The Teacher Becomes the Student

By Katherine Gaines

In college, I was a mentor through Big Brothers, Big Sisters. It was one of the best things I did during my time at school. I had never been on the receiving end of a mentor relationship until this year with Grace-on-the-Hill. My mentor recently encouraged me to write about my time at AJC as we GOTHs prepare to set out on our next phases in life. Before this year, I worked with older adults and adults with disabilities. This was quite purposeful as I am not quite comfortable around children. That can still be said even after a year in a middle school, but these students at AJC have stolen a place in my heart. Above all else, what AJC “does right” is establish and maintain a sense of community, structure, and love that envelops not only the students, but the staff as well. I start each day with picking up students on the bus, greeting each student and wishing them a good day as they depart.

Perhaps the most tangible result of my time at AJC is utilizing my background to teach seven students to swim. Two of whom couldn’t make it down the pool when we started and had a great fear of the water. By the time we finished, they could swim 50 yards without stopping (too much…). That impact will have lasting effects and could save their lives. After my time with the swimmers, I now spend my time with 6th and 7th grade girls “teaching” them lacrosse, a sport I know almost nothing about. Each day with these girls is a new adventure; balancing all of the emotion, energy, and sometimes quite strange behaviors has taught me a wealth of knowledge in remaining both flexible and calm in all sorts of situations.

Perhaps the hardest week at AJC was the week that tragedy struck the AJC community: one of the graduates had been killed. The community came together to support one another while hurting and processing their grief. The resiliency and love shown that week at AJC was more powerful and encouraging than words can describe.

I’ve learned more about trauma, love, resiliency, and the impact the “small things” can have in my year at Grace-on-the-Hill than in my entire undergrad in social work. I knew the technical skills and theory, but never had the related practical experience. The lessons I’ve learned at AJC are truly invaluable and I will be forever grateful to Grace-on-the-Hill for the opportunities I’ve had.

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Thank You!

Dear Friends of Grace-on-the-Hill,

On Friday, we gathered to recognize and celebrate the work and plans of so many people that came together to make Grace-on-the-Hill a reality five years ago. We have come so far, and we have more to go. It is important, though, to stop and recognize just how many different wonderful people come together in creating such a powerful program.

In one room, we had members of the founding interest committee at St. Andrews – Bill, Rock, Abbott, and others.

We had representatives from each of the current work sites – Mike and Katye of Anna Julia Cooper, Kate of St. Andrews School, Abbott of St. Andrews Church, and Paris of the Diocese of Virginia.

We had representatives from St. Andrews congregation – Barbara and Bill, Cynthia and Bill, Tim, Joe, Terry, the Getlein family, the Higgins family, and others.

We had current and returning mentors – Mother Pheobe, Rock, Terry, Ally, and others.

We had every current Goths and three previous Goths – Megan-Drew, Theresa, and Paige.

We had members of the Oregon Hill community – Caroline and John.

We had Bishop Susan Goff of the Diocese of Virginia.

And just as there were others there I don’t even know, there were many who couldn’t be there; people connected to Grace-on-the-Hill in ways I cannot imagine.

So even as we came together to celebrate and appreciate the joy we have co-created in the Grace-on-the-Hill program, I want to reiterate my own thanks to all of you. Thank you to those who could be there and to those who could not. Thank you to those who support us financially. Thank you to those who support us emotionally. Thank you to those we work with. Thank you to those who teach us. Thank you to those we love and thank you to those who love us. This is truly an amazing experience, and each of you make it that way.

Thank you!

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The Guacamole Tree

By Lauren Gustafson

A couple Sundays ago I was standing in the kitchen with Erin and Celal. Erin and I were making guacamole while Celal made nachos. I cut the avocado in half and scoop it out into a bowl, it would be easy if it weren’t for those pesky pits. I tapped it with my knife and it popped out but it was stuck. No amount of pulling or slamming could get it off and so I handed the knife to Celal who did get the pit off but it ricocheted and landed back behind a counter, unreachable. We laugh and I say “well now we’ll have a guacamole tree.”

