Precepts for Volunteers

Precepts for Volunteers (John Klug)

Take time to listen, and you will find friends.

Be careful not to judge, you haven’t been there for the whole trial.

Remember who the “experts” are in poverty living.

Avoid leadership unless you plan to stay.

Admit powerlessness, it’s innate to your humanity.

Find reason to laugh, it’s characteristic of courage.

Be grateful for what you have learned, for you will have taught little.

Pray for the rich, they have a much greater problem.

Celebrate a small success; else you may not celebrate at all.

Tolerate hostility, for it’s the offspring of oppression.

Respect the dignity of daily humanity and you will have witnessed the ultimate prayer.

Feel good when giving of that which you have.

Expect blessings when giving of that which you have little.

On a short service trip to Denver one spring break, our campus minister handed out these “Precepts for Volunteers.” They’re by a man named John Klug, who unfortunately shares his name with a famous athlete, making him difficult to search online.

I typically have a tiny wannabe-iconostasis wall where I keep the prayer cards and saint cards that I’ve collected from all over, and for the past 18 months I’ve kept this list with the other images, above my desk (my cards are currently in a pile on my desk, due to moving, but I hope to stick them up shortly). There’s a lot to think about in those 13 little tips, especially now that I’m volunteering full-time.

A Year of Service: Community

As a Christian, I believe that we are called to community. 

So during the long process of discerning if and where I should spend this year serving, a program that had an aspect of intentional community was at the top of my requirements list–especially once I got engaged, since I am not likely to have the opportunity to live in an intentional community like this one again.

Paradoxically, beyond knowing that I wanted some community aspect, I didn’t give much thought into what that would look like. I imagined that fulfillment would come through my work, through spirituality, through exploring a new place, while community was a nebulous component. I knew I valued it, but I didn’t know how to envision it. 

Sycamore House 2015-16 on our way to the bishop's consecration; possibly one of the only times all seven of us will be dressed up at once.

Sycamore House 2015-16 on our way to the bishop’s consecration; possibly one of the only times all seven of us will be dressed up at once.

I’m sort of thankful for that, because this community—the Sycamore House—has exceeded my wildest expectations. 

I have never before been in the company of so many loving, gracious, weird and accepting women. That’s not to say that they don’t annoy me sometimes—as I’m sure I do them—but as one of my housemates said so eloquently, where there could be competition there is compassion; where there could be apathy there is interest; and where there could be offense there is grace. 

It is not easy to live in a house, even a rambling manse, with seven other people, much less to commute together, to cook two dinners and a breakfast together, to feed a crowd of (as the church admin likes to say) “four to forty” people each Sunday out of our less-than-food-stamps budget, to keep that big old house reasonably clean, to discuss Bonhoeffer together, to get to church on time each week, to deal with bad days and malfunctioning showers and six other people with their own disparate experiences, likes and dislikes. It doesn’t come naturally. It isn’t always smooth. In fact, when I type it out it sounds terrible

But somehow, for almost two months now, it’s been working. It’s been joyous. And I am so, so thankful. 

A Year of Service: doing the dishes

I’ve been having one of those days (weeks/months) where I am absolutely overflowing with new things, new ideas, new thoughts, but I have yet to have very much downtime to dissect them, and I’m a person who likes to thoroughly analyze everything before I come to a conclusion. It’s the journalist in me.

It has been a crazy month since I left for this adventure in service. We’ve toured the Capitol, gone white-water rafting (yikes), cooked for each other, cried together…I’m beginning to finally get my arms around an entirely new industry, which has been tough. Our diocese got a new bishop last weekend (her blog is here) which was fabulous, and she is fabulous, and the celebration was fabulous, but we were on the go all weekend.


Yesterday I wrote this reflection for the Sycamore House blog. And today I read my daily newsletter from the Vatican (I know, only a nerd would sign up for that) and I saw this, from Francis’s message:

“At the wedding feast of Cana, Mary is the thoughtful woman who sees a serious problem for the spouses: the wine, the symbol of the joy of the feast, has run out. Mary recognises the difficulty, in some way makes it her own, and acts swiftly and discreetly. She does not simply look on, much less spend time in finding fault, but rather, she turns to Jesus and presents him with the concrete problem: ‘They have no wine’. And when Jesus tells her that it is not yet the time for him to reveal himself, she says to the servants: ‘Do whatever he tells you’. Jesus then performs the miracle, turning water into wine, a wine that immediately appears to be the best of the whole celebration.”

