Called to Life Process: Reflection on the Myrtle Collaboration
By: Carla Blackmar Rice, Convener of Caring for Creation Team, Oxford Presbyterian Church, Oxford OH
Each day as I’d bike my Kindergartener to school in Los Angeles, we passed through a homeless encampment under the freeway overpass, waiting at a light with a bus stop where the same man always slept. With a 5-year old, you can’t pretend that you don’t see the same person sleeping outside, day after day. I did not want to model practices of ignoring suffering.
As I sought to model something other than denial for my child, I was relieved to find many local faith communities organized active responses to assist the unhoused. While the structural causes of homelessness are not resolvable by any faith community alone, it was a balm to find a space where others had a practice of seeing and speaking about the pain that we saw around us. With our kids, we created simple kits with socks and bottles of water that we could give to the unhoused people we’d pass each day. It wasn’t much, but at least it wasn’t denial.
Our family relocated to Oxford, Ohio in late 2017 and we continued the practice of attending our local Presbyterian Church. Our arrival was concurrent with the early days of Oxford Presbyterian Church’s participation in the Myrtle Collaborative. Our church leadership chose to frame our Myrtle work as a process of discerning our individual and congregational ‘call.’ What pulls at you so that you can’t ignore it?
For the sake of our day-to-day survival, we often find ways to erect a protective barrier between ourselves, and the urgent needs—the ‘call’– of the world around us. We reinforce these barriers with social norms that dictate that we should not talk about big problems—problems like systemic poverty and vast wealth inequality, and human destruction of the ecological systems that support us. In this silence, we allow these problems to become even more insurmountable. To rise to the challenges of our time, we must build our collective resolve by breaking the silence. Participating in the Myrtle Collaborative helped our community to do this.
At Oxford Presbyterian Church, the Myrtle Process had the effect of creating a structured space in our congregation where we could talk honestly about balancing our individual needs with the sense of ‘call’ and obligation we have to meet the wicked problems of our time. We discerned twin calls to Eradicate System Poverty and to Care for Creation. Each call was supported by a committee that seeks to meaningfully address these challenges in a variety of ways, from lobbying for the construction of new affordable housing, to the distribution of over a thousand seedling trees.
I began my involvement with the process at a time when I was overwhelmed with the needs of young children. The “8 windows of call” introduced through the Myrtle process helped in thinking about creating balance between the pressing demands of my individual calling and obligations, and a nagging desire to find meaningful ways to engage in advocacy for climate protection. Too often, when we feel that we can’t engage meaningfully with a challenge, we shut down, and chose not to engage at all. The “8 windows of call” framework helps us understand that we may have multiple callings at the same time, and that having to foreground one doesn’t mean that you don’t care deeply about the others. It also allows us to understand the role of working in community, where we can designate those among us to do the heavy lifting when they are able, and then we can carry the burden when we have that capacity.
Through our Myrtle work, I’ve served as the head of our “Caring for Creation Team” for the past three years. As our team navigates childcare and eldercare, injuries and surgeries, each member of our team finds that there are times when we can do a lot, and times when we need to ask for help. But coming together each month and talking about how we can live into our call to Care for Creation is healing as we see that everyone’s contributions add up to meaningful leadership within our community. We have created guidance for our community on how to buy carbon credits, helped get the word out about how to save energy and money through Inflation Reduction Act benefits, given away many trees, taught kids (and grownups) about nature and how we can support natural systems locally, written grants to install a large solar system to power a community in our region, and published a monthly newsletter building interconnections between the many sustainability efforts going on in our town.
I believe that the most powerful part of our work, however, is the act of engagement. We are not afraid to speak our sadness, voice our hopes for solutions, bring our concerns. Faith, in my experience with Myrtle, is acknowledging the voice that calls you to act, the conscience that cannot be ignored, and working within community to do something in response.