We’re all looking forward, to the end of the program and what’s coming next. As the days continue to pass there are fewer days to spend together in community. I’m feeling the crunch of time and the question of what next because in reality, I don’t have a plan past August. We’ve been making plans to celebrate our time together and to squeeze in the last few fun events and trying to do as much as possible while staying present.

Being present is difficult and it’s hard because we all have so much to look forward to that being here where everything seems to be the same is hard. Relationships are evolving, we’re getting closer or drawing away. Sometimes our exhaustion gets the better of us. And sometimes the “real world” calls stronger than our world. It’s a hard conundrum to battle. Realizing that I’ve made a life for myself that’ll dissolve in less than five weeks is a hard thing to wrap my head around. Coming into this program, I didn’t realize how much this community would mean to me and how much I’ll miss it when we’re gone.

As I struggle to figure out what comes next for me and as we prepare to go our separate ways we still have moments together, laughing in the kitchen and waiting for the guacamole tree to grow.

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“How do you like living at Grace-on-the-Hill?”

By Erin Monaghan

“How do you like living at Grace-on-the-Hill?” I have been asked this question since the first week I moved to Richmond. My short answer? “Its great!” And it is; but that’s not the whole answer. Throughout this season of life I have made great friends, felt accepted and at home in a new church, and thoroughly enjoyed my job placement. At the same time, this experience has also been more challenging than I thought it would be. So for those who have asked, and those who are curious, here is my full answer.

Life in community is busy. Grace-on-the-Hill is truly a 24/7 job. Although we work at our worksites for 32 hours a week, my “job” as GOTH resident requires much more. Each week we have Formation (which generally consists of a program director or guest speaker leading us in spiritual growth activities), communal prayer, a house meeting, house dinner, and a scheduled fun activity. We also go to church at St. Andrew’s almost every Sunday, and commit two hours of time each week to participation in the life of the church. On top of all of the calendar events, living in an intentional community means being at home is part of your work. Even when I’m tired or things are challenging at home, I still have to figure out a way to engage with my community while practicing self care. All of this to say, my GOTH schedule is busy, living in a house with others necessitates being present, and adding in other events from life outside the house makes for a very full life.

Life in community is challenging. I had this expectation that life in community would be easy. I don’t know where this expectation came from, as every year at college presented itself with new and different roommate challenges. When it came time to move in I soon realized that living in a house full of very different adults takes some getting used to. From differences in sleep schedules, to favorite conversation topics, to food preferences, not one person in this house is the same as another. While these differences enrich our community, they also make intentionality a necessity in building relationships. For me, the best way that I have grown friendships within the house were by asking someone, or being asked, to do things together. Going grocery shopping doesn’t seem very exciting, but when you go to Costco for the first time and get a chance to spend one-on-one time with someone, you’d be surprised at how much fun that can actually be.

Life in community has allowed for self-exploration. Having graduated with a degree in Cross-Cultural Christian Ministries, one thing I was extremely excited about was potentially working for the Diocese of Virginia in the office of Mission & Outreach. I know how challenging it is for people my age to get a job in their field right after college, and I know many don’t ever use what they studied after college. I have absolutely loved working at the Diocese, exploring the work of the offices of Mission & Outreach, Christian Formation, and even helping out a bit in Communication. This opportunity gave me a chance to realize that I really enjoy working for the church in this way. During my time with St. Andrew’s, I have been able to participate in different ministries of the church including altar guild, ushering, chalice bearing, and working in the nursery. Participating in these ways have given me a chance to not only get to know people from church, but also what ministries I enjoy and am spiritually fed through.

Ultimately, life in community is good. Although this year has been very busy and has at times been challenging, I have appreciated the opportunity to learn about myself, my housemates, and my other communities. Recently, the question people have been asking me is, “Would you do Grace-on-the-Hill again?” My short answer? “Yes.”

