Social Justice Session: Place and Space

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Chloe continued the series by sharing about Place and Space.  


Place and Space

“How could our hearts be large enough for heaven if they are not large enough for earth?” – Scott Russell Sanders

Close your eyes and think of your favorite place besides your home in a town, city, or village that you’ve spent a lot of time in.

Open your eyes and reflect on the place you chose. Why did you choose it? Do you have a memory or memories associated with that place? What makes that place comforting, exciting, or necessary to you?

When geographers talk about “place,” they aren’t just talking about a physical location. In fact, there are three fundamental aspects that create a “place.” First, there is the fixed, objective aspect of place: it is a location that can be found on a map. Second, there is the “locale” of place. Locale refers to both the materials that make up the place whether that be bricks and mortar or grass and swing-sets as well as the history of the place.  And finally there is the “sense” of place: the subjective, emotional, and personal attachment that individuals have for that place. Place is a meaningful location formed through ritual and routine. It is the local library down the road or the grassy public park behind the school. Space, on the other hand, is an undefined area without these layers of personal and shared meaning.

When we think about “environmental issues,” sometimes our minds go straight to Nature, or the idea of wild animals living in far-away lands untouched by humans.  When we think about Creation Care, we might think about protecting endangered species or national parks. It isn’t about people.

In his essay “Buckeye,” Scott Russell Sanders describes his childhood home in rural Ohio, now scarred and polluted. Grieving for the destruction of this place he loves, Sanders says:

“We had no shared lore, no literature, no art to root us there, to give us courage, to help us stand our ground. The only maps we had were those issued by the state, showing a maze of numbered lines stretched over emptiness. The Ohio landscape never showed up on postcards or posters, never unfurled like tapestry in films, rarely filled even a paragraph in books.”

This destruction of places is deeply connected to our nation’s racist history. White settlers, for example, saw this land as empty space, while the Native Americans that already lived here saw the land as a place, full of memory and meaning. What might be empty space for us, might be a sacred place for someone else.

The way that we see place and space has everything to do with the racism and ecological devastation built into our system. The theologian and pastor, Dr. Willie Jennings describes in his lecture “The Origin of Race,” the relationship between race and place, and he reveals the Church’s involvement in creating the current system of injustice. Sanctioned by the Church, White settlers forcibly displaced both Native Americans and the Africans that were brought to the Americas as slaves, violently separating them from the places that were steeped in generations of meaning and cultural identity. Jennings says this trauma has become a part of the land itself as well as generational trauma of those peoples. And he reveals what our role can be in addressing this injustice and generational trauma.

First, he tells us to both learn the history of our places and the spaces and to tell their stories. We must start asking questions like, who lived here before I did? What was this building before it was a library or a church? And who are my neighbors, past and present? Through her placement at Messiah College’s Center for Public Humanities, corps member Elisabeth connects with students who work on a project called Digital Harrisburg, an online curation of the social history of Harrisburg, which includes interactive historical maps of the city as well as a series of place-based oral histories called the “Finding Home Collection.” You can learn more about the history of Harrisburg as a place and the ongoing efforts to tell those stories here: https://digitalharrisburg.com/

Second, Jennings urges us to involve ourselves in what he calls the geographic shaping of our cities, towns, and villages. The fact that poverty can lie across train tracks, or a river, or sometimes just a few streets over from wealth is no accident. It is all based on human-made decisions that become policy through city planning and zoning. And because they are human-made, we can speak out and change them. You can learn more about racially-discriminating practices like redlining here: https://smartasset.com/mortgage/what-is-redlining, or find a City of Harrisburg planning commission or zoning hearing board meeting here: https://cityofharrisburg.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/115002346628-2019-HARB-ZHB-and-Planning-Commission-Schedule

And finally, Jennings says that we must reframe our theological and cultural ideas around Christian discipleship to focus on the here and now of place. He asserts that the Church’s historical emphasis on time and God’s kingdom as a future reality in a “New Heaven and Earth” is a heresy, declaring that space and place are just as important to God as time. Because of this, we need to develop a vision for the redemption of our spaces and places, of cities like Harrisburg. For Episcopalians, we have spiritual disciplines and practices, like prayer in the Daily Office or the liturgical calendar, that focus on the temporal aspect of our incarnate faith. But what about the spatial? How do we embrace our local places and spaces? What can you do now in the season of Lent to learn, confess, or fight the injustice within your city, town, or village?

