My Summer in New Orleans: Reflecting on the Journey

I am sitting at my favorite coffee shop in New Orleans. This city has an abundance of great coffee shops, and I enjoy many of them, but Fair Grinds is my favorite. It’s a perfect mix of funky, reasonably-priced, ethical, and quiet. Its mission as a hub of community organizing and a social justice entrepreneurship tugs at my little activist heartstrings.

I’m sitting here staring at my computer screen, noticing the background noises of grinding espresso and chuckling patrons, noting the soft sunlight resting on my tabletop and keyboard, letting the memories of the past 8 weeks flow through me. My assignment, due at midnight, is a final reflection paper on my experiences here. I’m supposed to be writing about how this summer practicum has affected my spiritual and intellectual growth, and discussing “particularly formative” experiences. I have notes and snippets, ideas and connections. These will form into a cohesive paper, if I can just start writing.

But I’ve experienced so much, I don’t know where to start.

Do I start with the obvious, jarring thing that happened just two weeks ago:  A herd of anti-abortion extremists invaded my church’s worship space, and through that experience, I lived my way into the pastoral role in a new and embodied way?

Do I start with the more subtle, mundane, but equally sacred experiences: The routine I developed, which was a balance of schedule and flow; the way I was invited into my internship space, and how I occupied that space in response; the minutia of my days in and out of the office?

Do I start with the concrete, task-oriented, perfunctory framework in which all of these things occurred:  A play-by-play of my initial orientation with Deanna, my internship supervisor, and the projects we laid out for my summer; how those projects actually played out as priorities shifted in the process; the meetings and trainings I attended or led, like the PISAB “Undoing Racism” workshop or a discussion of the Bennett Scale; the conversations I had with Deanna and my professor Ellen; the practicum seminars; etc.?

Do I start with the informal, even accidental experiences that ended up at least as formative as, if not more so than, the practicum itself:  the performance of Godspell I saw at First Grace UMC the night of orientation; the unsettling encounter, outside of the church setting, with a woman I’d met that day; the Justice and Beyond meeting I attended in Deanna’s stead that became the anchor point of my work here; the day I volunteered at a community kitchen driven by dignity; the coffee conversations with colleagues?

What about the personal experiences, unrelated to the “official” work I did but profoundly connected to the fact of my being here? Do those factor in? My personal story is intimately connected to my professional development, and I don’t think I can separate the two if I am to talk about my spiritual growth. I can no longer compartmentalize parts of my experience; in fact, I refuse to do so. Each area flows into the next; pluck on one strand of the spider’s web and the whole thing reverberates with that movement. This summer I laid old demons to rest. I wiped stained and grimy slates clean. I reopened and healed deep wounds and liberated myself from the bindings of their scar tissue. I amended old trespasses and laid new pathways for redemptive action and recovery. I made meaningful new friendships, strengthened some old ones, and quietly let go of others. And in the spaces between and through these, by phone and internet, a good friend and I laid the groundwork for a beautiful relationship that has great potential to keep growing deeper, richer, and longer-term. Surely all of this counts as “formative experiences” in my spiritual and intellectual growth? I know it will make me a better minister.

If there is a way to sum up my learning this summer, it is as follows:

Namaste, friends.

Steven


P.S. Thank you to everyone who has supported my work and learning this summer through my GoFundMe campaign. I am truly blessed to have such solidarity from my community. The page will remain up and accepting donations as I transition into my student ministry role back home.

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