In one respect, the two service-learning trips we hosted in March couldn’t have been more different, by which I mean the weather. We welcomed five students and a staff mentor from Geneva College in the first full week of March and, wowee-zowee, winter’s grip was holding tight on southwest Michigan, with snow and freezing temps keeping us cloistered indoors for most of the week. Fortunately, one of the nicer days encompassed the afternoon of our farm tours. On the other hand, the Calvin College trip last week was eerily summer-like, as we enjoyed temperatures in the 70s and 80s, with just a day or two of rain — another very nice day for farm tours, although it was an unsettling niceness and the farmers were nervous about the future effects of the temperature fluctuation.
Let me take a step back before I tell you more about these two trips in particular. *cino has been hosting spring break service learning trips since we partnered with Calvin College in 2010. (You can see our reports from 2010 and 2011 in our archives.) Over the three successive years, we’ve been developing the trips along the themes of rule of life and place. By rule of life, we mean the way we organize our time around what’s important to us. Toward the end of exploring this theme, we spend time with local intentional communities and practice our own basic daily rule together: morning prayers, work period, lunch, community explorations, an hour of silence, and cooking and eating a meal together. As we practice this rule, we also delve into the theme of place. In a cultural climate that values multi-tasking, movement and efficiency, we experience what it might look like to focus instead on rootedness, rest and listening. In the midst of divided attention and impulsive purchasing, we practice stillness and intentionality.
The “canvas” for much of our exploration was in the form of field trips throughout the community. Here are the themes that we addressed in our afternoons:
- Agriculture: We visited five local farms between the two trips, including Bluebird Farm, White Yarrow Farm, Sustainable Greens, Bair Lane Farm and Corey Lake Orchards.
- Journalism: Elena Hines, editor of the Three Rivers Commercial News, and Bruce Snook, founding editor of River Country Journal, discussed the importance of recording our community’s stories.
- Aging: Tracy Kiel and her colleague Kristin hosted us at Riverview Manor, a skilled nursing facility, and engaged in conversation with Janell Hart and Renee Welch from the county’s Commission on Aging about issues facing the older members of our community.
- Youth: We brought together Stephanie Morgan (young adult librarian), Stephanie Schoon (director of Three Rivers Area Mentoring) and Chief of Police Tom Bringman, who were able to talk about their work with youth and some of the needs of the community related to children and young adults.
- Arts: We toured the lovely Carnegie Center for the Arts, along with local public art and outlets for local artists, including the Pink Paisley Poppy Emporium and UniQ Jewelry. The Calvin group met with local artist couple Larry-Michael and Becky Hackenberg at their home on the St. Joseph River, while the Geneva group heard from local artists Emily Ulmer, Gail Walters and Michael Northrop. The Calvin group also had the opportunity to enjoy a house show by David Bazan.
- Local Business: In addition to informal time wandering around the historic downtown district, we visited with the owners/managers of World Fare, Love Your Mother, the Riviera Theatre and Lowry’s Books.
- Intentional Communities: Both groups stayed at least a portion of their time with the *culture is not optional intentional community at Trinity Episcopal Church and visited St. Gregory’s Abbey to talk with Brother Abraham and participated in vespers and meditation. Both groups also practiced an hour of silence every afternoon. The Calvin group stayed a portion of the week at the Hermitage Community, where we participated in morning prayers.
Each group of students had its own unique character, and we enjoyed the times of laughter and teasing, as well as the times of serious reflection and conversation. Our hope is that the experience of the week nourished the soil of each heart in some way for the future. One question we discussed around the table at our closing potluck for the Calvin trip was, “If you had to plan a trip like this in the place where you grew up, what would you do, who would you meet with, where would you go?” I think if our student friends can begin to answer this question and see the places where they are with new eyes–the eyes of love, of intentionality–then our work has been productive. I think another marker of success is if each of us can find a little bit more space in our lives to surrender, whether that surrender is in the form of rest or silence or worship or giving up our self-centeredness for the sake of community. To steal a quote that our friend Jeff stole from Wendell Berry for his blog recently, from a poem called “Healing”:
The teachings of unsuspected teachers belong to the task, and are its hope.
The love and the work of friends and lovers belong to the task, and are its health.
Rest and rejoicing belong to the task, and are its grace.
Let tomorrow come tomorrow. Not by your will is the house carried through the night.
Order is the only possibility of rest.
We ended each trip with a potluck dinner and several of the folks who met with our groups throughout the week joined us. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of people who didn’t know each other just days earlier enjoying one another’s company. For all of the ambitious learning outcomes we might seek to achieve with such trips, perhaps the simple ability to combine chatting and eating should be at the top of the list. It’s around the table, after all, that we are made fully known in the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine.
For more photos, see our Geneva and Calvin Spring Break photo sets on Flickr.