stories

Arlette Benoit Rises as a Leader in Episcopal Youth Ministry

The Rev. Arlette Benoit, who will earn her Master of Divinity degree and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from General Seminary this May, is becoming a national leader for youth ministry in The Episcopal Church.

Benoit is among the eight adults and 14 youth recently chosen by The Episcopal Church to serve as the 2014 Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) Mission Planning Team. Their work will be to design and lead the triennial EYE to be held next July 9-13, 2014 in the Philadelphia area, in partnership with the Diocese of Pennsylvania. This twelfth EYE, for youth in grades 9-12, is expected to draw hundreds of youth from throughout The Episcopal Church.

During the 2012-13 academic year, Benoit has been an intern in The Episcopal Church’s Office of Black Ministries, working with a team of clergy and lay leaders to develop the Rising Stars Experience (RISE), a new initiative aimed at countering what is known as the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” where children are pushed out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

“I was very active in the church in high school,” Benoit said. “We had an amazing priest who really allowed the youth of the congregation to have leadership positions. I served as president of the youth group, attended youth conferences like Happening, and was invited to synods and to be a youth presence on the vestry. As I think about my own experience and how formative those years were, I wish to create positive opportunities for youth today. I believe it’s an investment in their future.”

Benoit is a transitional deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and anticipates ordination to the priesthood in June. She has been invited by the Rt. Rev. Robert C. Wright, Bishop of Atlanta, to serve in the diocese after graduation and is anticipating youth-oriented ministry. In February 2013, she was appointed to serve as a Youth Ministry Liaison representing Province Four of The Episcopal Church to the Office of Youth Ministries.

She is especially passionate about The Episcopal Church’s response to systematic problems facing youth in society, which spurs on her work on the new RISE Experience. Many children in the Schools-to-Prison Pipeline have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and discriminatory application of “zero-tolerance” disciplinary policies, when they need community support. The RISE Experience, Benoit said, aims to provide a positive environment for youth, offering them opportunities to explore values to live by; develop skills in conflict management and negotiation; enjoy piano lessons, steel band practice, storytelling and story writing, arts and crafts, and outings; and to have one-to-one conversations with mentors.

On Saturdays, Benoit has been co-leading training sessions with mentors and volunteers at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in the Bronx towards the creation of a pilot RISE Experience. Together, the Office of Black Ministries and parishioners of St. Andrew’s have been developing the curriculum. They are also currently receiving nominations for youth who will participate in this pilot. It will form the basis, Benoit said, for offerings in other urban parishes. “We are mindful that each setting is different, and plans will need to be fine-tuned for the future program,” she said. “But our hope is to develop something many parishes can use, because it’s needed.”

To learn more about The Episcopal Church's Office of Youth Ministies and the EYE, click  here.

To learn more about The Episcopal Church's Office of Black Ministries, click here, and about the RISE Experience being piloted in the Bronx, click here.

Hurricane Sandy Relief: The Rev. Chris Ballard Comes Full Circle

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For the Rev. Chris Ballard, a 2012 graduate of General Seminary, past and present ministries came together this week as he coordinated a major donation of furniture and miscellaneous items from the new owners of the hotel portion of the Desmond Tutu Center to victims of Hurricane Sandy in the Rockaways.

General Seminary closed on the sale of the hotel in September 2012 as part of The Plan to Choose Life (see story), and since then, the new owners of the newly named Highline Hotel, The Brodsky Organization and MCR Development, have been renovating the property. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Steven Hirschberg of The Brodsky Organization realized that much of the hotel's furniture to be replaced could assist hurricane victims. The seminary was able to connect him with Occupy Sandy, a recovery effort that has a major distribution center at The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Brooklyn, where Fr. Ballard serves as Curate.

The generous donation included 30 beds, 33 chairs, and assorted benches, coffee makers, and other items. The Brodsky Organization handled the move to the church in Brooklyn. According to Fr. Ballard, the items will go to immigrant families in the Rockaways who cannot receive federal aid due to their undocumented status. "The families are destitute and have little or nothing as far as housewares," he said.

Before becoming a full-time student in 2011, Fr. Ballard worked at General Seminary as the Associate Director of the Desmond Tutu Center. Upon graduation, he began his ministry at the St. Luke and St. Matthew and also, by appointment of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, as the pastoral leader of the congregation of The Church of the Redeemer in Brooklyn, whose building is in need of major renovation (see Wall Street Journalarticle). At St. Luke and St. Matthew, he has worked closely with Occupy Sandy volunteers, who for his ordination to the priesthood on December 8, 2012, gave him a bicycle after his former one had disappeared from the church. They presented the bicycle to him after his first celebration of the Eucharist the next morning.

