Two years ago if you had asked me where I was going to be today, I would have told you I would be a police officer, patrolling my community in order to make it a better place. Then I had a change of heart. A year ago if you had asked me where I was going to be today, I would have told you joining the Episcopal Service Corps in Baltimore. I was going to go to Baltimore and serve with a pastor who worked at my church while I was growing up and learn all about how to be the best church leader I could.
Then life happened. I changed, opportunities fell through, and I knew the only thing I could do was continuously and intentionally keep an eye out for where God was working.
Being in the Johnson Service Corps was not a part of my plan, and as we make plans, expectations for the plans come with them. We feel let down when our plan and our expectations for life are not met, but I can thankfully say that being with JSC for the past 10 months has exceeded every expectation I had for this year.
It didn’t start out that way though. My social group almost all of my life has been the athletic, straight male who tries to be as masculine as possible and when I arrived at JSC, I didn’t have that. I was way out of my comfortable social context. However, it was through that feeling of a lack of comfort that I was able to allow myself to genuinely grow as a person.
Thanks to JSC, I’ve had more personal growth, learning opportunities, and intentional time with God in a single year than I had during my time in undergrad. I learned about communities in need that I had previously never given a thought about. I’ve been able to give selflessly to help others and I’ve made authentic friendships with the people I’m serving with.
My year hasn’t been easy though. I was let go from my partner organization after less than two months. It was devastating to feel like I wasn’t doing a good enough job, but as I left the organization for the last time, I asked God (and Program Director Andrew Hudgins) to put me to work. I was determined not to waste the little time I had with the Johnson Service Corps. So I volunteered at local nonprofits which helped me see every manner of need in the nonprofit world. I ended up volunteering at the Chapel of the Cross, where they decided that they liked me enough to make it my actual placement.
My work at The Chapel of the Cross has had two main focuses. The first being working on a grant that the church received through the Lilly Foundation to help the undergraduate students of UNC explore their vocation. This has looked like setting up a mentorship program between students and adults in the church’s congregation, helping put together a conference with speakers and workshops, marketing events, and planning trips. The other half of my job here has been helping to hold down the fort at the front desk. I have found that this has been the best place for me to learn everything I can about the people of the church.
At the front desk, you see everyone who comes in. People who are in need, families attending a funeral, individuals who are new to town and are curious about our church, and the daily staff. What the front desk gives me the opportunity to do is make the church an environment where they feel authentically welcome and wanted. I also get to see the priests, Mother Elizabeth Marie, Father Noah, and Mother Joyce, every day, and this is one of the biggest blessings that has come out of this year. They have been able to answer all my personal and theological questions, taught me so much about how to be a successful leader in a church, and have guided me in order to prepare for my time in divinity school.
I think it’s interesting (almost ironic) how I wanted to be in Baltimore because I thought that I could work with a priest and learn about church life beyond Sunday mornings. Then to have it pulled out from underneath me, to come to Chapel Hill and serve with a partner organization that didn’t work out after such a short period of time, just to wind up doing what I wanted to all along.