Rev. Owila, and others who were involved in the service, strings of what looked like Christmas garland around our necks. (Yes, of course there are pictures.) We were treated as very honored visitors and seated at the front with interpreters since the main service is conducted in Luhyia. (The Luhyia are the tribe that dominates the Western province of Kenya.) My interpreter was Grace, one of the leaders of the youth service and the daughter of one of the lay leaders of the church.

Chris A's sermon was a wonder! He referenced Luhyia customs and culture, got a few laughs (through the Rev. Owila's translation, no less) and made points that kept Rev. Owila talking throughout much of our journey back home. I hope he will post it at some point. At the end of the service, we recessed out (we began and ended the service outside) and I was asked to offer the benediction.

After church, we were invited to the home of one of the church members for lunch, which was wonderful. This Southern girl is loving the way they cook their greens here in Kenya!!! There was also chicken, ugali, rice, bananas (tiny little things - I must remember to take a picture) and oranges. I can't begin to tell you how much better fruit tastes here than at home.

Finally, there were a couple of stops that we needed to make on our way home. If we had stayed for tea at each, as was wished, we would have missed dinner at the Hardison's back home as well being caught in a downpour. Fortunately, the Rev. Owila understood that it would not be good for us to be late for dinner and made our excuses as we visited the museum/home of the first African archbishop of Kenya and then the home of the widow of the Bishop Mundia, the previous bishop of Maseno North diocese, I think. That woman is a wonder, called Mama by everyone (a title of great honor). In greeting and leave-taking, she kisses you on both cheeks repeatedly and I was honored that she called me Mami, which is perhaps related to Mama.

We finally arrived back home at 4 pm, just as the first drops of rain started to fall. I asked in concern if Rev. Owila (who had accompanied us once again) would have to walk home in the rain and he replied, "It's just a drizzle." Silly me and my American sensibilities.

Dinner with the Hardison's was wonderful, but I couldn't do it justice after having eaten so much lunch. There was a wonderful stew of beef, green beans, potatoes and other vegetables and I did manage two helpings as well as a piece of homemade cake from Nan's grandmother's recipe.

The contrast between scarcity and abundance here is striking. Scarcity of water because of political conflicts. Scarcity of electricity because of deforestation which has led to rationing. Scarcity of material goods and money to do what is needed in this country. And yet, an abundance of offerings of the first fruits of the harvest to the Orphan Feeding Program at All Saints. (Throughout the morning, people came in to lay great bags and baskets of maize at the altar rail. The harvest had just ended and these were offerings to feed the orphans.) Abundance of hospitality, beautiful singing, worship and praise and above all, an abundance of love.

Sending love from Maseno,


Behind the bucket baths

Hello all!

I wanted to add one quick note to Marie's post below. Last week, we shared the campus at St Philip's with fifty lay leaders from all over the Diocese of Maseno North, who were on a training retreat. And for almost that entire week, we had no running water anywhere on campus.

At first, we threw up our hands. There's a saying for any event that exasperates or confuses westerners: "T. I. A.", or "This is Africa". As our hostess, the indefatigable Nan Hardison, explained to us at dinner last night, there's actually more to it than that. Yes, the water pump broke; yes, the spare needed parts we couldn't get quickly; yes, the plumber was a couple of days late. But even when the pump came back on, we only had running water for about twelve hours. And there was a reason-- a typical piece of corrupt local politics.

You see, the water infrastructure around here, the pipes and so on, were donated and built a decade or two ago by the Rotary Club of Amesbury, Mass. Along with the pipes, they set up a local water board to oversee maintenance and rate collecting and so on. Well, a few months ago, a group of local citizens organized a coup of the local water board, secretly sold the works to a new private corporation they'd formed in their own name, and done it all without involving the community or the higher water authorities. This is effectively theft of a public water utility. Nan has been trying to expose them; so they picked last week, when the campus would be full, and deliberately shut off the water.

Most ironically of all: The man who turned the valve is himself an Anglican lay leader! But he was glad to put fifty of his colleagues through a week of bucket baths, when they could have had showers, in order to punish a whistle-blower.

That sort of pettiness is common in politics everywhere. Examples from Massachusetts certainly spring to mind. But Kenya is a shameless place, in general. Bishops here say things that I know American bishops believe, but would would never publicly say. Beggars don't say "Do you have any spare change?", but rather a straight-out "Give me money!" Sometimes it's refreshingly honest. And sometimes, it means bucket baths.

PS: By default, this blog only shows the last two posts. But you can look at previous ones by clicking on the post titles in the left-hand column. I recommend you do, as Marie's bucket bath post is currently off the front page, and it's obviously part of this post's background!