If you have any comments or questions, be sure to start the discussion below. We will be continuing our social justice session next week with a discussion led by Katie about mental health.


Dr. Willie Jenning’s lecture “The Origin of Race” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5ZGwuwcHV0&t=2542s

Scott Russell Sanders, “Buckeye,” https://www.terrain.org/essays/29/sanders.htm

Tim Cresswell, Place: an Introduction

Above image by Manchester Archives+ in the public domain.

Behind the Placement: Elisabeth

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Although my journey with the Sycamore House began in August, my relationship with the Center for Public Humanities started all the way back in March of 2017. While studying abroad in Thailand, I snuck away to a quiet corner of the house and made a call for an interview. On the other end was Dr. Corey and the then Program Coordinator and former Episcopal Service Corps member, Jonathan Barry Wolf. As we chatted, they explained the various facets of the Center for Public Humanities, and how, as a fellow, I would get the chance to work with young students through poetry and participate in the humanities symposium that provides a venue for many brilliant minds. I served a year as a student fellow when I returned to campus, and I’ve now had the wonderful opportunity to continue my work with the Center for Public Humanities as Program Coordinator!

My role involves many moving pieces. One of my favorite programs, Poetry in Place, invites middle school students from the Harrisburg school district to explore different aspects of the city. Whether we’re walking through the State Museum of Pennsylvania or riding on the Pride of the Susquehanna riverboat, I’m constantly learning new details about Harrisburg’s past. Perhaps one of the most sobering discoveries for me was about the Old 8th Ward in Harrisburg. Because of the efforts to make Harrisburg a more beautiful city, that entire community was uprooted and displaced from their homes. Now, the Capitol complex stands there. Thanks to the research conducted by Digital Harrisburg (another branch of the Center), students got to hear the names and learn about the lives of people who lived there all those years ago, and they wrote poetry to reflect on that experience. They blow me away every time as they connect deeply with issues like social inequality and also dream boldly to envision a better future.

In addition to Poetry in Place, I also work on campus at Messiah College, helping to coordinate the student fellows who work with the Center. During the fall and spring semesters, 8-10 students from various humanities backgrounds come together to have discussions, work on projects, and further our commitment to making our studies beneficial to and in partnership with the public beyond our campus. Last semester, several students coordinated interviews with elderly community members who shared their perspectives on education in Harrisburg. A couple of fellows have worked diligently on the Digital Harrisburg initiative, documenting the past of this city. Another team worked on cultivating a curriculum that could serve as a resource for Harrisburg school teachers, and yet another team documents this work to keep people updated on what we’re doing. I’m honored to be a part of the group, assisting where I can and learning from the students who have so much to offer.

Both as a fellow and program coordinator, I’ve been able to experience the challenges and rewards of collaboration. As we tread further into February, we prepare for the Humanities Symposium for which every member of our team has worked hard to prepare. This year’s theme is The Common Good, and we’ve been inspired by the Key Note speaker Marian Wright Edelman to learn more about education and how we must continue pushing for equity for children.  

I truly love what I do because it allows me to pursue meaningful work in a creative way. I’m thankful for the people that I work with, like Dr. Jean Corey, who has taught me so much about humility and dignity and hard work, and though I don’t know what step I’ll take next, I hope that I’ll find myself in a similar environment where creativity, social consciousness, and collaboration thrive.

– Elisabeth


Above image provided by the Center for Public Humanities.

Social Justice Session: School to Prison Pipeline

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Ben started us out by providing insight into the School to Prison Pipeline cycle. 


School To Prison Pipeline

What is the School to Prison Pipeline?

  • A national trend where children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
  • Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect, and students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline

Disparities this Creates:

  • One report found that black children constitute 18 percent of students, but they account for 46 percent of those suspended more than once
  • Another report found that while 8.6 percent of public school children have been identified as having disabilities that affect their ability to learn, these students make up 32 percent of youth in juvenile detention centers.

What is Causing This Epidemic?

