Meet The Rev. Julie Morris a JYLA (Then the Episcopal Urban Intern Program) alumna from 1995-95. As the pastor of Mount Cross Lutheran Church in Camarillo, she's been doing some amazing work on anti-racism. Hear her story and how a year of service helped prepare her for her work!
Recently, everything just feels really hard. A lot harder than things used to feel. The thing is, I know that this year has always been hard - but now it feels like a different kind of hard. I feel like I’m constantly analyzing everything that I experience and trying to find some deep, groundbreaking meaning for it all (kind of like in all of those dystopian society YA novels), where there can be a beginning, middle, and tidy, satisfying end. I know that won’t happen, but wouldn’t it be sick if it did?
I continue to feel so lucky to be where I am right now. I feel so lucky, however, that it almost makes me angry. I don’t think that was the exact wording to describe how I feel, but it’s the closest I could find. If I were to break the emotions I have been feeling most recently down into a nice little pie chart, they would probably be happiness, sorrow, anger, and fear. I put happiness first because I want to make it very clear that, overall, I am happy! I’m happy to be where I am, happy to get to do something I love every day, happy to feel like my family and loved ones are safe, and happy about so many other things. The other emotions are present in a way that they always have been - sad for people who are suffering, angry at people who don’t care, scared for everything that the future holds - but also in a way that is new, given the current circumstances.
I have a hard time putting all of those thoughts and feelings - thoughts and feelings that I have constantly but don’t exactly know what to do with - on to paper and then sort of just leaving them there. But that’s what I’m going to do here, because I don’t really have anything else to add to them at the moment. I am, however, going to write a banging conclusion that summarizes this reflection and what I hope I communicated, because that’s my favorite part of writing a paper, so here it is:
Overall, I am in the best place, both location wise and mentally, that I could be right now. That’s not to say that everything is good and awesome and perfect, because it is very clearly not, but I feel grateful to be experiencing all of this while surrounded by people who care about me, about our community, and about doing everything they can to make things better.
Jubilee Year has tested my capacities in all aspects. I’ve learned about patience and adaptability while being here and friendship and communication have become essential in my life as adjusting to a new environment with new people can be so hard.
This year, I have learned so much about friendship. I can honestly say I’ve never expected to be surrounded by such awesome people who support and listen to you when you are feeling under the weather, homesick, or simply exhausted from working hard. I love my housemates - who have become my friends - and I love my students and coworkers!
A few years ago I bought my first succulent in a cute little pot from a pottery sale on my college campus. I didn’t know much about plants at the time but it caught my eye and I knew that succulents were easy to take care of so I brought it home. I quickly became invested in how this little plant was doing, and it slowly started teaching me my first plant lessons.
I added a few more succulents to my collection over the next couple of years. I never did a lot of research on how to care for plants but I did pay a lot of attention to them and googled things when I had concerns. Some time about a year ago I became much more invested in my plants and started researching house plants. The more I learned, the more plants I wanted, and the more plants I bought, the more I wanted to learn. I eventually started propagating my own plants which was both a fun adventure, and a cheaper way to have more plants. By the time I was getting ready to move to LA for Jubilee Year I had built up quite a collection of plants. And I realized that their transition to a new home and a new life was going to be just as complicated as mine.
Mountains, beaches, different towns relating to different regions around the world, and all the glamour Hollywood has to offer. When first arriving in LA it appeared that there was a new adventure waiting for me around every corner, and for the first month it felt like a constant go, go, go. But then, something happened. A change started to emerge in my settings. Where excitement once held dominance, routine now became the new king.
I first became aware of this shift when riding on my bus route to and from my service site. In the beginning I would do everything in my power to ensure that I got a window seat. I would look around all the wonders of LA and think, wow, this is where I live now, how is this even real life? Now a days, however, when I look at all the studios, and all recording labels, I no longer feel a wow moment happening inside me, instead the thoughts of “same old same old” appear.
