Monday, March 26, 2007

Seattle and Holden Village

In a fragmented and torn world, it is often a rare thing to find and experience community, but such would be the definition of the Seattle/Holden Village Spring Break experience from Waldorf College.

For a week, 17 people were immersed in service while being enfolded in and changed by the spirit of community.

Upon arriving in Seattle, the Waldorf team went to the Compass Center -- a transitional housing program for homeless men. Here, we readied the dining hall for the evening meal, helped prepare the night's food, heard about homelessness, received a tour of Pioneer Square from one recovering drug addict at the Compass Center, served dinner, listened to stories of heartache and survival, and cleaned the kitchen and dining hall following dinner.

As the men told us their stories, we were invited into their lives and into their community. We came to serve them, but through their stories each one of us walked away changed. What is it like to live on the streets? What is it like to know "success" and to then see it all vanish? What is it like to not only feel alone, but be alone and try to put life back together?

The next service element of our experience was Holden Village. We left the busyness of the inner city behind and found another type of community in the mountains. Two hours up the lake and twelve miles up the mountain, lives a village of people attempting to be responsible stewards of all of life. The snow was still deep -- about 70 inches of the winter's 300+ remained, and as we served in and with this community we trudged through melting snow that still buried some buildings.

So what did we do in this village? What did we experience? It is really difficult to capture the spirit of the experience in words. For a few days, while we did hours upon hours of dishes, reconstructed church pews, cleaned and painted the mailroom, filled in human-made-post-holes in the snow, built an observation deck at the hydro-plant, moved three cords of wood, and worked with garbology -- we learned how to live simply and value something other than what our culture mandates.

While we were in the village (whose electricity comes completely from a hydro-generator) the snow had melted enough that the water in the river was running fast enough so that the electricity was strong enough to once again use clothes dryers. It was simply amazing to hear the cheers of joy at not having to freeze dry their clothes anymore, as the dryers had been unavailable since late October.

We partook in a silent hunger meal -- simple food -- bread, rice, fruit and water -- something that the village does once a week -- the financial savings from which are sent to hunger relief organizations.

We worshiped -- at least once a day, finding time in quiet reflection to listen to God's voice and to be drawn together across all boundaries that might separate us.

We listened to why people choose to live in this village -- to seek a different way amid a frenetic world, to seek to change the way that we view one another and the world -- one person at a time, to live amid community while trying to figure out what life is all about, to be found in wholeness when there is brokenness.

What do we bring home from this experience? That is probably different for each person, but there are most likely some common threads and common questions. What would happen if the Waldorf community, once a week, participated in a hunger meal, and then sent the money saved to hunger relief? What would happen if we as a campus would commit to recycling and intentionally reducing what we send to the landfill? What would happen if each one of us embraced a spirit of hospitality and truly lived in a way that values and respects each other, regardless of our differences?

And a closing thought. For me, there is a metaphor for this experience that has arisen from the physical realities of both the Compass Center and Holden Village. The Compass Center is located along the water front in Seattle, and is right behind a major overpass -- a bridge that constantly generates the sound of traffic. Holden Village is located up in the mountains, away from the hectic pace of much of life, but it too is marked by a bridge and a constant sound. At the village, the bridge stretches over the river, and wherever one is, the sound of water can be heard.

I suppose all of us live by bridges of sorts -- those things that take us from one place to the next, over that which would be an impediment to what comes next without the bridge to get us there. Perhaps at the end of it all, that is what service is -- a bridge to change for those who are served and a bridge to change for those who serve.

1 comment:

Jeri said...

I'm researching others' experiences of Holden Village for a writing project. Mostly, I've just been reading anonymously.

I wanted to pass on to you that your story of your time in Seattle and in the mountains is lovely - heartfelt and inspirational. Thanks for putting your experience into words.