Thus, for Fr. Ballard, the donation of furniture from the Tutu hotel was a link to his past. "I've come full circle," he said. "I saw that furniture arrive when the hotel opened." As for the furniture going to undocumented workers, he said with passion and gratitude, "Tutu justice!"

An Old Testament-Style Calling for GTS Alumnus

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By Turhan Tirana, M.A. Class of 2012 When I matriculated at General, the thought of a calling had not occurred to me. In my retirement then from remunerated work, I just wanted to study. Or so I thought. And five years later, last May, upon graduation with a master’s in Biblical Studies, still no change. What I wanted to do with my newly-found freedom was to study some more, on my own; fish for trout and striped bass, and tend to my garden and grandchildren.

Two weeks later, this dream was gone. My calling, Old Testament style, had come and smacked me on the head. But a better calling, a better use of what General has taught me and a more challenging one, one which requires me to be fully alert each moment I cannot conceive.

I am a teacher now, never having taught before. Moreover, I am a teacher of the Bible, right now the Psalms. I teach at a Christian evangelical addiction recovery mission in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a once prosperous, once handsome industrial city known now mostly for its decay, poverty and crime.

My students are male recovering drug and alcohol addicts, aged 18 to 50, half of whom have served prison time. They are smart, engaged, sometimes funny and for the most part, Biblically literate and sufficiently literate to challenge me from time to time. Their understanding, however, tends toward fundamentalism and inerrancy.  But thanks to what Prof. Owens taught me, I mostly keep my cool and sometimes, I can even nudge them to other perspectives.

For example, we can now comfortably use the word “metaphor.”  And somewhat as an experiment, I tried on them a George Herbert poem ("The Pulley"). They not only got it; they argued raucously with each other about it, the arguments including the nature of God and free will. The teaching, too, goes both ways. I am learning from my students, unwittingly, about faith; theirs, for some reason I have not yet discerned, being more certain than my own, their afflictions and humiliations notwithstanding.

Pivot Ministries is the name of the mission. It has been around for 42 years, although now it faces scary financial prospects. Funding comes mostly from private donations, including some local Episcopal, Congregational and other churches. My students are in the first three months of a 16-month recovery program which treats addiction as a spiritual problem. The program is based upon Bible study, prayer, self-evaluation and AA and NA.

The men come to Pivot from all over the country mostly by word-of-mouth but sometimes by recommendation of their probation or parole officers. They may leave at any time. Almost half stay the full term, thereby, perhaps, fulfilling Pivot’s stated mission “to return the men to their families whole.” They are blessed to be there.  So am I.

GTS Builds Ministry with New York First Responders

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To foster good relationships with Chelsea neighbors and to provide students with opportunities in creative ministries, General Theological Seminary (GTS) has been pursuing a new ministerial partnership with the New York City Fire Department's Emergency Medical Services (EMS). The relationship includes providing first responders in FDNY Station 7, located just two blocks from the seminary, with pastoral companionship, space for events, and invitations to participate in worship in the seminary's Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

During the 2012-13 academic year, two Master of Divinity students, John Bethell and Stefanie Wilson, are pursuing their field education as chaplains to EMS first responders, under the supervision of the Rev. Stephen Harding, an Episcopal priest, FDNY chaplain and GTS alumnus. Another M.Div. student, Andrew Goldhor, is volunteering as a chaplain. Their ministry includes visiting station houses, befriending EMS first responders, accompanying them in EMS ambulances to scenes of emergency, and ministering to individuals and families in crisis.

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and the nor'easter which beset New York City the following week, the three seminarians were quickly responding alongside emergency medical technicians and paramedics to reach out to those struggling. Once transportation was running, Wilson trekked up to Station 16 in Harlem to minister to the first responders. "One of my roles as chaplain is to listen to their stories, giving spiritual and emotional support to those who do the necessary work of the world. They have a hard job that is emotionally draining and sometimes thankless." She heard stories of climbing 15 floors to aid persons in distress and of carrying a pregnant woman down many flights of unlit stairs. When asked how she was led to this ministry she responded, "Within the gates of the Seminary I have been blessed to work in the Chapel and get a wonderful liturgical education. I wanted to learn more about chaplaincy and how to be with people and walk with them, celebrate with them or cry with them."

Bethell pioneered the field education placement with the FDNY and is now in his second year of ministry. For the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, Bethell gave his senior sermon during the Seminary's Community Eucharist and invited FDNY first responders to attend the service. The gospel text was Luke 4:14-21, in which Jesus reads from the prophecy of Isaiah and then proclaims, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Bethell compared the reconciliation ministry of Jesus, through healing the blind, caring for the poor, and freeing the captives, to the work of the EMS first responders.