When I became aware of this switch I instantly began to think there was something wrong with me. I mean for pete's sake this is Hollywood babyyy. Everything, and everyday is suppose to be this grand journey that will be a story of a lifetime. So why was it that all of a sudden this adventure started to feel, well, ordinary. I began to panic, did this mean I had tremendous commitment issues and I would be doomed for the rest of my life?
The answer to that question, is 100% absolutely no. In fact, I was only experiencing a very real and natural process of living somewhere outside of my comfort zone for the first time. What I did not realize in the moment was that my everyday life wasn’t becoming dull or boring, but was instead becoming my routine. My astonishing surroundings weren’t becoming anything less than that, but instead were becoming familiar. My new adventure was starting to become my life, my world, and my home. What I realized is that it is our mindsets that make our surroundings. That instead of thinking that the adventure is now over because I am starting to get the hang of life here in LA, an entirely new chapter of my story is just now beginning.
In the words of Cornel West, I went through schooling, but schooling also went through me. And, from what I can tell, also made a mess of things. I came into this year with the intention of post-graduate searching— searching for creativity, searching for purpose, searching for the Rodell that exists outside of educational institutions.
My search for creativity became a search for God— in fact, maybe all searches lead to God in one way or another. And God always seems to ask that I allow myself to be bigger, to search with a wider scope, to ask questions with weight I can barely manage.
Recently, I started drinking coffee in the morning again. I wish I could give you some cool explanation for why I stopped, like I was testing my body’s ability to function without caffeine, or maybe taking part in some trendy new cleanse, but I can’t. The truth is, I stopped drinking coffee because, up until a few days ago, I didn’t know how to work the coffee pot in the house, and was too embarrassed to ask one of my housemates to explain it. Silly? Yes. Irrational? Maybe. Coming into this year, I believed I was prepared for the unfamiliarity of everything. I anticipated challenges like figuring out the bus routes, learning to live with 6 people I had never met, and all of the other things you would expect when moving to a totally new place. What I didn’t expect was for a coffee pot to be the first enemy I would make in my new home. There is something about being in an unfamiliar setting that can make even the most basic of tasks feel like a challenge.
As it turns out, there are plenty of new challenges waiting for me, both inside of the house and out. Each and every day I encounter people and places that are still unfamiliar to me. The difference between these encounters and my coffee pot story, however, is that there is no real problem to be solved. Sure, it would be nice to one day just decide that I am comfortable and know everyone and everything that there is to know in my new home, but that’s not really the case. Instead, I get to treat every day as an opportunity to continue getting to know my community. I won’t lie, at times this can be hard. Some days I want nothing more than to run back home and hide in the comforting familiarity of my childhood bed. But as the days pass and I look back on everything that I’ve done in three short months, I am able to consider how far I have already come. Every time that I learn something new about one of my housemates, discover a new favorite place (there have been many new “favorites” so far), or recognize a face at one of my service sites, I am reminded that this is where I am at right now. For one year, this is my home, my community, and my life. Of course, there is plenty more work to be done- more relationships to develop, more places to see, and more transit lines to memorize- but I have time.
Need is such a fluid term, even though your needs can be deemed important, in all honesty you can say you need anything! When I first applied to this program I swore I needed to be living in Venice with my own room, in a service site where I could prepare myself to become a college counselor and be able to save X amount of money for the year so that I could live in LA after the year was over.
Want to know what I found out after only three-ish months of service?
I have learned that my needs can be flexible, that they will be everchanging and that I don’t have all the answers. I’ve also found that someone out there, the big U or the big G, is watching out for me. As I continue to walk in my purpose and I’m excited to learn more about my ever changing needs and to GO. WITH. THE. FLOW.
If you were to live a day in the life of Hannah Webster, you would quickly realize how much joy and excitement she has for life. You would constantly find yourself day-dreaming and thinking of any and all possible experiences life has to offer…
Whenever I find myself embarking on a new journey, I am filled with an incredible sense of excitement and passion. Social justice and Sociology has always been something I identify well with. This is probably the top reason I am super pumped about this upcoming year of service. I love taking on social work opportunities as well as adding the communities that could use some more attention. I am eager to participate in activities that enhance my understanding and passion for social justice initiatives.
