By CIARA ROWLEY
Ciara is the education director for The Cathedral of St. Philip, in Atlanta, Georgia, and an alumnus of CWI’s Summer Institute on Service-Learning.
I went into CWI’s Summer Institute fairly blind; I was filling in for my supervisor who has a lot more experience as an educator and community leader. I was not sure what I would gain or what the week would hold.
My week with Community Works Institute was really an invaluable experience for my spirit. I was energized by the company of educators who have dedicated their work to collaborating with their communities to create positive change. I work at a large, wealthy parish that can often feel disconnected from the larger city of Atlanta. The teachers who attended the Summer Institute were from a wide variety of public schools, average to wealthy private schools, and universities. I was encouraged to know their work was not isolated within the walls of their own institutions.
For this reason, CWI’s Place as the Context has become a new mantra for me, and one that seems very important when thinking about my own work in the church community. I believe Christians are called to go out into the world and share the Good News of God’s love. How can we do this if we do not first understand the place in which we live and worship? I loved the conversations about building reciprocal relationships that lead to authentic collaboration.
When designing my programming for our children’s programs for the upcoming school year, I’ve begun asking myself the question, “How is this relevant to the larger community where our children live?” Are we organizing programs around the way “we have always done things” or are we responding to the desires and interests of our city? Church is relevant, but in order to prove that, my job as a Christian educator is to help make the connections for my children between what we do at church and what happens in our larger community.
Another way the Summer Institute fed my soul was the time and space to dream about projects and ideas. It was great to hear what some other educators and institutions were doing in the area of service learning, and it inspired me to explore unconventional avenues at my own church. Furthermore, being able to collaborate with teachers from all areas of education, at all levels of Service-Learning experience, gave me permission to dream BIG.
During the day-to-day of my own work, it’s easy to get caught up in the mundane details of my job. I forget sometimes to imagine big picture. To dream of projects, initiatives and activities that engage the children of my parish with the community in an exciting way is a luxury I often neglect. I really enjoyed thinking creatively about the ways my community can practice Christianity, rather than just believe it.
I know the work of incorporating some of these ideas into the curriculum will be a slow process. I’ll still need by in from staff, leadership and parishioners. But I do feel like Community Works Institute has given me the tools, language and confidence to talk about Christian service learning in a way that appealing and beneficial to all. I look forward to connecting with my fellow educators as I slowly work the implement some of my learnings into the program year. I am grateful for the knowledge and opportunities gained from my week at CWI’s Summer EAST Institute in Burlington, and I am eager to see where it leads me.
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