This year celebrated the 10th year of the Collaborative Vocation/Service Experience in New Orleans. Born out of our desire for further collaboration in ministry and in our living, women have been invited to join us for service in New Orleans. Initially the service was directly related to Hurricane Katrina clean up and rebuilding. In the most recent years we have joined with our sisters in ministry – those at the Lantern Light Ministry and Sister Mary Lou Specha initially at Café Reconcile and now in ministry with Sister Julie Marsh at Hotel Hope.
In our ministry at Lantern Light we have worked side by side with 10 sisters from various congregations in our Conference. Over 100 women, associates and sisters have joined in the experience each March in which we live a life that models apostolic religious life with Mass, service, shared meals and theological reflection at the end of the day. The women are always overwhelmed with Presentation hospitality and remark on the life we live – the life, the joy, the mission we share. Through the years there are women who have entered our religious congregations who have shared in our experience. The focus of the experience has always been to enter into the story of the other – those on the trip and those that we meet.
This year was no different as we gathered with Sisters Vera and Enid. The one difference this year, in addition to our leaving the center in the hands of a lay board and leadership, was that the spring breaks of the women we were bringing overlapped for only a few days. Rather than not do the trip we planned the prayers and experiences to include the whole experience for both groups. It worked out wonderfully as our circles expanded and we meet more of those in need in the New Orleans area and we joined again at Lantern Light. The experience was bitter sweet with the handing over of the ministry to those who the Presentation Sisters have worked with through the years. As Kenitha Grooms-Williams, the new director, took our group around she talked about the center as being a place of peace where the guests can come and rest from whatever life is for them at this time. As we worked side by side with Beth in the kitchen, she took such great care to prepare food that would nourish the guests and be something that would be food for their day on many levels. Catherine, the social work intern who also did an internship as an undergraduate, gave the guests her undivided attention in helping them with their problems. Donna, who works in the food pantry, worked diligently with the many donations and preparing bags for those who live in homes and need assistance. It was evident that our mission continues in these women. Our days together were rich in our Presentation history, charism, spirituality and mission.
We both agree that it was a richer experience in collaboration than when the groups were there without the other. The years of sharing this experience have strengthened our bonds as Presentation Sisters and have exposed the women who have joined us to a broader sense of who we are in mission. As Nano said, “There is no greater joy than to be in union. . .” Our union in experience and ministry has blessed us greatly and for that we are most thankful.
As part of this reflection, we would like to share reflections from some of the women that joined us this year.
Lydia– Words can’t describe the peace and joy that I felt during our week of service. I never knew how much of an impact on my life it would have. It taught me a lot about myself and I have grown in so many ways because of our trip! I am so blessed and thankful to have had such an amazing opportunity!
Rachel– Being with people experiencing homelessness or poverty changed me in ways that simply talking about the need to address poverty in our country never did or could. There is something very powerful about simply being with people, whether it be sharing a meal, sharing conversation, or doing an art project together (all experiences I had in New Orleans). This experience led me to not underestimate the importance of human connection, mercy, patience, understanding, love, justice, and peace. Put simply, because of the people I met on my trip to New Orleans, my heart is now a little bit softer, a little bit more patient and understanding, and a whole lot more loving.
Michelle–We also had the chance to work in the kitchen helping to prepare meals for over 200 people. It was amazing to see the preparation that went into creating meals, but also the type of food being provided for these people. Everyone who worked there was always concerned with the quality of services being provided. Any donation received, was first gone through making sure that the donations were still good quality. The same can be said for the food, and as we were preparing, many of the volunteers joked that it was hard for them not to take a bite of it because it looked so good. After the guests were served, our lunch was typically whatever left over food was available. I was so happy to see this, because it really spoke volumes to how much the guest were respected and were being treated as equal, which can unfortunately sometimes be lost in service projects. This respect was clearly returned by the guests.
Another reason why I enjoyed helping to prepare and then serve the food was because of the connection food can create between people. Breaking bread is very symbolic within the religious context and there are countless references as to how sharing a meal can bring people together. I think that it also ties back into how we are all humans and there are basic needs that we all share, one of which would be food in order to sustain us.
Sisters Rita Cameron and Mary Catherine Redmond