I am also very passionate about growth. I think one of the most important things that people can do is to get out in the world and learn about the different possibilities that life has to offer. Educating oneself is such an important tool for moving forward and interacting with one another. That is why I get so excited to experience a new opportunity. It means that I will grow and learn so much about not only myself, but also the rest of the world. To me, that is one of the coolest things our journey on earth has to offer. If we chose to, we can move forward and gain more understanding.
It’s been 9 months since I started living in intentional community and serving as Volunteer Coordinator at a refugee resettlement agency here in LA. Working a 9-5 job and coming home to a wonderfully supportive group of housemates has allowed me to slow down, reconnect with myself and develop a spiritual life.
People often ask 20-something year olds what they want to do with their lives: they’re often asking for careers, categories in which they can place us. I do not know if I see myself fitting into a specific career, but I know the spirit I’d like to live my life in. I want to create spaces of communion: spaces where people don’t have to feel isolated. Spaces where people can find love. Spaces where they can receive and give spiritual companionship. If anything, I think recognizing how I want to live my life is far more important to me than choosing a career.
When first tasked with this blog I was having trouble coming up with ideas as to what to submit. I tried racking my brain for hours as to what creative vice I could utilize, often winding up frustrated with myself, and grasping for motivation to create content. One late morning at work, frustrated with lack of ideas, I went outside to give my eyes a break from the computer screen. I sat down on a chair, pushed the impending deadline out of my mind, and started appreciating the sunshine that was just warm enough, but not too hot.
Since we’re a ways through this year of service, I’d like to share a collection of some of the lessons **I’ve learned** since the start of this year:
1: Carry deodorant with you wherever you go. LA is hot and swampiness is inevitable.
2: Triple check to ensure that your car is in the correct gear (especially when you’re on a slope) BEFORE you release the brake. Just trust me.
3: Don’t be afraid of meeting new people. They’re just as afraid of you, if not more.
4: Always try to be authentically yourself. Don’t conflate or downplay your personality while making a first impression. Be you.
5: On your first day of work you will either be severely over-dressed or under-dressed. Make peace with this fact. It will be okay, you can bounce back from this faux pas with a can-do attitude and a great work ethic.
As much as my time with EUIP is about professional and spiritual development, I have also been diving into my own creative development. This has been a process of learning how to love my ideas, paying close attention to the world around me, and of course, finding inspiration in other artists doing incredible things. Here’s a couple artists that have been influencing me over these past couple months:
Dedicating ourselves to service rather than our own comfort can be scary. We risk honestly getting to know others who are different, and come face to face, day after day, with pain, abuse, hatred, violence.
Two fears that I have that may prevent me from being a person of service is being having too many emotions. I can’t help but feel like the kids I work with need love and attention and eye contact. Everyone gives and receives love differently and sometimes I can’t help but be too personal. They share a lot and it’s very sad because they’re so young and they’ve been exposed to so much. I want to be there for them but I’d also not like to give them false hope about my presence. Some have abandonment issues and latch onto those who show affection or acceptance. That's when the lines between work and personal life get blurred. How can I remain objective and unphased when I understand where they come from and what their environment is when they go home. They need love and compassion not only rules and strict adults. I’m part babysitter and mentor, but some simply see me as a disciplinarian or “just another staff”.
As I brisk-walk out of my house this morning to catch the 8.12am bus to work—which is always a few minutes late or early, never on time—I am very suddenly seized with anxiety: I need a hobby.
I had spent the morning slowly letting myself wake up. I sat cross-legged before the tall mirror on my bedroom floor, gazing at the reflection of the mess of furnishings—perfectly scattered form—in my dimly lit room, starkly—but not intrusively—eclipsed by the outside trees swaying in the mellow morning sun, peeking through the kaleidoscope colored stained glass windows above my cupboards. They invited me to sit and watch them. So, I did for a little while.