  • Inadequate resources in public schools
  • Zero-tolerance policies that automatically impose severe punishment regardless of circumstances
  • School resource officers patrolling school hallways, often with little or no training in working with youth

Ways to Avoid the Pipeline:

  • Create supportive, healthy environments in schools
  • Provide flexible ways of intervention that account for the unique backgrounds that these children come from
  • Train teachers on the use of positive behavior support for at-risk student

Have Any Questions or Comments? Join the discussion in our comments section! 


Ben Shao, Sycamore House MemberBen Shao is a Corps Member with the Sycamore House for the 2018-19 year. His placements are at Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Harrisburg Area and Beacon Clinic. Read more about him here: Meet Ben.

 

Above image by Ken Teegardin, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

A Few of Our Favorite Things

Over the past few weeks, you’ve gotten a glimpse into each member of the Sycamore House, and we hope that we’ll have many more opportunities to share who we are and learn about you, the people who support and pour into us. Reflecting on the past (almost) two months since we’ve arrived, we wanted to share some of our favorite moments since being members of the Sycamore House. 


A Few of Our Favorite Things

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A photo of the Sycamore House members gardening at the Catholic Worker House.

#1. Our week of orientation was packed. We got to meet Sycamore House board members while also exploring Harrisburg, and one of the places we visited was the Catholic Worker House, which held a spot in Madi’s mind:

My favorite moment so far has been serving at the Catholic Worker house during the first week of Orientation. I love Naed and the work that he’s committed to. It’s also refreshing to be surrounded by so many plants in the middle of the city! It just feels like such holy ground and I can’t help but feel at peace and closer to God every time I enter that space.

 

#2. Church Service at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral

At the very end of the week, we attended our first service at St. Stephen’s. Here’s a reflection from Ben:

One moment that impacted me since my time in the Sycamore House was the first church service I attended to with my Corps members. It was amazing to be a part of the St. Stephen’s community and seeing all the warmth and generosity towards us from all of the church members. It was a great feeling to feel loved and welcomed by many, and it affirmed my decision to join the Sycamore House!

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Two Sycamore House members clearing away weeds. 

#3. Rising Sun Acres Farm

For one Friday afternoon out of each month, we come together for a service opportunity. We’ve been able to meet so many individuals who are invested in the flourishing of this community, and we hope that we can be some small part of that in our year here.

Read more about why this was Shannon’s favorite moment:

I enjoyed this event, because after moving to an urban area, it was fun to play in the dirt and get our hands dirty!

#4. The Ordination

By attending St. Stephen’s, we have begun to know the people in that community, and one of the members who’s had an impact on us is Shayna Watson, who serves the church as a curate. Some of us got to attend her ordination to become a Deacon, and this became Chloe’s favorite moment:

On the last Sunday of September, St. Stephen’s held an ordination service. The pews were full with clergy, church members, and the friends and family of Shayna and Eric. The sanctuary was full with the vivid red of vestments, bright smiles of loved ones, and the rich sounds of music. And the day was full with smiling at Amy, hugging Shayna, eating homemade chili, and dancing in the basement with my house mates.

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Five Sycamore House member standing around a bushel of apples.

#5. Apple Picking

For another Friday afternoon in the month, we get to spend time together doing whatever we want to do as a group. For our October activity, we decided to venture out to Strites’ Orchard and go apple-picking. It was an especially fun time for Katie:

A moment that has been impactful since arriving at Sycamore House was apple picking with my housemates at Strites’ Orchard! It was great to spend time together and do something I’ve never had the opportunity to do before.

#6. Undoing Racism Workshop

This past weekend, all of us took part in an undoing racism workshop with over 40 other people. Over the course of two and a half days, we explored the history and definition of racism in the United States, challenging ourselves to commit to the work of undoing racism and restoring human dignity for all. Here is Elisabeth’s reflection from that weekend:

I’ll admit that I wasn’t looking forward to the workshop about undoing racism. While I care deeply about racial reconciliation, my journey has been confusing and messy over the past few years. But during this workshop, I had space to share vulnerably about my struggle in a large group for the first time. I felt heard, and the encouragement and validation I received in the wake of that experience confirmed the decision I made to be honest.



