Ian: “A day in my life”

My weekday schedule is split between two placements, Habitat For
Humanity and St Stephen’s Episcopal School. I spend my mornings at
Habitat researching and hunting for grants to apply to our programs,
Home Ownership or Critical Home Repair. It’s a lengthy process that
doesn’t always generate results but I encounter many helpful links and connections along the way, some of which could be good potential resources
or partners for Habitat. Occasionally, I return to these sites to stay
up to date on their relevance but otherwise I have a singular task.
Once, I compiled a record of Habitat donors that listed the highest
amount they ever contributed, the last time they contributed and the
campaign they were supporting.

In the afternoon, I catch a bus downtown and after 20 or so minutes, I
go into St Stephen’s School where I meet my afterschool students in
the Undercroft basement. I usually take the preschool to first grade
children to the library where an older student aide reads to them,
while most of the older children stay in the Undercroft to do their
homework. Snack time follows after that and then a coworker and I
supervise the clean up. The older and younger children split up after
that, to finish their homework and play games, respectively. My task
loosely revolves around letting parents in to collect their children,
keeping an eye out for disciplinary and safety issues and occupying
the younger students. Around 5:10-5:15, the after school staff members
lead any remaining students into the foyer to wait for their parents
and by 5:30, our supervisor dismisses us.

All in the day and the life of Corps Member Ian Tan 🙂

Faith: A look into her Diocese Placement

“So… you’re doing a year of service, but what do you actually do?” I get asked this a lot. A year of service can look like a lot of different things. It’s great that there are so many ways of serving our communities. But what does this actually look like? 

In the Sycamore House Service Corps program, every corps member is matched with a placement site. My site is the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. The diocese is the governing body of 60 congregations across central Pennsylvania. I serve as the diocesan events coordinator and assistant to the canon for communications. My time is split between planning and managing events and communicating information for the diocese. 

I help create each event that the diocese sponsors. I set up registration, coordinate with locations, create agendas– basically covering all the little details that go into events. I’ve gotten to do some really cool things with the diocese. We got to meet the governor at a tree lighting ceremony at the State Capitol.

We did animal blessings at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. It was fun interacting with all kinds of animals and their handlers, as well as seeing Butter Gritty!

My favorite event has been the live nativity. We hosted a live manger scene with donkeys, sheep, goats, and a camel named Percy! He was the highlight of the night. 

The other part of my work is helping manage communications. I manage social media pages, assist with newsletters, flyers, and other forms of media. I’m glad I get to use the skills I learned as an English major. Don’t let anyone tell you your liberal arts degree is useless! You never know how things will pan out. 

And of course I have to mention one of my favorite parts of the job: our office cats! Lilly Grace and Rey are two adorable kittens that live in the diocesan office. They bring us joy every day. They are reminders to me of God’s grace, love, and humor. They are playful and intelligent. Rey has learned to sit through clicker training! I feel like a proud mom. You can follow Lilly Grace and Rey on Instagram @episcocat_diocpa

What I’ve learned from working for the diocese is that everyone has a part to play in the church. Clergy are not the only leaders in the church! Whatever your gifts are, you can use them to bless your community. I’ve also learned more about the structure of the church. It’s still a whole new world to me and kind of confusing, but it’s also really interesting. And anyone can get involved. Don’t be intimidated or think that you can’t contribute. Anyone can find a way to be involved. 

Thanks for taking the time to read this! I hope this gives you a sense of what a year of service might be like. It’s definitely an adventure!

One Step at a Time

A view from the Center of the labyrinth at Mt. Calvary

A few weeks ago, we had a day-long retreat at Mt. Calvary Episcopal Church in Camp Hill, right across the river from where we reside (thank you Mt. Calvary for the use of your beautiful space)!

I had planned a few activities for the day, and one of them was a labyrinth activity. Mt. Calvary has a beautiful labyrinth outside that is open to the community and close to a lovely park.

Labyrinths are a spiritual practice that have been used by Christians and other faith traditions for centuries. They are often circular, winding patterns that have been built into many of the famous Cathedrals in Europe, and today can be found in or around many churches in North America. They are different from mazes in that they have one path in and out, and no tricks or false turns.  

As I pulled up to the church, I realized that, due to the recent snowfall, the labyrinth was mostly covered. I was a bit disappointed as it seemed my planned activity would have to be adjusted. But as our retreat began, I gave an option to participants to stay warm indoors and journal, color, and reflect, or to brave the cold and snow and try the labyrinth. I decided I myself would attempt the outside activity, along with a few others. So I bundled up and ventured outside. As I approached the labyrinth, I noticed that our group was not the first to walk it in the snow. There were footsteps of those who had gone before us. I realized that those footsteps helped to guide me onto the spiral path. It was hard to see the larger vision of where I was going, but if I took a few steps, I could see the next few steps as well.  This pattern started to feel a little familiar, like…I don’t know, life?

