October 31, 2017
When Rev. Steve Davis asked me to speak on this year’s stewardship campaign, he suggested I talk about why I joined the board of Plymouth Healing Communities this spring.
As most of you know, Plymouth Healing Communities PHC was formed by a number of Plymouth Church members 17 years ago. PHC provides supported housing to those whose lives include the challenge of mental illness, hospitalization and homelessness. “Supported housing” basically means shelter plus other services — like counseling and companionship, and in PHC’s case, live-in companions and regular volunteers. PHC currently serves 44 residents and has been remarkably successful in helping residents. Plymouth Church continues to provide funding to PHC, as part of the church’s insistence that mission and social justice be a top priority. By the church, I mean all of US.
Why did I join the PHC board? I was asked by another Plymouth member, someone I really respected. I knew PHC was doing good and important work. I knew many others at Plymouth Church had done much to imagine it, create it, nurture it, build it. So, much of my decision was just thinking it was my turn to be involved. Getting involved has meant much I didn’t expect. That includes the very personal.
When I was growing up, my aunt was the first person I knew who I thought of as glamorous. To me, she looked like Jackie Kennedy. She was also very kind to her admiring young nephews — which is not true of every glamorous person. Later in life, though, she struggled with mental illness, then divorce, occasional homelessness and estrangement from many relatives and friends.
I’ve thought about others, too: kids I knew growing up, work colleagues, friends, friends’ children, friends’ siblings, friends’ parents; an old friend who could fit pages of text about her latest adventures onto a postcard — the print was tiny but somehow still totally legible; Cliff, a close friend of my grandfather’s, whose wife was hospitalized after a breakdown early in their marriage. Cliff visited her every day but was not allowed to see her for months — each day he went to the hospital and left flowers for her. It was also a time when the stigma of mental illness was enormous. After she left the hospital, during 50 more years of marriage, she frequently brought up her experience to others. At first Cliff hated that she did that, but over time he came to see it as necessary honesty for her and a real gift to others.
I’ve thought about various struggles with mental illness, and in some cases homelessness, of many of these people I knew. I’ve thought about the support and understanding they got or didn’t get, and what that meant or might have meant for them and for those around them. And now I appreciate better — and in a far more personal way — why PHC’s work matters, and why Plymouth’s engagement with PHC matters.
The reason I tell you this today is that during my 30 years at this church, it’s been a common experience that I start participating in something with certain notions of why I’m doing it, only to realize later that the real “why” turns out to be different. The “why do it?” The “why does it matter?” The “why do I care?”
In our seeking in this community to find God, or to hear God’s call for us, I think it is often in that later “why” that we get much closer to it. And that’s when we find out what it really meant and why it really mattered, to us and to others.
So, in considering Plymouth stewardship this year, and the name for the campaign — “I’m All In” — I offer this thought. It’s for me as much as it’s for you. How about if in pondering what “I’m All In” might mean for us at Plymouth, or exactly why we might choose that, instead we just SAID it — I’m All In!” — and then DID it, in the faith that with God’s help we will look back later and see and understand why. –Mike Pierson