Our *cino spring break trip that was born last year with a small group of five Calvin College students grew to nine this year, plus our two resident volunteers, Stephanie and Emily. We really enjoyed getting to know the students who participated and getting to know our work and community better through their participation. Here’s a day-by-day synopsis to give you a glimpse of what we experienced together, in addition to our collection of photos…
The students arrived in downtown Three Rivers after the 80-mile trip from Grand Rapids. We got to know each other a bit better (namely: spirit animals…whatever that means!) over tea and coffee at World Fare. Rob and I also gave an overview of the geography and character of Three Rivers before we split up to spend the night at the rectory and our apartment above World Fare.
After breakfast at our apartment, we headed over to tour Huss School and learn more about the work we’d be doing during the week–both the immediate tasks and how they fit into the long term vision for the school. Next, we toured the historic Silliman House and got a Three Rivers history lesson from DAR member and fountain of local history knowledge, Becky Shank. Over a delicious homemade pizza lunch at the rectory, we planned our meals for the week and made our grocery list of items that we then procured from local farmers, an Amish grocery store and, lastly, one of the local big boxes. We arrived at The Hermitage Community, our home for six nights, and were greeted with a dinner of chili and cornbread prepared by David and Naomi Wenger. The Wengers, who are co-directors of The Hermitage, led us in discussion over dinner about the qualities and purposes of a rule of life, as well as how to approach our daily period of silence during the week.
The group dispersed on Sunday morning for Eucharist at St. Gregory’s Abbey, worship at Florence Church of the Brethren Mennonite and quiet time at The Hermitage. We reconvened for a lunch of various incredible soups and breads shared with Tim Raakman, a friend and *cino board member, and some of his weekend guests. Sunday afternoon was spent conversing, napping and reading and, once we were finally hungry again, we closed the day with a Middle Eastern meal.
Our first weekday began with breakfast and morning prayer at The Hermitage, led by the Wengers. After prayer, we packed up our lunch and headed to work at Huss School until 12:30. Our activities on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the school included raking, removing drop ceiling tiles and framing, re-mulching around the community garden, creating some new flower beds and paths, removing flooring and doing some general clean-up around the building. In the afternoon, we visited two farming families who live within walking distance of each other just northwest of Three Rivers. An unexpected adventure was chasing and catching the laying hens who escaped from their pen. We observed an hour of silence when we returned to The Hermitage, followed by a dinner of deliciously fresh burritos.
Tuesday was similar in structure to Monday, but a few of us spent the morning at World Fare cleaning and entering data for new inventory. Our afternoon explorations included visiting three local businesses (Lowry’s Books, Love Your Mother and the Riviera Theatre) and meeting with Brenda McGowan about race and education in Three Rivers. Our hour of silence was followed by a meal of fresh bread and a roasted eggplant soup topped with yogurt, cilantro and sweet peppers.
On Wednesday morning, we were back at the school after morning prayers and the weekly Eucharist at The Hermitage. It was a cold, rainy day, but we did manage to get some outdoor work done, including tackling the brush pile out back. In the afternoon, we talked with Pastor Bennett at New Jerusalem Baptist Church about the qualities of the neighborhood surrounding his church and Huss School. We also met with Bruce Snook of River Country Journal in the Michigan room at the Three Rivers library. Dinner was a delicious red lentil curry over rice, topped with yogurt and cilantro.
After morning prayer on Thursday, we headed to the rectory where our resident community lives to do a different sort of work for the school: making items to sell in our Culture Make Sale fundraiser in July. We made soap (oatmeal almond and lemon lavender), garlands and stationery sets. In the afternoon, we continued our arts theme by visiting the wetland property of a local artist couple (founders of the Three Rivers Artist Guild), checking out the Carnegie Center for the Arts, and watching a film at the Riviera. We broke our rule a bit on Thursday to accommodate the Riviera’s “rule,” and headed back to The Hermitage later to enjoy a dinner of cabbage and noodles with freshly baked rolls and apple sauce–wonderful comfort food during a week that just got colder and colder!
Friday was our day to clean up at The Hermitage and move over to St. Gregory’s Abbey. After morning prayer, we scrubbed the barn from top to bottom and also spent some time serving the retreat center in some other ways: picking up the debris from February’s ice storm, raking gravel back into the parking lot and pulling nails from old barn boards that will be recycled as picture frames. A rest time after a leisurely lunch refreshed us to finish our tasks and visit the quirky Long Lake Food and Book Shop before heading to the Abbey in time for afternoon tea. Vespers and meditation at 5:00 pm was our first glimpse of the monks’ practice of chanting the Psalms and we continued our quiet time until 6:00, as we’d done most of the week. Dinner was a stir fried amalgamation of leftover vegetables, tofu and egg in a sauce of cilantro, coconut milk, tomatoes, tamari and garlic. Because of the Feast of the Annunciation, there was no compline on Friday, but there was a baking extravaganza in the St. Denys kitchen: chocolate cake, apple crisp and raisin bread.
Several participants got up for 4:00 am prayers, but only one faithful soul made it to 6:00 am. We were all up and out of the house by 8:15 am, however, for the daily Eucharist service. Afterward, most of us hopped in the van and headed out to the small country crossroads of Volinia for the annual maple festival, including an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. During a ride on the horse drawn wagon, we got to hear one of the students talk about his experiences helping run the maple project at the alternative school. Back at the monastery, we continued participating in the day’s prayers and writing thank you notes to those we’d visited during the week. Br. Abraham visited with us in the afternoon to talk about the Benedictine vow of stability and tell a bit of his story. Afterward, we piled all of ourselves and our stuff into the van for our last stop together: dinner at the home of our friends JD and Barb. Taking into account our vegetarians and lactose intolerant eaters, Barb created a phenomenal Middle Eastern feast with an astounding array of fresh vegetables, cheeses, dips, pastries, tarts and more. The meal, topped off by vegan chocolate cake with chocolate almond ganache and toasted coconut, was excellent and a great way to celebrate our time together.
Throughout the week, we had wonderful conversations about topics big and small, as we practiced accepting each other wherever we were in our lives and also sought to grow in our understanding of what it means to be human in this world, embedded in particular vocations and places. We spent lots of time laughing, eating, reflecting, praying, reading, working, creating and listening. And we even spent some time cutting hair.