Before I knew it, I had made it to the center. I saw the birds flying above, the blue sky, sled tracks and dog tracks along with the people tracks.

I thought about how I have often had times in my life where my long term goals were unclear, where I came to a fork in the road, and only by taking the next step onto one path or another, could I see the way before me. I love how my Quaker friend (and fellow service year housemate) describes this process: “Way opens,” she says.

Each time this year, as we interview folks for the next year, I wonder what our group will turn out to be like, and there is a mix of nervousness and excitement on the parts of the interviewers and interviewees. It is inspiring to interview young adults, many of them finishing college or in a transition time where the way before them feels unclear. They are drawn to the Episcopal Service Corps for a variety of reasons, but all of them come to us because they want to learn, serve, and take part in changing the world for the better. Each year, they take a leap of faith and sign up for one of the ESC programs, not knowing what the year will hold.

I walked the path of the labyrinth back to the beginning, now retracing my own footsteps along with the other fellow pilgrims who had gone before. I prayed for our current group of Sycamore House members, who are halfway through their year and already starting to think about what’s next. I prayed for our past groups (14 years in all!), and for the ones that would come after.

May we continue to take steps of faith, deepening our self- knowledge, while bringing ourselves closer to God and to others.

-Program Director, Micalagh Moritz

Guest Post: Emily Schmid on vocation

“There’s a song lyric from a hymn I remember from several churches ago that says, “We are called to act with justice, we are called to love tenderly, we are called to serve one another and walk, humbly with God”

I’m fairly positive this lyric is based off of the verse from Micah 6:8 that says, “What does the lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” ‘

To read more about Emily’s thoughts, continue to her blog here!

Bigler House: A bit broken, but beautiful

I’m convinced our house is haunted. 

On Halloween night there was a very noisy thunderstorm outside. The downstairs heater was persistently clanking and sounded like something out of a horror movie. I was cleaning out the fridge, went to get a trash bag, and realized our kitchen sink was leaking. I then turned around to notice that spots of drywall were falling from the ceiling onto the floor. Also, the carpet was wet… Which led me to realize that the spot of water I had walked over earlier in the evening was not from a spilt water glass but was actually coming from a leak in the ceiling. Several frantic texts in our group-chat, and some strategic placement of buckets later, I decided to retire to my bedroom and pray our house would still be standing the next day. Fortunately, it was.   

Thank God for Tom Long, Jim Elliot, Mike Frascella, and all other members of the property committee who help to keep our house running and cockroach free.

I was somewhat reluctantly assigned the role of property committee coordinator because I experienced a plumbing emergency with my older sister right before moving here. The tread on one of our bathtub faucet knobs broke so water started going everywhere. I learned the importance of emergency water shut off valves. So when we moved in here I started asking questions like where water shut off valves and circuit breakers are and people assumed that meant I knew things. 

There seems to be a constant list of things to fix in this house. The repeatedly clogging downstairs toilet, the washing machine that only runs hot water, the tile that needs to be re-caulked otherwise water from the upstairs shower will leak onto the bedroom below, the broken spray hose on the kitchen sink, the list keeps growing. Sometimes taking care of this house feels like playing with one of those children’s toys where once you plug one hole the water starts flowing out of another one, and you can never seem to plug all of the holes at once. 

That being said, I’m very glad my job is just to communicate and not to actually have to do any plumbing myself. Because we have been keeping the property committee on their toes this past month, I was really grateful to have the opportunity to give back to the church through our parish work day a few Sunday’s ago. 

As I was cleaning out the choir pews near the front of the sanctuary it occurred to me how much attention is required in order to clean something properly. As I was wiping down the choir pews I found myself wondering how many generations of people had sat in them. I noticed spaces and scuff marks and cracks in the sanctuary that I never would have otherwise. The cracks in the plaster made the church more, not less, beautiful to me. In large part that was due to the great number of people who came out to take care of the building together.

Our rector Amy told me once the most honest thing we do in church every Sunday is ask for forgiveness for our sins. One of my favorite parts of church service has always been taking communion (and not just because it meant the sermon was finally over). Communion to me is an acknowledgement of the brokenness inside of all of us, and a commitment to work on that brokenness in community within one another. That’s what I love about church. There are cracks in the plaster, but we polish the pews together. 