Change is a funny concept isn’t it? I mean think about it, change can be great, or it can be terrible. If someone tells you that you’ve changed, odds are you’ll either be offended or complimented. Even thinking of it from a more macro level, change can be good or bad. I think it’s also relative. With the mid-term elections still fresh there is a lot of change that has happened and some are elated while others are deflated. On a personal level, I moved from a suburb of Cleveland, to Los Angeles California, went from seeing my family and friends daily, to not seeing them for months at a time. And it wasn’t just me that experienced this change. My family had to get use to me not being there every day, my friends had to get use to not being able to hit me up whenever they want. This is why when posed with the question, “In what ways have I changed?” I had a hard time deciding at first. So I did what I always do and started to think of some lighter ways to start out.
One of the things I think about often is, how did we all end up here together in this program? What would life look like if I hadn’t decided to take the leap to move to LA for a “year or service”? Some of my EUIP friends thought this would be a great next step right after graduating college, a few others like myself spent a year or two exploring life after college and then decided to take this opportunity and a handful decided the month before or even in LESS time than that took the leap and committed to this program.
This quarter has brought me a lot of life changes, most prominently my increased sense of interconnectedness in community. Contrasting with my recent time in undergrad, seldom do I think of myself in the context of self. Now it is often myself in relation to the community.
This community may be that of my house, my clients, my coworkers, or even those sleepy folks I share a bus ride with in my morning commute.
How will my schedule affect those around me? What community am I prioritizing today in my choices?
The emotions I bring home from work are those I present to my housemates. These emotions were often given to me by clients whom I interact with each day. Each day I am a product of the community I entered. Yet I am not just a product of others, for I am also a source for others.
I often think to myself about the emotions and experiences I’m bringing towards others, and whether those are productive. This thought has been challenging, for it’s easy to think that one should simply bring the positive experiences and attempt to process the rest. But it’s those less than stellar times that too bring growth and depth in experiences. I’m learning to be ok with bringing forward these moments, both good and bad, and put them to good use.
But before you go thinking, “oof, he’s gone through some stuff these past few months”, lets not forget the times that have made me smile beyond belief. Amidst the stress, I’ve met 13 other incredible individuals and am continuously grateful to belong to a house of 8 true stars. I would be nothing without my housemates who build me up each day with affirmation and celebrate each night with good food and discussion.
This EUIP life is challenging, but I haven’t stopped laughing through it all.
I have always dreamt of moving to Los Angeles, and now that I’ve lived here for just over a month, I can confidently say that it’s nothing like I expected.
This experience has been tough. I have never been so emotionally and physically drained from all the things that happen week to week. Serve. Commute. House Meeting. Spiritual Practice. Commute. Eat. Shower. Serve. I have not loved every moment of this year, but I have grown significantly. Grown through the serving, the commuting, and the community building in ways I could have never imagined. For that growth I appreciate the experience and opportunity I have been given with the Episcopal Urban Intern Program and St. Joseph Center.
Part of my growth involves my realization that I am not meant to directly serve the homeless. This is not the path God chose for me to pursue, and if it weren’t for EUIP and SJC, I never would have known that. Don’t get me wrong- this discovery does not mean that I regret my decision to serve in EUIP at St. Joseph Center- it means I’m one step closer to finding my calling.
I came to this realization through one of my clients. After six months of unsuccessful attempts to contact, I was able to catch her at her home. Finally able to hear her story. Hear about how a week after she moved into her unit, a bullet shot through her window and landed next to her and her children. Hear about how someone was murdered in her driveway. Hear about how her kids were taken away from her and how she is doing all possible to get them back. Hear about how it has been hard for her and her kids to be separated. Hear about how much her daughter desperately wants to be reunited with her mother. Hear about how the system keeps sending her daughter to hospitals because her daughter refuses to go to school and threatens to harm herself. How her daughter says these things while also saying how much she wants to be at home with her mom. And so her mom asks me, “How do you even fix the system? I can see the holes with my daughter and my housing, how do you even begin to fix it?”
I drew a blank. I didn’t want to sugarcoat it. I told her I have seen the holes with clients reentering homelessness and all my clients, including her, who request to move after obtaining housing. I told her that’s why we have to keep going no matter how tiresome it gets (and I’m tired). She has us to help her. Even though I don’t know the real answer I will help her find it.