"In my work with EMS, I have witnessed women and men turn their daily work into a sacrament: the absolute care given to people in need, to people who are dying. Some of the most forgotten people in our fair city are treated like human beings by total strangers." Many of the first responders are not Christians, he noted, "but by the test of the Gospel, there are those who would never call themselves Christians who follow Christ more closely than we do."  Here is a link to Bethell's sermon.

The Prayers of the People for the service, written by Br. Max Kolbe, SSF, an M.Div. Middler, included a special prayer for FDNY first responders:

We remember with grateful hearts those who serve as first responders, especially fire fighters and EMTs, whose vocation often calls them to tend to human frailty. By their inspiration, and by St. Luke's, may we find the grace to serve you through service to others. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

The prayers also included remembrance of Lenny Joiner, age 31, a paramedic who died last summer on a mountain climbing trip in Colorado, a remembrance meaningful to the first responders who were cared for by the Seminary in the first days of their grief. The funeral for Joiner, an Episcopalian, was held at St. Michael's Episcopal Church uptown and the reception followed at GTS. "It was touching to see how quickly we here at General sprang into action to open ourselves up to another institution to serve Chelsea and beyond," Bethell said. "The reception was well attended with so many who would normally not find themselves inside a religious institution. Here at General, they were welcomed as though this was their home. Because it is."

Rivalry to Ministry: GTS and VTS Aid Neighbors

As reported by The Episcopal Cafe, instead of the annual flag football game, Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) and General Theological Seminary (GTS) met in New York on Saturday, November 10, to help aid people in low income housing near the GTS campus. Some of buildings at Fulton Houses had been without heat since Superstorm Sandy hit New York on October 29, and the volunteers from VTS brought with them 100 blankets and 82 space heaters to distribute. As Fulton Houses recovers, it has also become a distribution point for those houses in Brooklyn and Queens still in need of care, and the volunteers from GTS and VTS aided in that effort as well. The football game will go on this coming Spring.

Read the full story on The Episcopal Cafe

General Stories – J.K. Melton

JK Melton

M.Div.'13

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Seminarian JK Melton spent the  Summer of 2012 in Tanzania thanks to General Seminary's F.A.R. and Wide Scholarship in Mission and World Anglicanism. Melton was working in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika under the mentorship of the Rev. Sandra McCann, M.D., an official missionary of The Episcopal Church

While there, Melton toured mission projects in Dar es Salam and the surrounding area. He  stayed in the village of Nghong'onha, ministering with a local priest who is also in the midst of a theological study program. JK  preached on Sundays, helped teach, and otherwise participated in parish life. JK also participated in a theology conference at Msalato Theological College.

Having previously spent time in Liberia, JK was interested in discovering how mission work is different in a country that has suffered relatively little political strife. Whereas Liberia has survived years of bitter civil war, Tanzania, by contrast, has experienced economic chaos, but not the political violence that has troubled other post-colonial African nations.

JK was also eager to learn lessons from mission work that could apply to evangelism in the United States, where Christianity is no longer part of the dominant culture. “We can learn from the churches in Africa about ways to engage our communities and share the gospel," he said.

JK writes a blog, where he  posted updates about his mission trip, and you can also follow his journeys and learning on his Facebook page.

General Stories – Caroline Peacock

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Caroline Peacock

M.Div.'13

Seminarian Caroline Peacock is spending the  summer of 2012 developing an audio series of interviews with luminaries and sages in the field of pastoral care and posting the interviews on a new website she has created, Voices of Pastoral Care. Her project is made possible by a Fund for Theological Education Ministry Fellowship, for which she was nominated by General Seminary.

Before coming to General, Caroline worked as a clinical and administrative social worker, including with veterans returning from the conflict in Iraq. Her project reflects her gift and passion for pastoral care ministry.

"As pastoral care providers, we spend sacred timelistening to people, and I wondered what it would be like to listen to the stories of those who have ministerial wisdom to share," she said.

The extraordinarily skilled pastoral care providers she will interview include experts in trauma and grief, multicultural pastoral care, and the use of social media for pastoral care. Listeners will learn from a prison pastor, a seasoned vocational deacon in The Episcopal Church, a United Church of Christ minister, and a rabbi who writes about the psalms. Those who will share their expertise are professors, Clinical Pastoral Education supervisors, authors, and scholars. The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, will also be among those who offer their perspectives.

"Each of these individuals is a professional beholder of others, giving her or his gifts to make God's love and compassion known in the world," Caroline said. "I hope you will join me on this journey of learning."