Our little house may be broken, but it is beautiful. The same goes for our little community.

While I am still convinced that our house is haunted when my radiators start talking to each other in the middle of the night, I am now convinced that it is haunted by a spirit of love. The people who lived and worked here before us left their mark upon the place. I feel comforted that there were people who came before us and there will be people who come after us. We have a great foundation, and even though it may have felt like it on Halloween, the roof will not actually cave in on us. We have a whole committee to make sure of it. 

PS: We still might invite Shayna back to bless our house again, just in case we have a Casper the friendly ghost situation on our hands.

Extended Member Introduction: Shelby

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Hello all!
My name is Shelby Mancell, and I am from Oklahoma! I took a two day drive to be here in beautiful Pennsylvania. I have been really enjoying my time here in Harrisburg. It has been very different from living back at home in a small town versus here in a big city, but I have come to enjoy the differences. One being there is better public transportation here than at home.

The workplace that I am at for this year is CONTACT Helpline! I am working as a Housing Specialist. This means that the population that I work with is the homeless or near homeless. I am taking phone calls, doing in-takes, and give referrals if I can. It can be difficult at times, but I do enjoy the work that I am doing. The people that I work with are nice, let me ask questions when I am not sure about something, and make me feel like I am part of the team. I am learning a lot of skills that I know I can take with me into my future career.

Besides liking my job and how excited I am to help people, there are other things I enjoy. My favorite shows to watch after a long day at work is Psych or NCIS. Movies are something I like to watch after work as well. I have no one movie that is my favorite, but I can say that I dislike horror movies (nope I will not watch one even if you tried to pay me). I also enjoy reading a good book. I am not too picky with genres I just love a good story, or great ideas. Some of my favorite books from my childhood are Black Beauty and North of Beautiful. Along with a show, movie, or book a have a hot drink. My favorite hot drinks are tea (herbal ones at night, and Earl Grey or Chai in morning), coffee, and hot chocolate.

So there it is! A little look into where I am from, what I am doing here, and some of my favorite things! Nice to meet you!

Extended Member Introduction: Emily

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Hi All,

My name is Emily Schmid and I am originally from Sterling, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC. Traffic is terrible down there. When I was working with the Smithsonian Associates it took me an hour and forty five minutes, a car, a bus, and the metro to get to work. Needless to say, I am much happier to be able to drive 15 minutes to get to the United Church Center.

I am really enjoying my placement with the Pennsylvania Council of Churches so far. I get to apply my interdisciplinary arts administration degree by creating programming that will help people understand the issue of solitary confinement in PA’s prison system. I have been working with my supervisor to reimagine creative ways in which we can share the stories of people affected by solitary confinement. One aspect of my work which has taken me a bit outside of my comfort zone has been networking and reaching out to individuals who are affected by solitary confinement to see if they would be willing to share their stories. People have given us overwhelmingly positive responses. My hope is that sharing these stories will be as therapeutic for these individuals as it is educational for people of faith. We have our first trial program coming up mid November and then are kicking off programming in earnest starting in the new year. I’m excited to see where things go

As property committee coordinator for the Sycamore house I enjoy working with the committee to fearlessly battle cockroaches, mold, and leaking pipes (the joys of living in an old house!). In all seriousness, I am eternally grateful to Jim and Mike and all the members of the committee for putting up with my emails and working through our concerns. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to learn about all that goes into managing a house without actually having to re-install the drywall myself 😛

You can find me at the 10:15 service at St. Stephen’s or occasionally wandering around the labyrinth in the Bishop’s courtyard on Saturdays. Although it has been slow going, I am working with Amy and Shayna to develop an oral history of St. Stephen’s. I will conduct interviews with various parishioners about their experiences at St. Stephen’s and compile them into an online database to be shared with the congregation. Stay tuned for more details.

One of my favorite things that I have been doing out in the community of Harrisburg has been connecting with a group of individuals who all listen to a podcast called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. The podcast reads through the Harry Potter books chapter by chapter and applies a different sacred reading practice to each one. We have started a local group where we do the same thing, starting with book one chapter one. We meet every other Sunday afternoon at the Nuclear Bean in Middletown and we’d love for more members to join us! Check out our FB group here for more details: https://www.facebook.com/groups/420589091922792/

In my free time (Although we seldom have any here at Sycamore house) I enjoy cooking, baking, art journaling, painting, reading, writing (poetry, plays, blog posts, journal entries), biking, hiking, painting my nails, watching movies, doing yoga, and napping. Mostly napping.