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Reflections on Holy Week: Inspired by a Marginalized Voice

By Timothy Nixon

As mentioned in “The Need for Marginalized Voices,” many of the GoTHs have read The Cross and the Lynching Tree from our participation in the Marginalized Voices book club. The connections and observations on race and theology – both historically and in our present society – are profound. As Celal mentioned, James Cone argues for an interpretation of Jesus’ crucifixion as a lynching and the American lynchings as crucifixions. This understanding carries with it many implications for how we should seek justice and wrestle with the real tenets of our faith. Among the commentary on social justice, white supremacy, the horrors of black lynching, and continued oppression – all of which need and deserve to be discussed – there lies a theological reflection on the passion of Christ that continues to impact my experience of Holy Week. Cone observes that the crucifixion was incredibly painful and devastating – likened to the pain and public torment of black lynchings – but that pain is glossed over and superseded by the joy in resurrection that is celebrated during Holy Week.

Now that it has been pointed out, I have observed this myself. In the services at St. Andrews, even as the clothes, liturgy, and surroundings together create a somber mood, the sermons tend to refocus our thoughts on the love of Christ and the hope inherent in the resurrection. At a Tenebrae service I attended on Tuesday – a service designed to position the congregants in the mindset of a Christ sentenced to die in a most horrible way – the closing remarks of the service were ones solely of hope and salvation. While this love and hope are true and present in the Christ event, they hide the power inherent in the passion of Christ. God being powerful is not a new thing and God doing the impossible is just God being God. God as sacrifice is powerful, but, God in pain is revolutionary. As painful as it is for us, I believe it important for us to take the time to rest in the discomfort of remembering the real pain of Christ’s death. If we can do this with Christ, perhaps we can find it in ourselves to rest in the discomfort of recalling the pain of our fellow humans.

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The Beauty Before Us

By Katherine Gaines

I’ve known Richmond for a while, growing up just an hour away with family in the city, and living in Oregon Hill this year has given me a greater appreciation for just how beautiful this city is. Most days, however, I forget to see this beauty while I am dodging pot holes both deep and wide or walking down dirty streets where the grime is quite evident. Today I was reminded of Richmond’s great beauty by walking across the river and then down the canal. The river is gorgeous with its many rapids, towering trees, and hidden stonework. Hollywood Cemetery is both beautiful and peaceful as only a cemetery can be. Frankly, we are quite lucky to have the amount of greenery that is in the city, particularly on the waterfront, but I have so often forgotten to observe and enjoy it.

Particularly now that spring is in the air, the days are warm, and the flowers are blooming, I plan to be far more intentional about venturing out to find the beauty that is in and of Richmond. I know that if I do not, I will be missing out on far more than just beautiful sights. For God is ever-present in the beauty of nature. If we can see God in nature, we can recognize that presence everywhere. As St. Patrick put it,

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

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Lenten Reflection

by Lauren Gustafson

On Ash Wednesday I went to the 12:00 service then hopped in my car and drove to Yorktown. It was the best possible way to spend the first day of lent: reflecting on the beach. I drove with my windows down, it was windy but not cold. As I lay my towel down on the sand I looked around and saw others relaxing as well, the clouds were getting darker and the wind was getting stronger but I was determined to out wait the storm. I wanted my alone time. As I lay on my towel reading, I realized how much I missed spending this kind of time by myself. There’s something so relaxing about driving alone and spending a day doing exactly what you want.


I barely missed the rain. It started falling lightly at first and I made it to my car when the big rain hit. I love rain, it was beautiful watching the rain fall. I was going to walk around the battlefields before I left but didn’t want to be walking in the rain. My family all lives in the Yorktown area so I have many memories of the colonial parkway and historic Yorktown. Being able to sit and reflect on all the time I had spent in this beautiful area was wonderful.

This trip inspired my lenten resolution–to get outside more and do it in a mindful way. Now that lent has passed and we enter holy week, I realize that I didn’t follow my resolution well. It’s a challenge to be intentional about going outside, especially when the weather changes day to day. Now that it’s warm again, I can’t wait to find new ways to get outside…40 days too late. But I think the intention is the same, it’s wonderful time to reflect and it gives me clarity.

At SSJE there was a beautiful snow storm, it snowed for two days almost nonstop. I went outside and walked around in the snow. Watching it fall was magical and walking through the untouched snow was satisfying. Hiking and walking outside in beautiful places is where I feel closest to God. So now that spring has sprung, I’m ready to renew my lenten resolution.

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