‘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.

‘Go Forth In The World’ 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 fourth installment.  Click here to see the others.

Hello and welcome to my fourth blog post! I hope that everyone had a safe and enjoyable holiday season. I spent a good amount of time with my family, both those who live in my city and those who have traveled in for the occasion.

For this post, I wanted to explore an aspect of life that is central to the Christian faith and often emphasized throughout the holiday season for all: charitable giving and volunteering. Whether in terms of volunteer work, financial donations made directly to the church, or the donation of one’s time and resources to help another person, charitable giving is a cornerstone of the Christian tradition, as well as in other religions. The amount which it is considered appropriate to tithe is widely debated; a quick Google search of the subject retrieves almost three hundred thousand results, each presumably with their own suggestions. One such suggestion I can recall being tossed around over the years is that each member of the church should donate ten percent of his or her income, but there are many cases when ten percent would be asking far too much, and others in which the same amount seems insignificant. I’ve matured considerably both as a person and as a Christian since I was first introduced to this hypothesis, and sometimes I can’t help but wonder how Jesus might have imagined his teachings as they apply to modern economics.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 4.13.37 PMI have recently had two personal experiences with charitable giving at work: in late November, I had the opportunity to take a tour of the Erie City Mission with my youth group, The Vine. According to its website (www.eriecitymission.org), the organization is one of 275 nationally associated “Gospel Rescue Missions;” unlike government entities, rescue missions can attend to local needs without requiring a community-wide consensus to do their work. I had a general idea of the help the City Mission provided in the community—I knew that they hosted community dinners, I was aware that they offered temporary shelter for those in need—but until this visit I woefully underestimated the scope of their programs and the commitment they require. Not including the meals that are provided to program participants, the website states that the organization provides “3 meals [a day], 363 days of the year, to more than 151,000 women, children, and men.” Our group was taken through one of the dormitories for the emergency men’s shelter—it was sparse, but astonishingly clean, thanks to the meticulous laundry and hygiene regiments that are demanded of the individuals who stay there. The shelter can house up to 56 men for a maximum of 60 nights per person; if, 30 days after the original 60 days ended, a former resident is still in need of shelter, he may reapply for an extended stay. I had not known about this policy, and the generosity of it struck me. In addition, the organization has rehabilitation programs that range in length from eight months to one year, with emphasis on spirituality, overcoming addiction, and becoming reconnected to the community. The City Mission has several campuses in and around the city that offer ministries for children and women as well, which are in high demand but shorter supply around the city. Learning about the extent of the City Mission’s efforts made me realize that, in order to better a community, it takes the effort of the entire community.

Because I am off of school and he is home from college, my brother and I were able to volunteer at my church’s food pantry distribution. This distribution happens on one morning every week; it is usually on Friday, but because of the New Year, this past week it was changed to Tuesday. The regular volunteers told us that they had been distributing an average of 90 bags in recent weeks, and they told us that they were predicting an attendance of at least eighty for this week. Before the distribution started, I assisted in dividing fifty pounds of individually wrapped candy bars into bags of ten, and then I was assigned to a table where I was charged with handing out said candy, as well as jars of peanut butter and boxes of raisins. By the time my brother and I left almost two hours later, we had served only forty-five clients. However, just because our efforts directly benefitted fewer people than in the past doesn’t mean that they were wasted; every person whom we served was kind and polite; many of them thanked us and enthusiastically wished the volunteers and other patrons a happy holiday. I saw a connection between this experience and my thoughts on donations described at the beginning of this post—I believe that the number of people you help matters less than your effort to do so. Jesus calls his followers to “go forth in the world” and make a difference in His name, and if we are trying our best to heed his words, then I think that we will find ourselves on a path that He would find acceptable.

Nina Palattella

“Youth Group and Christian Outreach” 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 second installment.  Click here to see the first one.

Hello again and thank you for joining me for my second blog post! I hope you have all had a swell month. My time has been occupied by the beginnings of college applications and lots of essays as my senior year of high school has progressed in full force. In addition to the new school year, the arrival of the fall season also brings a new year for my youth group, which led me to the idea to make this post about Christian outreach. I would suggest that any teens and youth in the audience especially stick around for this one—make yourself comfortable and stay a while!

11954753_482870405213312_9168523237462758084_nWhen I was younger, I participated in youth programs that were specific to my church, such as Sunday school and Rite 13, our small teen fellowship group; last year, program leaders from three churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania in my area, including my own, banded together with the idea to combine the youth groups from the three churches into one “Episcopal community for youth” known as The Vine; the group takes its name from a verse in the Gospel—“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 5:15). Anyone from those churches (and any friends who are invited and always welcome to join) in middle school through twelfth grade can participate in the group’s biweekly meetings that may include mission trips, fun outings or overnight gatherings.

While the three congregations mentioned above constitute the roots of the group (pun somewhat intended), other churches in the diocese have helped the group and our mission, whether by spending time with our group, hosting us in their parishes, or simply by expressing their support, and with their help the impact that our work 11081471_421588111341542_4785778058643413919_ncan have reaches far beyond the limits of our central congregations. This past March, the Vine took a “mini-mission” trip to Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Brookville, PA. I had never visited the small parish before, and I was stunned by the beauty of the church building; the wood in the church’s interior needed some restoration, and after the volunteers from Erie exchanged greetings with the members of Holy Trinity who would be joining us for the morning, we began our task, armed with buckets of polish and rags with which to do our work. It was nice to have a job that gave some degree of instant gratification—after a few minutes of polishing, the walls, pews and altars had a shiny, richer color; they felt smoother and better equipped to endure decades of more worship. Once we had completed our labor, we were given a tour of the surrounding small town, and took part in a variety of activities, including a short late-night worship service and a movie. The next morning, the approximately twenty members of The Vine joined the regular Sunday congregation at Brookville for a spirited worship service led by Rev. Melinda Hall, a great preacher and friend whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know for the past few years at summer camp.

11406955_850522778357978_5965102601537077651_nSpeaking of summer camp, this is a great time to mention that, while youth groups are likely the most common way that young people can get involved in their church and its ministry, they are by no means the only way. Each summer, I attend an overnight camp for Episcopal youth who have completed grades two through twelve, the majority of whom are from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. Throughout the week, campers participate in many religious activities, such as daily Eucharist, program sessions based on that day’s Gospel lesson, and a Taizé service; in addition, the camp offers a variety of activities that are just plain fun, like hiking, crafts, 4 Square, and night swims (which is just about the coolest thing you could possibly imagine when you’re ten years old). It’s an excellent place where kids can get to know their religion, teens can explore how their personal faith is important to them, and everyone gets to build a community with each other that will remain after the week has ended.

Though not every church may possess these opportunities exactly, each church has something to offer in terms of outreach, whether that means volunteering at community dinners or food pantries, handing out bulletins before the service, or simply getting to know some of the people whom you see every Sunday—but it doesn’t have to stop there or be just that. I’ve learned from the experiences described above and others that some of the best Christian outreach happens outside of the typical places like churches or even youth groups. It can be as simple as helping someone through a difficulty in their life or spending time with the people whom you care about. There are an infinite number of ways to be kind, and as Christians (and as people) that is what we are most called to do.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post; please leave any questions or comments below!

Nina Palattella,