Finally, to get to know some random facts about me, here are some favorites:

Book: To Kill a Mockingbird

Movie: The Breakfast Club

TV show: New Girl

Podcast: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

Play: Every Tongue Confess

Musical Artist: Mumford and Sons

Candy Bar: Twix

Tea: Chai (which I realize just means tea, but authentic Indian Chai with milk is so good)

Tree: Ginko

Animal: Armadillo

Extended Member Introduction: Ian

Ian

Hello, everyone.

My name is Ian Tan, and I come from Kuching (Cat City), Malaysia, SouthEast Asia. Well, if you came here to know me a bit more, what can I say? Here are some facts about myself that I feel are the most key to my identity.

I am ethnically Chinese, and speak Mandarin with my parents and most of my relatives. I haven’t been in touch with my Chinese roots for ages (not speaking or reading the language much). I want to begin sharpening my knowledge of Mandarin, and possibly getting into Chinese literature. I enjoy a diverse literary range, from Romanticism era poetry to modern era poetry, and from classics (e.g The Iliad) to newer works showcasing previously hidden voices (e.g the Song of Achilles). But really, I am pleased to try anything that highlights the flaws of society while celebrating its qualities and the hope of a brighter today.

Being an INFP, I value freedom and mobility in my work and everyday tasks, even if I mess up. Because then I can learn from my mistakes and ask for help on my own terms. Not that I don’t appreciate guidance though, especially if it comes from someone with greater experience. I feel at my peak when the work at hand is some sort of creative, literary project. Another INFP trait is that I tend to make myself an emotional outlet; I want to make everyone feel heard, and during conflicts, I usually try to take the other person’s context into account. This has helped me navigate many difficult occasions and preserve my relationships with others.

I think I can say I love living in the city, especially one as pretty as Harrisburg. Being at the hub of so many businesses, opportunities for nightlife, and festivals has helped me see how lively urban settings can be. It is so much fun walking around remembering new hangout spots, what routes are the most peaceful, and finding new favorite eateries. Future choices of cities to live in are Philadelphia, Washington DC, Rome, or GeorgeTown (small coastal capital of Penang, Malaysia)

Favorite things (in the spirit of Savannah’s format)

Character: Edmund Pevensie

Tea: Classic Chinese Green, the subtle bitterness helps get me into a more alert state

Organizational Strategy: Memorizing tasks, and occasionally to-do lists

Candles: No solid preferences yet.

Season: Midsummer through Fall

Candy Bar: Kit-Kat

Weather: Thunderstorm for sleeping warmly indoors, or a cool sunny day for a pleasant stroll/jog

Singer: Karliene (Youtube singer/musician who creates Celtic, fiction influenced music)

Color: Forest green paired with silver

Dinner: Roasted chicken thighs and steamed jasmine rice

Book: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland or the Chess Machine by Robert Lohr

This year, I am working in two placements – Habitat for Humanity as a grant writer, and St Stephen’s Episcopal School as a staff member in the after-school program. Both are rewarding in different ways. The first allows me to utilize the skills I sharpened in college, like analysing texts and building narratives, while the second gives me the chance to help nurture children. It sounds cheesy, but I appreciate this chance to work with the next generation, because I can see my past selves in a number of the students and I’m aware of how they might feel in certain situations and what they would need. I hope I can walk away from the Service Corps with lessons that can help shape my future journeys in professional writing and handling children.

As for church service, I recently thought it would be good for me to try my hand at joining the Finance Vestry, and so far I have attended one meeting. It was a lot of scouring budget records and keeping track of so many expenses that St Stephen’s had to oversee. That was such uncharted territory, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel out of bounds, but it was time I stepped out of my comfort zone and learned how institutions like the Church run its books. I am thriving in my space amidst my housemates. Yes, I know I am the sole male and person of color here but my housemates are as aware of it as I am, and do their best not to agitate anything about it, which I am so appreciative of. I hope that we can continue to grow and learn around each other.

Extended Member Introduction: Faith

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Hi, everyone!
I’m Faith, and I’m from Knoxville, Tennessee. I graduated in 2018 from Asbury University, where I studied English. I’m very excited to be a part of the Sycamore House.
I am working at the Episcopal Diocese of Central PA as the diocesan events coordinator and assistant to the canon for communications. I develop, oversee, and publicize all events for the diocese. An upcoming event I’m excited about is our Live Nativity on December 13 th at St. Andrews in the Valley. There will be live animals, including a camel! We’re all pretty excited about the camel. I assist with communications by creating, editing, and proofreading social media posts, newsletters, flyers, and other documents. English major skills for the win! I’m really enjoying my work at the diocese and the people I work with. Another great perk of
working for the diocese is hanging out with the cats! The diocese office has two adorable cats, Lilly Grace and Rey. You can follow them on Instagram @episcocat_diocpa to see all of their adventures.