We look forward to many more moments and interactions that contribute to fond memories. Thank you for being a part of that!

Meet the Members: Elisabeth

Hello to all!

I’m Elisabeth Ivey, a writer and coffee enthusiast (I’d like to personally thank the generous members of the St. Stephen’s community for keeping me well-supplied).

I’m also a recent graduate of Messiah College, where I studied English and Sociology & Anthropology. Those two areas of study intersect in my desire to study the people and the world through story. I’ve personally experienced the powerful influence of story to stretch me beyond my own experience. As an author-in-training, I hope the stories I portray will similarly challenge and affirm readers.

I haven’t strayed far from where I spent the last four years. As Program Coordinator with the Center for Public Humanities at Messiah College, I have the honor of working on the very same campus that’s been home for some time. I cherish my work. In my position, I’ve had the opportunity to work with brilliant students who dedicate themselves to research and the community in their roles as fellows. Through a program called Poetry in Place, I get to tour and learn about Harrisburg alongside middle school students before they compose poetry to reflect on those experiences. In whatever work I pursue next, I hope it allows for the same creative and thoughtful work I’ve been able to engage with at the Center.

Before college, I lived in seven different states, so I grew accustomed to the idea that a transition meant a geographical change. When I learned I would get to stay in the area for another year, I realized I would get to practice presence and learn how to grow deeper into the community here. I’m thankful for this chance to experience the city in new ways. Living in the Sycamore House, attending St. Stephen’s, working at Messiah College, and exploring Harrisburg, I anticipate a year of growth as I learn from those around me and engage in intentional relationships. Thank you for being a part of that!


Photography by Owen McCullum

Meet the Members: Chloe

Hi, my name is Chloe! Last May, I graduated from Calvin College in Michigan with a degree in English Literature and Environmental Studies. I’ve spent my life thus far split equally between three places: Beijing, China; Birmingham, Alabama; and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Because of this, I’m not entirely sure where to call home, but this year I’m excited to explore a new place.

Since I spent the first chunk of my life in China as a missionary kid in a small Reformed denomination, I’ve grown up appreciating the role of culture and the importance of community. When I studied in England for a semester during college, I was drawn to the liturgical and ecumenical aspects of the Anglican tradition. Through my time living in the Sycamore House, I hope to learn more about the Episcopal Church as well as how to live intentionally with others.

This year, my service placement is with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club. As a national grassroots environmental advocacy group, the Sierra Club is largely volunteer-run. My position as an Organizing Fellow primarily involves supporting these volunteer leaders across the state, creating resources for local groups and coordinating statewide strategies for their environmental justice campaigns.

The majority of my work supports the state’s “Ready for 100” campaign, a national movement that advocates for clean and equitable energy, urging local legislators and decision-makers to make commitments to renewable energy and offering action plans to back these resolutions. In light of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report, this work feels more critical than ever.

Although it’s been just over a month, I’ve already been challenged and stretched by my time here. And I’ve been incredibly grateful for walks along the Susquehanna River, the goodwill and humor of my housemates, the kindness of my coworkers, and the generosity of the members of St Stephen’s.

Here’s to a good year and to good things to come.

– Chloe

Meet the Members: Shannon

Hello!

My name is Shannon Pedersen, and I am so incredibly excited to be serving with the Episcopal Service Corps at the Sycamore House this year!

Originally, I was born and raised in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. For college, I attended Messiah College, which is about 20 minutes away from the Sycamore House and located in Mechanicsburg, PA. I graduated in 2017 with a degree in Politics and International Relations. Since the Harrisburg suburban area is already familiar to me, I am looking forward to building new and deeper friendships with the urban community.

I have a very mixed faith background, but in the beginning of 2018, I began attending various Episcopal churches. I love the liturgy of the church as well as the open welcome to the LGBTQ+ community, so when I learned about the Episcopal Service Corps, I was eager to find a placement that I could call home for a year. This year, I am working at the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania as an Events Coordinator & Assistant to the Canon for Congregational Life and Mission.

During this year, I look forward to continuing to follow my passions of interfaith and intercultural relations as well as community development across socioeconomic barriers. When I’m not working, I enjoy reading books, hiking, and playing board or card games!