On Direct Service and Indirect Progress
By Janice Washington
It is hard to believe that my summer assignment with GraceWorks is coming to a close. As I reflect back on my Summer of Service there are so many things I could talk about. This summer our team celebrates:
- The successful re-laying of over 2,000 bricks to continue the wheelchair accessibility of the community garden
- The construction of a rainwater catchment system that will be used in future efforts to combat food insecurity
- An organized two-room food pantry
- The successful construction of a portable hand washing station to help Woodlawn’s homeless combat Covid-19
- Research and data collection to inform future grant narratives
- A cleared fence line to preserve the dignity of a local/historic cemetery
- A maintained community garden, such that it continues to yield a harvest of tomatoes, peppers watermelon, cantaloupe, and peas
- Teambuilding exercises that serve to grow our strengths as both individuals and group members.
These are projects that we can collectively ascribe a checkmark next to. Sweat on our brows and determination in our beings, there is marked evidence of the work we’ve done. What happens, however, when that evidence is not so clear? This too, I’ve learned to celebrate:
GraceWorks is repurposing an abandoned church. It will ultimately be a center for worship and workforce development. In short, community members will be able to walk in under-resourced and walk out empowered, walk-in with little experience, and walk out certified. The building, as it stands, leaves much to be desired. While sledgehammering some plaster with my coworkers a couple of days ago, I watched as plaster, wood, beams, and nails fell to the floor in a puff of cement dust. This church has been gutted. There are tools lying about, windows are boarded up, and wheelbarrows are parked here and there waiting for a load of rubble.
To a stranger, GraceWorks is hammering away at a lost cause, a mess, a building that will never live beyond its former glory. My coworker points to what appears to be the framework for a doorway. “Why are they putting a door here when there is nothing but a wall behind it,” she asked. Our supervisor responded, “It’s a temporary support wall. Our goal is to replace the load-bearing wall behind it. A support wall has to be put into place until the old wall is replaced with a wall strong enough to sustain the weight.”
That illustration is what I leave this program with: Sometimes the work we put our hands to seems silly and useless when the results aren’t immediate. Sometimes when you’re standing in the middle of a mess with a sledgehammer, a hardhat and dirt-streaked face, the muddle of where you are eclipses the vision of what it is to become. In short, we are called to be the support wall, to stand in the gap, to bear the weight. We are called to take a position, even when doing so invites scoffing. We are the support wall—nothing fancy about its appearance, nothing lofty about its function. You see the presence of a support wall guarantees a few things: the old will come down. The process will be messy with weak spots along the way. But a new wall is coming and it will be strong enough to fortify the building wherein we stand. The presence of a support wall is a quiet declaration in the midst of chaos that new things are being done.
Now, if I point to the abandoned church and say, “We’ve done a lot of work there” or “This building will change lives,” you may look at our dirty clothes and the gravity of what is remaining, and chuckle. The way GraceWorks has approached this building is the way GraceWorks approaches the community that surrounds it and (dare I say), the way God approaches the broken. I know it looks bad, but something assures me that that the good work that has been started, will in fact be completed. Something tells me that be it a shattered window or a shattered person, GraceWorks will continue its commitment to bear the weight until the building and the people it will serve can stand on their own.
So wait for it: The old will give way to new. Shall you not know it? It will spring up like a building once forgotten, a person once dismissed, and an evergreen in the desert.
I celebrate our definitive wins this summer and our baby steps towards a bigger win later in the season.