I’m having fun getting involved at St. Stephen’s by singing in the choir. You can catch me every Sunday hitting those soprano notes. I’ll also be singing in the October Music by the River concert on Saturday, October 26th at St. Stephen’s! It’s a 1920’s-themed concert, and it’s going to be a roaring good time, Old Sport. I’ve felt so welcomed by the incredible hospitality of the St. Stephen’s community. I feel like part of the family.

Here are a few of my favorite things (cue Maria in The Sound of Music):
Comedy: Legally Blone. Elle Woods is an inspiration!
Drama: Ordinary People. If you’ve seen and loved this movie, I will be your best friend.
Book: Hard to choose just one, but The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a great one.
TV shows: Parenthood, Call the Midwife, and Breaking Bad. I realize the latter is quite a
contrast from the former two!
Broadway belting songs: “Burn” and “Satisfied” from Hamilton, “ABC Café” and “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, and “Memory” from Cats. Road trips in my car are a one woman show starring me.
Band: Simon and Garfunkel. I mean come on. We got a Queen movie, and I loved it, but where is my Simon and Garfunkel movie??? (The Graduate does not count).

I’m looking forward to getting more involved in the Harrisburg community and seeing how we all learn and grow this year. Thank you so much for reading!

Extended Member Introduction: Savannah

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Hi all,

I’m Savannah and I am from Fairfax, Virginia. I just graduated from University of Mary Washington down in Fredericksburg, Virginia with a degree in English and a minor in Environmental Sustainability.

In looking at my favorite activities, I either love to be very active or very cozy. I love learning about trees and flowers while hiking through nature, but I also love  crocheting while listening to audiobooks or watching Netflix. I love to read while sipping tea with my favorite candle lit, but I also love playing Ultimate Frisbee with my teammates. I love doing yoga at the gym with my mom, but I also love baking while watching John Oliver on Netflix with my fairy lights on. Everything I love to do is all about self care, whether it is taking a moment to appreciate the beauty in nature or learning about current events through comedy (we love modern comedians!), or doing something athletic, its nice to have a variety of feel good activities that make me happy!!

I have noticed that sometimes hearing about a person’s favorite things is a wonderful way to learn about them. It is a simple and easy way to learn quickly some of the things that make them tick. So, here are a list of 11 of my favorite things (I would do 10, but 11 is more fun).

Character: Snoopy
Tea: Lady Grey by Twinings (picking just one was very hard)
Organizational Strategy: To-do lists
Candles: Vanilla Bean or a Fall Scented one (apple, pumpkin, cinnamon)
Season: Fall
Candy Bar: Take 5
Weather: Light drizzle (perfect for dancing in the rain)
Singer: Ingrid Michaelson
Color: Purple
Dinner: Rotisserie Chicken, Rice, and steamed broccoli (simple and yummy)
Book: Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss or Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

This year I am working at Capital Area Head Start as a STEM Teacher. School starts this upcoming Monday, so you could say that I am more than a little excited! I will be helping incorporate more STEM into the kids’ lives, whether it is teaching them about the math and technology or encouraging them to be curious and explore the outside world and why our earth is so important (clearly I’m a bit more interested in the latter haha). I spent this past month training and spending excessive amounts of time with my nose buried in preschool STEM books and Pinterest trying to figure out how to approach my new role. As we get closer and closer to opening day, I am actually more confident and excited than I am nervous. And more than anything else, I am definitely ready to leave that training room! 😉

Another key part about our year of service is that we are supposed to be active with our affiliated church. As you might expect from someone who both loves nature and beautiful things, I signed up for flower guild. While I am not scheduled for a month or so, I am super excited to start and learn the process of flower arranging. On top of this, I spend about two weeks a month working in the nursery during the 10:15 service. It’s a blast to play with the kids and teach them the Old Testament stories that I grew up on while singing my favorite kiddy songs (Peace Like a River is def my favorite).

While it has taken some time to find my groove and place within the city of Harrisburg, as the weeks have progressed I have felt more and more comfortable. I love the framily dynamic that we have at the Sycamore House and I cannot wait to see where and how we grow as the the year passes. A month has flown by and while I can feel a little homesick, technology has allowed me to stay active in my loved one’s lives (my favorite times being when my friends and I take each other on different walking adventures using facetime).

Thank you for listening to my lengthy account. Stay tuned next week for Faith’s post! 🙂