And then there was singing...

[Posted for Marie Harkey-- Chris A. Marie wrote this Saturday night.]

It will surprise none of you who know me that hearing a group of kids singing makes me cry. Hell, I cried at my students' choir concerts when I taught high school. But a bunch of Kenyan children at an orphan feeding program on a Saturday morning? Call me a goner.

The orphan feeding program is run by the Mother's Union of a parish (which is a group of churches here in Kenya). They are sort of like our ECW - the women of the church. We visited two different churches in Luanda, a market town near here. At the first, the kids were grouped into classes by age, learning different English lessons and math. We wandered from group to group and amazingly, although it was clear that our arrival caused some stir, the kids kept working. By the time we had had tea with the volunteers (tiny bananas, ground nuts, aka peanuts, and tea), the kids were done with their lessons and we got to go out to play. Carlos, a resident who's doing a one-month rotation at Maseno Hospital with Gary Hardison, brought out bubbles
and stickers and suddenly the wazungu were the most popular people going.

It was such fun to see all this beautiful faces laughing and smiling and running after the bubbles that we and they were blowing. And not one of them could get enough stickers, even when I teased that I would put them on their noses.

And then we all piled in the car to leave and that's when it happened. All those kids gathered up in a big crowd beside our car and started singing and waving. And suddenly, the role of Lady Bountiful of the Bubbles didn't seem to be nearly enough to overcome all that I could imagine in these children's lives.

The "Orphan Feeding Program" was started for children who have lost at least 1 parent to HIV/AIDS. Most of them live with aunts or grandmothers, and there are some who live in child-headed households. Every Saturday the program provides them with breakfast, a hot lunch, some school instruction (because many of them can't get uniforms or fees necessary to go to school), and some play time.

I couldn't help but notice the contrast between the after-school programs that I've worked with that hope to provide kids with at least one hot meal a DAY and the Orphan Feeding Program here that hopes to provide these children with one hot meal a WEEK. Nan says it's made a huge difference in the kids' health and energy level. Imagine, just one a week.

I guess it's true that once you've seen things for yourself, they take on huge significance. If you want to donate to the Orphan Feeding Program, here's the website. I'll be bringing some Kenyan kids home in my heart. Hope they can work their way into yours as well.

Love from Maseno,


Bucket bath!

[posted for Marie Harkey-- Chris A. Marie wrote this Friday night.]

"There is no 'hurry' in Africa." This is what I learned from a man named Daniel who walked along the road from the hospital to St. Philip's with Chris F. and me yesterday. As if I didn't already know that! We have electricity now (although it still goes out occasionally, but not for long) but still no running water. So, flushing the toilet and taking a bath become things that I plan for like an army general planning a campaign.

My "bucket bath" this morning made me happier than anything so simple has a right to, but there you go. I am clean, my hair is clean and I feel like a new woman. I captured all the water I used so that I could flush the toilet. I was inordinately proud of my resourcefulness. It is a necessary quality here in Africa, I assure you.

I hear stories from everyone about how things are just more difficult than we in the developed world are used to. It tries our patience and teaches us things that we'd never learn at home. All of the lessons I can tell you about sound like the trite aphorisms you read in silly self-help books, but they are my real learnings.

I'm learning to slow down. Really slow down, and to believe that sitting on the porch, reading a book and listening to the roosters, birds, cows and chickens is a holy moment. I'm learning the importance of water and to give thanks, real from the heart and gut thanks, for rain. I'm learning to listen, really listen to people's stories.

Like Ruth, the woman who cooks our dinner and generally takes care of our kitchen. She told us yesterday that her husband just got back from Europe, where he got a Master's degree from a university in Geneva. She talked about how Africans perceive anything related to wazungu to be good. White skin is pretty, she said, and all the technological advances come from America. Everyone wants to be like the wazungu or at least like what they perceive as our world.

I have hard time with this, of course. The remnants of colonialism are far-reaching and make me feel guilty for what we wazungu have done. I hold out some hope that people like the Hardisons will continue to make the kind of difference here that matters. Still, it's hard not to get discouraged when I see the poverty and corruption all around me. So I do what I can, which isn't much. I bear witness. And I pray.

Other learnings: Water is important. Roosters are loud. Children are beautiful and loving everywhere. Rain sounds infinitely better on a tin roof in the midst of a drought than ever it does at home. God is alive and well in people and in our relationships with each other.

Today's agenda: Chris F. and I will go with Nan to the orphan feeding program in a couple of different churches. Chris A. will work on his sermon for tomorrow. And all of us will meet God, over and over again.

Lots of love from Maseno,