I am working earnestly on becoming like this Mary: a thoughtful woman who sees a problem and discreetly fixes it, rather than looking on.

A Year of Service: Starting Out

So, this year I’m participating in a service program in Harrisburg, Pa. as part of the Episcopal Service Corps. Six other recent graduates and I are living together, building a community and working four days a week at a nonprofit. I hope to write a lot about this experience, since writing is how I process things, and I hope to post most of it here, since I don’t get to go home very often. Stay tuned!



After about three hours of driving through the beautiful and varied Pennsylvania landscape last weekend, I made it to Harrisburg, and settled into my new home.

We are living in Governor Bigley’s old home on the banks of the Susquehanna in downtown Harrisburg, next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The house is enormous and rambly, and I’ve got a first-floor bedroom that’s just enormous—my NYC bedroom would probably fit in the closet (a walk-in closet! I’ve got a walk-in closet for the first time in my life!).

Everyone has been incredibly friendly and supportive so far: the six other girls, the various administrators we’ll be working with, parishioners, even the lady at the visitor’s center, who let us stock up on brochures.

I am in an in-between place right now, in my life and also in this journey. I’ve moved in, but I’m not fully a part of the community in any way, yet; I love what I’ve seen and learned and done in the program in the past few days, but a part of me longs for the easiness that could be life in East Aurora with Rick and a pug puppy.

Our program director talked today about being “bridge-builders” this year, in several senses, including in our role as liaisons between the parish and the community, the church and the community, Harrisburg and our homes, and our generation and others. I love that image, in part because I’ve always liked that “pontifex,” the Latin title for the pope (also his Twitter handle), means “bridge-builder.” It seems apparent that this is an ancient, significant ecclesial theme, and I want to explore it further!

As part of Sycamore House, we each serve in three ways: to the house (biweekly dinners, hosting an open community dinner each Sunday, cleaning, etc), to the church (altar guild, choir, and so on) and to the city (our 4-days-a-week internship, plus volunteering elsewhere as needed). I am one of three girls who will be spearheading community relations for the house. We have a choice of a lot of cathedral activities, and my top two right now are book club and theology on tap, so we’ll see what I end up doing.

My placement is at Feeding Pennsylvania, and I am excited for it, but also nervous because I haven’t really done this type of work before.

More to come. In the meantime, feel free to read more about the Episcopal Service Corps on their website!

Why DuoLingo is the Actual Best

Duolingo is a language-learning website (and app, although I don’t use the app as much) that –finally–makes learning new words somehow both easy and fun. Here are four reasons why I love it.

italy street

The Italian alleys that I’ll be able to navigate with ease, thanks to Duolingo….

1) It works.

I love the idea of knowing another language, but I have failed to actually learn one over and over again.

With Duolingo, which I started using abroad about two years ago and have picked up again this summer, a little bit of Italian has actually stuck.

It may not be the best/most efficient/most pedagogically correct tool out there, but I can stick with it, and that makes all the difference.

2) It’s fun.

Duolingo is like a game. You can set goals and collect points (for answering questions correctly) and rack up “lingots” (for completing levels or a certain number of days in a row). It tells you how “fluent” you are. There’s a graph that shows your progress day-to-day and noises that cheer you on as you race against the clock.

For the first time, I actually enjoy learning a language after the first three days.

3) It’s competitive.

I am incredibly competitive (sorry family) and Duolingo feeds that (sorry again). There’s a leaderboard that shows how you’re doing compared to your connections each day, week and month, and now that my whole family (including my father, who dropped about four language classes in college and now does Duolingo) is playing, I have incentive to learn my way to the top of the field.

The various language skills are grouped into categories (house, people, possessives, etc) and those turn gold once you’ve mastered them, but they also decay over time, meaning that you have to constantly be practicing to keep all your skills gold as well as to learn new ones. This is referred to as “gilding the tree” and it’s serious business (here’s a blog post on keeping your tree gold).

4) It’s collaborative.

While Duolingo does bring out my competitive side, it’s also incredibly collaborative, and this is more seamless than in any language-learning app I’ve used before. Users can leave comments, so you can see what people have written about a particular phrase and discern why it tripped you up, for example, or if it has a more colloquial meaning. The other/business side of Duolingo is translating the Internet, and you can earn points by doing that too. There are also discussion boards for more general topics and advice.


Duolingo is the first program, including Rosetta Stone, that has worked for me on a consistent basis. I’m nearly halfway through Italian now, and next I’m going to give German a shot–all the better for studying theology.

Happy travel Tuesday! Linking up with Bonnie, Sara, and Christine