Homelessness is a complex issue that has to be dealt with at all of its stages- but this isn’t for me. In this year I am discovering my draw to actively work with children and their parents. Whichever path I choose to pursue in my social work career, I am forever thankful for the experience I have gained from EUIP and SJC. I appreciate the relationships I have built and the constant push to think critically about social justice issues to make sense of the larger picture.
If my year has taught me anything, it’s that sugarcoating is only good for donuts and frosted flakes. This year has taught me that life is real and I need to keep pushing on the broken systems to make the changes I want to see. Change for myself, for my clients, for my people. I have been tested many times to see if I can keep going and growing and pushing through the struggle I see. It’s definitely hard, but we all have to keep trying. If we give up, there will be nothing left. In this year I have grown in that sense- to keep pushing through the broken systems to find the missing pieces.
When growing into your own person, you go through phases of figuring out who you are. What you want to look like, what clothes you wanna wear, the one pair of sneakers you keep no matter how old and beat up they are because of the memories they hold. Think back to 7th grade and who you were at the time. You’re probably cringing at the idea of what you thought was cool and thankful for puberty. That same process is true for those who consider themselves artist. There are times where your work, your process, and your inspiration changes. Photography has been my means of expression for a long time, and to be honest it’s a love hate relationship at times. Sometimes it’s the most amazing thing I could do, capturing moments and emotions, but sometimes it’s the most stressful thing and can bring me so much anxiety.
Recently, I’ve been struggling to rework my portfolio and develop my own style and understanding of my work (whatever that might mean) and in times like that it’s only right to do one thing that I know can help, nothing. Not so much doing nothing at all, but just taking a break and observing. I recently went to a art show in downtown LA called “Into Action” and was extremely moved. Not only moved at the great pieces that I was able to see, but more so because these works all combined two of my passions, Art and Social Justice. For the first time I was in a room with a community of works that all described some of the things I’ve been feeling and questions that I had. For a split second I felt like I had a place and I didn’t have to choose between two loves. I know that I am an artivist, an artist and an activist. I can’t tell you what that means just yet but I know that I will create with something to say. Maybe not all the time because I’m human, but I will create with honesty and reality in mind.
First photo is from the show, the B&W is an original piece
In the land of Uz there lived a man named Job; and he was blameless and upright
One day a messenger comes to Job and says, some have enemies stolen all your Oxen and killed all your servants and I alone have escaped to tell you."
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "Lightning has fallen from heaven and has completely burned up the sheep and the servants, and I alone have escaped to tell you."
While this man was still speaking, another messenger came and said, some have enemies stolen all your camels killed all your servants and I alone have escaped to tell you."
While this one was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “a great wind came from across the wilderness and knocked down the house where your sons and daughters were killed them. I alone have escaped to tell you."
What makes the story so interesting is that despite all of this hardship Job says
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
You see, despite all of this hardship, and adversity, and suffering. Job never lost his faith in God, he never lost his belief.
And that’s what I see every day at work: the power of belief.
Each day I get to watch men and women battle a flawed system holding onto the tiny hope becoming a U.S. citizen. They do this despite incendiary political rhetoric, vicious rumors, not to mention the daily obstacles that crop up in all immigrants. Yet they still believe defining the expectations that are placed upon them and the barriers blocking them.
I guess that’s why the story of Job seems like an appropriate expectation. As the story of Job goes on the expectations of his friends and family to curse God are frequent and persuasive. Yet Job resists. Despite his sudden poverty, health issues, loss of family and prestige, he chooses to believe. He chooses to believe that his current circumstances are not his final options. He chooses to believe that God has a plan for his life. He chooses to believe in a better future. I want to choose to believe in one too.
Voices of Service
These are reflections from corps members and alumni of Jubilee Year and the Episcopal Urban Intern Program. They cover topics ranging from the sun, fun and friends in in Los Angeles to the uncensored experiences of serving vulnerable populations in our beautiful city. These are Voices of Service. For more, go through our archives below