‘Courage To Follow A Call’ by Nina Palattella

Nina Palattella is a high school senior blogging about her experience as a Christian. Click here to read Nina’s previous blog posts.

Hello again and welcome to my seventh blog post! I hope that all of you are enjoying the return of spring and the Easter season. Easter is a universal time of joy in the church; although Lent was in my church a necessary and productive period of reflection, I was happy to enter into a multi-week celebration of Christ’s return that includes flowers throughout the church, loud hymns, and unapologetic use of the “alleluia.”

I have another piece of happy news to report—after much stress, research, and careful deliberation, I have decided that I will be attending the Honors College at Kent State University this fall! I made my last visit to another large research university, my second top choice, this past Thursday, and after that I felt I had all the information necessary to make my decision, and I wanted to go to Kent. I am looking forward to being a student of the Honors College and living in a dorm with other kids in that program, and I am excited to begin my studies as an English major under the direction of very competent and enthusiastic faculty. My brother will be around to help me if necessary, but we don’t expect to run into each other all the time, which is most likely a good thing.

12957437_1154559797910014_7548171173434636891_o  Earlier this month, my church had the pleasure of hosting the annual North American Conference of Cathedral Deans; as the name suggests, priests from cathedrals around the continent converge in a different location each year for a long weekend of discussion, prayer, and fellowship. The conference is not usually hosted in locations as humble as Erie, Pennsylvania (think Jerusalem and Hawaii), but the dean of my cathedral made a very convincing argument—the phrase “Rust Belt Chic” was mentioned more than once. I was not present for all the events of the conference, but our congregation was praised many times for their involvement in the entire process, including showing the deans around our (unfortunately cold) city, baking and arranging treats to be served after the Sunday service, and simply being visiting with our guests. My parents spoke repeatedly of the wide variety of friendly, interesting priests whom they had the pleasure of meeting; the deans included people from different generations, genders, races, nationalities, sexual orientations, and cultural backgrounds, reflecting the wide reaches of the bonds and acceptance of Christ, which is a wonderful aspect of the Episcopal church that has always made me proud to be a member.

12321334_564938103673208_5533117079208251553_n At the last gathering of The Vine, the Episcopal youth group in my community, we had the pleasure of having the Very Reverend Miguelina Howell come to speak to us. Rev. Howell currently serves as the dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut, and when she was installed in early 2016 she became the first Hispanic woman to be elected dean of an Episcopal church in the United States. In addition to the short PowerPoint presentation she prepared, Reverend Howell spoke about her experience growing up in the Dominican Republic as well as preaching there and in the US. She told stories about her parents, and spoke very affectionately of her father, who was not formally educated but insisted upon education for his children. She talked about a camp that helps serve the youth of Santo Domingo, which seemed very similar to the church camp that I attend except that it operates year-round, helping better the lives of children who are often very poor and disadvantaged. I admired that she has done so much great work in the country where she grew up, but followed what she felt was her call to serve in the United States. It often takes a great deal of bravery to recognize exactly what our individual call to serve might be, and it requires even more courage to follow it, but great people like Reverend Howell have shown me that it can be done.

After the conference had ended, my dean gave a sermon that tied in the theme of the conference, which focused on the perseverance of faith in times of loss and hope. Cathedrals, he said, are different from regular churches because they are at the heart of the community, both in terms of location and involvement in the lives of the people whom they serve, and the Cathedral of St. Paul is involved in its community through varied efforts such as food pantry, outreach dinners, and special events such as the conference. Christianity, cathedrals, my community and similar communities across the country—each of these has experienced its own form of loss, from declining attendance to declining populations to financial uncertainty. Change is evident in every facet of life, and occasions like this conference give us a multitude of reasons to be hopeful; they show us that our work is appreciated, worth continuing, and far from finished.

Nina Palattella, The Cathedral of St. Paul

‘Waiting’ by Nina Palattella

tulips-175600_640     Hello there and welcome to my sixth blog post! After a long period of textbook winter weather, the last few days have been spring-like, and I have been trying my best to find time to enjoy it. I am also looking forward to the mini-mission trip that my youth group has planned for this weekend; we are traveling to Warren to spend a couple of days with the youth and congregation of the Episcopal church down there and assist them with whatever things we can help them accomplish.

Both liturgically and generally speaking, this time of year seems to be a time of constant waiting. Many of us in colder climates are waiting for the winter to taper off, and students across the country are waiting for spring break to commence, which will be the first substantial reprieve from school since Christmas. In church, Christians are observing (and in some aspects, suffering through) the season of Lent, which represents the anticipation of Jesus’ crucifixion and the celebration of Easter.

books-1012088_640  Since as early as the beginning of this school year, I and my fellow seniors in high school have endured an additional kind of waiting: we have been waiting to receive decisions from the colleges and universities to which we applied. The high school which I attend requires all of its seniors to apply and be accepted to a four-year college or university to graduate, so all of us have shared in this waiting to a certain extent. Some of my classmates have already been relieved of their burden: I have friends who have already made their unofficial selections and a few who have already made their deposits for the school of their choosing. For me personally, however, the end still seems very far off. I applied to a total of twelve schools, and of those twelve, I have received decisions from only half of them. I finished all of my applications by late November, so the length of time between then and now seems like eternity. “National Decision Day”, which is considered to be the deadline for students to pledge their attendance to most institutions, and especially the more competitive ones, is less than two months away, so I hope to receive my remaining letters as soon as possible. At the time which I am writing this post, I will actually receive the decision for one of my top choice schools tomorrow afternoon. The dates which I have been made aware of for a few others are not until later this month or stretching into early April, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for me to make the most important decision of my life so far. I have become quite accustomed to responding to the question, “So where are you going to end up next year?” with “I have absolutely no clue.”

