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Muddy Boots Blog

Remarks from St Mary's

Posted by Dave Griffith on May 10, 2016 at 1:55 PM

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.

Good Morning. My name is Dave Griffith and I am honored to be with you this morning here at Saint Mary’s and I thank you and Father Mike for the invitation.

Before I share with you my prepared remarks I need as an Episcopalian to comment on events this week. I have never been prouder to be a member of the US Episcopal Church and with our new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. I share with you his remarks in response to the events of this week:

“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.”

I would like to draft off these remarks as I talk with you today about our work at Episcopal Community Services where I am the Executive Director. I am the first lay individual called to lead this 145 year old organization and as a lifelong Episcopalian I am humbled by that call. While I have spent my life’s work in the for profit world, my passion and purpose has been to be on journey shaped by the call to service and shaped with the absolute belief, beautifully highlighted by Bishop Curry that we are all one. This call is what I have come to know as our common work.

Today, I would like to spend a few minutes talking about our common work. As a people of faith we know almost from day one the words of our baptismal covenant, specifically I would call your attention to the final words:

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

 

People I will, with God’s help.

 

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

 

People I will, with God’s help.

 

Our common work is grounded in our common call to service, to meet the standard of loving our neighbor as ourselves, to strive for justice, to respect the dignity of every human being; to not only care for family and loved ones, but to also care for the strangers among us.

 

At Episcopal Community Services our work is grounded in our baptismal covenant. For 145 years we have served the most vulnerable. We look to provide individuals the tools to lift themselves up and out of poverty and to restore the dignity of choice. Poverty robs people of choice.

 

As Executive Director I am often asked about ECS’ focus.

 

My answer is our overarching focus is to confront poverty where ever we meet it. We believe that the way out of poverty is a job. A job built on a foundation of education, training, safety, wellness, and security. That where employment is not possible due to age or disability, to provide stability. In addition we look to give a voice to those in poverty and to stand as a leadership organization in this battle for social justice. ECS is not a safety net agency, but a lift up and out agency, focused on those who want and need the tools to move with certainty beyond poverty – especially the most vulnerable of our region’s population, which is where ECS often does its best work.

 

Underneath our focus is a series of programs focused on select segments of those in the region that form the population living in poverty. They are all shaped with and from the voice of our participants, their hopes and their dreams. We look to be a client focused agency, not a contract focused one. That in many ways defines what is unique about ECS. Our work is about asset building; specifically, in the areas of housing, educational enrichment, work force development, wellness and finances. To give individuals the courage, capacity, and the will to have choice.

 

We work with underserved youth in our Out of School Time Program, Youth 14 to 18 in our Seeing Youth Succeed programs, and our focus on 18 to 23 year olds is to engage this population with our newly launched Employment Center designed to help them find full time, meaningful employment. We also work with homeless mothers and their children at ECS St Barnabas Mission at 60th and Girard as well as a permanent supportive housing program for chronically homeless families where one member has a disability. Through our parenting work we lay the groundwork for responsible parenting for individuals who have not had a solid model of parenting. Our Home Care groups bring stability and care to the elderly ; Dolphins of Delaware Valley’s Volunteers visit the elderly in nursing home that do not have family. Our newest mission to join ECS is Community Outreach Partners where we team with Trinity Memorial’s long term efforts to feed and visit the elderly and to provide Winter Shelter to 31 men. A model we will grow.

 

We look to meet poverty wherever we find it by extending our reach to individuals in Darby, and soon Chester, Norristown, Frankfort, and Bristol. Our joint mission with the diocese is up and running in Darby where we work with Doris Rajagopal and we feed, run summer camps, cloth, computer classes, and last week started an out of school time program in the community.

 

Finally we work with our parish brothers and sisters to build capacity and skills to support common mission in the region and to build relationships with volunteers without whom we could not staff to the levels that we do. To date we are working with some 30 different parishes on capacity building projects.

 

We are also responding to a local social service system in chaos and stress by leveraging our extraordinary professional staff in strategy, advancement, finance, human resources, technology and quality, to work with other agencies as an umbrella organization; in some cases, bringing these programs on board as a mission of ECS allowing them to focus solely and productively on mission; Dolphins and CORP being our latest example. Over time we will grow our agency with such strategies, especially where missions match our focus on poverty, stability and advocacy.

 

We are not alone in this work as we are a partner in the interfaith alliance with our brothers and sisters at Jewish, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Catholic agencies.

