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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Anticipating Silence

By Lauren Gustafson

Tomorrow we fly up to Boston for our silent retreat at The Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE). The word “silent” has been looming over our heads, it’s hovering in the moments we sit together quietly and the moments of loudness. Many of us are loud, some of us are quieter but none of us are apt to silence. There have been many conversations discussing what this will entail but personally, I’m cautiously optimistic.

March transitioning into April is a hard time of year for me, it’s associated with loss, which seems appropriate since Easter almost always falls in April. There’s no resurrection at the end of my stories and coming to terms with that every year as we hear about Jesus rising again slits open a poorly healed wound.

I’ve never been on a silent retreat. I’ve never been to SSJE and I can’t say for certain what will come of this experience for me. As someone who is loud and energetic but quiet and reserved it will be an adventure to see which of my many sides benefits from this retreat. I enjoy making my own way and doing my own thing, constantly striving for more independence and beyond the structured worship schedule, this retreat seems to foster growth and even independence.

The weather will be mildly cold (except in the mornings) and mixtures of rain and snow are anticipated. I’ve loaded my Kindle with books from my reading list. I’ve packed sturdy shoes because I anticipate spending as much time outside as possible. I’m excited about the flight, I love flying…sitting at the window watching the clouds and the landscape change.

I’m apprehensive about arriving and transitioning into silence and I’m apprehensive about all of the unknowns but with all the doubt, I’ve found a glimmer of excitement.


Image from SSJE


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Love, Justice, and Dr. King

By Katherine Gaines

In the marginalized voices book club, we’re reading James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree. We recently read a chapter on the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I had grown up knowing about Dr. King and discussing his non-violent resistance with my father. I am amazed that I did not know anything about King’s faith other than the fact that he was a Pastor of a church in Alabama. Cone explained how King’s non-violent resistance was his theology rather than King’s theology influencing his non-violent resistance:

“In considering the subject of God and the problem of race in America, King reflected that God’s love created blacks and whites and other human beings for each other in community (thesis). White supremacy was the sin that separated them in America and in much of the world (antithesis). God reconciled humanity through Jesus’ cross, and thereby white supremacy could never have ‘the final and ultimate word’ on human relationships (synthesis).” (pp. 70-71)

Perhaps the reason I was unaware of King’s theology, other than the obvious fact that I am a white woman of privilege, was that “many activists in the black freedom movement did not share King’s faith in Jesus, especially in the salvific power of Jesus’ death. While accepting nonviolent direct action as the best political strategy for blacks to fight white supremacy, they rejected King’s religious faith. But for King nonviolence was more than a strategy; it was the way of life defined by love for others – the only way to heal broken humanity. Hate created more hate and violence more violence. King believed that the cycle of violence and hate could be broken only with nonviolence and love, as revealed in Jesus’ rejection of violence and his acceptance of a shameful death on a cruel cross.” (p. 85)

Cone states that for Dr. King, “Jesus never promised that his disciples would not suffer. Quite the opposite: suffering is the inevitable fate of those who stand up to the forces of hatred.” (p. 88) “Who can doubt that those who suffered in the black freedom movement made America a better place than before? Their suffering redeemed America from the sin of legalized segregation.” (p. 89). This view of redemptive suffering was criticized for legitimizing suffering, but Cone states that “whatever we may say about the limits of King’s perspective on the cross and redemptive suffering, he did not legitimize suffering. On the contrary, he tried to end it, sacrificing his own life for the cause of others. ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). That was precisely what King did. He, along with a host of others, black, white, and other Americans of many walks of life, sacrificed their bodies and lives for our freedom today. Though we are not fully free and the dream not fully realized, yet, we are not what we used to be and not what we will be.” (p. 92)

King unwavering believed that love “‘is the most durable power’ in the world. It would conquer evil, even white supremacy.” (p. 87) I believe that there is no tool more powerful for justice than love.

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