A couple of weeks ago I was visiting the youth group classes on Sunday morning after the 9:15 a.m. service and stopped in to spend some time with the Sr. Youth Group (the group that went on pilgrimage to Wales last year as J2A-ers). This group has spent the whole year preparing for the upcoming May confirmation service at the cathedral. They have spent the last four months dissecting the Baptismal Covenant, particularly looking at the questions asked on BCP p. 304-5.
As I entered the room they were hot in the midst of a conversation about proclaiming the Good News–what IS the Good News; do we believe it; how do we even proclaim the Good News; are we any good at proclaiming what we believe…do people believe us when we talk about our faith? Could we proclaim the good news with the actions of our lives? Could we, say, proclaim the good news by swinging a hammer helping to rehab a house for a family in need?
The gospel passage for today, assigned to the Feast of George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand and Lichfield, is Matthew 10:7-16. Jesus is in the midst of telling his disciples how they should be, act, and what they should do as he sends them out into the world, proclaiming the good news.
For the past three summers, St. Alban’s has sent out into the world members of our Sr. Youth Group (and this year also our J2A Group) to be missioners and bringers of that good news to our poorest brothers and sisters in Appalachia. The group has worked with Appalachia Service Project (ASP) an organization that, for over 40 years now, has helped tens of thousands of families repair their homes. Groups of volunteers from across the country come every summer and work on construction projects like repairing roofs (two years ago one of our groups built a roof truss system that went over the top of a double wide trailer with a leaking roof), installing insulation, fixing floors, building handicapped access ramps, shoring up foundations, and a host of other construction projects. All of the construction materials used in these projects are bought locally, virtually all from small independent hardware stores and lumber yards, giving even more to the communities where ASP serves.
The April Mustard Seed Offering, collected this coming Sunday (Palm Sunday) has been designated to help provide funds for the St. Alban’s ASP Mission Trip. A portion of the funds will go towards helping fund our large groups transportation to our site in Greene County, Tennessee. The larger portion will be used to help purchase the much-needed building supplies that will be used to help repair over a dozen families’ homes. We hope to raise $6,000 to provide warm, safe, and dry homes for those we will serve this summer.
The poverty rates in central Appalachia are almost double that of the rest of the nation and about one in four families lives below the poverty line. Nearly half of the families in the communities that ASP serves have an annual household income of less than $20,000 per year. ASP estimates that there are over 62,500 homes that are substandard in central Appalachia. The need clearly is great.
Last year 16,000 youth and adult volunteers helped repair over 550 homes in central Appalachia, and since its founding in 1969 over 300,000 volunteers have helped to repair over 15,000 families’ homes. On June 15 our largest group yet (13 youth and 4 adults) will leave St. Alban’s and become missioners for a week. We will go forth bringing the Good News to our brothers and sisters in Tennessee. Thank you, in advance, for your generosity which will help us proclaim the Good News with our hearts, our hands and hammers.