 

While these are missions and strategies that resonate with our staff and program participants, ECS also has the obligation to give voice to the issues of poverty and call with a collective accountability for the solutions to this deep seeded regional issue. Our long term aspiration here is that every business and employer in the region commit to hiring a share of their workforce from the population currently living in poverty. If 10 percent of the jobs in the five counties of the Diocese of Pennsylvania were filled by individual in poverty looking to find meaningful work, the potential number is some 4000 to 6000 individuals per year based on current trend. Such an action of hiring from this population, especially first time job seekers, the needle on poverty moves and moves long term. That within a generation we can lower the population of individuals in poverty and raise the quality of life across our region. We see our job to work both sides of the equation. First to find employers and volunteers willing to share this vision, and second to get the young individuals we work with ready with both the hard and soft skills necessary to be successful. This last summer we place 110 paid interns in small businesses and nonprofits through the region.

 

We focus on poverty, we focus on stability, and we give a voice to the issues. The way out of poverty is not a safety net, but a job. This is hard and complex work, but it is work we are doing and given needs, work we need to grow. This work in addition to being hard is also in need of individuals who share our vision and are willing to go shoulder to shoulder with us to make this work happen. It is here I look to my brothers and sisters.

 

Together we can give voice to the issue of poverty and together we can make a difference.

 

Two stories on making a difference.

 

When I became a manager for the first time I called my Dad to let him know. I was working for IBM at the time and I can remember the phone call like yesterday He asked me to stand up, look down, and tell me what I saw?

 

Black wingtips I replied.

 

Wrong answer! You need to be wearing muddy boots.

 

You don't lead from behind a desk. You go out into the field, you talk to customers, clients, and the people closest to the work, and you listen, and you learn. You do your best work collectively.

 

Best advice ever.

 

I brought this lesson when I joined ECS. You do this work in the field and you learn first from your clients and from the extraordinary people doing this work, both professional and volunteer. What are the needs, what works, what doesn’t? Our focus is shaped by this practice of muddy boots.

 

In addition to muddy boots this work takes leadership. Not just individual, but organizational, as a focused team to be nimble and responsive. There, I also take to heart a letter from Dad that he sent me years later. Thoughts on leadership for every members of the team.

 

“Leadership is hard, and it is rewarding. It is about doing the right thing, not the popular thing. It is about being confident in yourself and wise enough to take the advice of those you trust. It is about understanding the facts, not the emotion. It is about being fair to all, not just a few. It is about courage and vision. It is about humor and humility.

 

It is about putting yourself in the hands of a higher power and having the faith to let that power guide your actions. It is never about the talk, it is all about the deeds.”

 

So we need to put on our muddy boots, go into the field and seek out a stranger and listen and understand their needs. We need to learn from the people who do this work and do it well. Poverty robs people of choice. Our common work is to help the population dealing with poverty to have the dignity of choices. Choices that frankly, every single one of us takes for granted.

 

Today we come together in worship, a practice essential to a people of faith. So too is the practice of listening and talking and seeking common understanding and common action. Finally, as my dad wrote so many years ago, is the power of deeds, of action, of hands on work. This work can be overwhelming, but I take comfort that its starts with one individual at a time.

 

It builds as communities of faith come together and focus on our common call. I have always loved the dismissal that informs us that the worship has ended and that the service now begins.

 

Again, let me thank you in advance for your support going forward. As a people of faith we are called to respect the dignity of every human being in our common baptismal covenant. We are also asked to lean in and live that covenant. The challenges of poverty, stability and advocacy demand no less. In this season it is good to remember that in many ways these are the traditional works of the church. As Bishop Curry calls and reminds us of Paul’s words, we are all one. We believe that the time has come to return to the roots of this mission. To do so every parish must lean in where they can. What I know of St. Mary’s is that the lean in is already well underway. You have been a significant supporter of our work and I want to give a shout out to Betsy Useem for her long term board participation and her direct linkage between ECS and St Mary’s

 

As a people of God who believe we are all one, that this is the common work we are all called to do. At ECS we are committed to first listen, then to action, then to deeds, and we are also obligated to give those in poverty a voice, and in turn a choice. It is work that we need to do, and work we need to do together. Together our deeds and our voice can give hope. And in fact more than hope, in truth we can make a difference. We either confront poverty and its ravages, or in time it will consume us as a society.

 

Neither silence; nor inaction is an option.

 

So let us answer this common clarion call to service, both as individuals and as the body of Christ as one in the same way as when we renew our baptismal covenant.

 

With God’s help.

 

We will.

 

Amen

 

 

 

Categories: ECS Outreach, Muddy Boots, Leadership

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