This past Sunday was Mothering Sunday in my church, and for that occasion the Gospel that was read was the parable of the Prodigal Son. In short, the parable describes a father who has two sons, the younger of which prematurely asks for his share of the inheritance he and his brother are expected to receive. Said son then goes off and spends all of the money doing what the Bible might as well describe as “serious shenanigans.” Broke and disgraced, he returns to his father to ask for a job so he can have food, but the father welcomes him with open arms and an awesome celebration. When the older son expresses a certain degree of anger and jealousy, because he has never disobeyed his father and also has never had a party held in his honor, the father assures the older son that he appreciates his son and has every bit of his respect, but he has to acknowledge his younger son’s miraculous return to him, because, despite his mistakes and shenanigans, the father still loves his son.

silhouette-1082129_640    Most everyone who is aware of Christianity in some way is aware of this story. It is one of my personal favorites, not only because it is so ubiquitous but also because it is one of the easiest to grasp the meaning of. But this Sunday, in his sermon, the Dean of my church gave me another perspective to consider. He said something like, “Each of us has a general idea of who we are in this story, but we have been or will be each of the different characters at some point in our lives.” In a few months, I will have to change how I think of myself in at least one major way, from high school student to college student. I am determined not to let the results of my remaining applications change my view of myself from anything other than a smart, dedicated human being.

The father of the Prodigal Son is waiting for his son to return to him. Jesus is waiting for his death, and Christians wait for Him to rise again. In time, these things will happen, but before they do, we just might have to wait.

‘Balance’ by Nina Palattella

Welcome to a new series where we will hear from Nina Palattella about her experience as a Christian in her senior year of High School.  Nina will write a blog post about once a month over the course of the school year. This is her third installment.  Click here to see the others.

Hello there and thank you for coming back for my third blog post! I have been enjoying the beginning of my break from school for Thanksgiving, and I hope that the unofficial beginning of the winter holiday season has been kind to all the readers out there. I am still entrenched in schoolwork and preparations for my quickly approaching future. I have been accepted to three of the schools to which I have applied, and even received my scholarship offer for one, should I choose to attend that school; I have two applications still left to complete, and four more currently awaiting a decision. This past weekend I attended a musical production at an area high school, spent a night with my close friends, performed at my high school’s open house as a member of the Vocal Jazz ensemble, and went on a tour of the Erie City Mission with my youth group, which I plan to describe in more detail as a part of my next blog post.

Now that I’ve written all that out, it seems like a lot. I did have a lot of activity going on that weekend, but to say that it was abnormally busy would be stretching the truth. The same can be said of the vast majority of my friends and peers at my high school, who supplement their already challenging academic workloads with extracurriculars such as sports, theater, music, and community or religious service activities. Though the topic of this post is particularly relevant to teens and youth, especially in stacking-669065_1280the midst of the ever-hectic holiday season, I think that is relevant to all ages: describing my ongoing quest to create a balanced life in an often unbalanced world.

The search for balance is a constant topic of discussion on social levels ranging from international to interpersonal to explicitly personal: the balance of a particular country’s involvement in the affairs of others; work-life balance; for many students, it can mean finding a balance between school and additional activities that allows them to complete all their assignments while still making time for jobs, friends, and the things in life that they enjoy. Finding the “perfect” balance would mean being able to realistically achieve these goals without having to feel stressed or worried about whether they would get done. If such a perfect balance exists, I am sad to report that I have yet to find it, and unfortunately, I know few people who might say that they have, either.

One of the most useful pieces of advice concerning this subject came from my father; I think he may have first said it to me while I was in middle school, but it has only become more relevant as I’ve gotten older. I was fretting about the amount of work I had to complete for school the next day; I wanted everything to be done perfectly even at that age, and on that particular day I was worried that my standard of perfection wasn’t going to be attainable. My father, in his often understated wisdom, said to me something along the lines of: “You have to realize that there are the things that you have to do well, and the things that you just need to get done.”

There is only so much time in each day in which to do all the things I need to do or that I feel I need to do, and to be able to complete them all—not even thinking of their quality—requires some serious budgeting of time. And, as always, in addition to the necessities that feel like chores—school, homework, college application essays, cleaning the bathrooms every weekend, and such—there are other personal necessities to be attended to, such as finding the time to hang out with friends, practice my guitar, read a novel, or write a short story. My break from school for Thanksgiving seemed like the perfect opportunity to catch up on all of these (as well as sleep) with less interruption than usual. What I didn’t factor in, however, was that the holiday offered its own set of distractions; my brother came home from college, so I’ve been spending more time with him, as well as with both my immediate and extended family. I attended a church service with my father on Thanksgiving morning and was privileged to be in the company of members of our regular congregation as well as several visiting clergy. My mother and I ventured to the mall to unofficially begin our Christmas shopping. I didn’t plan for any of these activities to interrupt my usual schedule, but I don’t regret spending the time it took to do any of them.

I think that is the most important lesson I’ve learned in my ongoing effort to balance my life: the perfect balance looks different for every day of the year. Some days are harder to get through than others, when everything I do feels like work; others feel like a relief, when the most pressing thing I have to do is enjoy the company of the people around me. Thankfully, most days have at least a little bit of both, and if that’s the best shot at “balance” that I have right now, then I’ll take it.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog post and maybe even received a bit of helpful advice; feel free to leave any comments below and enjoy the start of the winter season!

Nina Palattella