I had the joy of learning how to build a Digital Timeline for the Shepherd Project/Immanuel’s House webpage during this course. Nikki and I agreed pretty much right away that she would handle the Google Fusion Map and I would take on the Digital Timeline. Probably the only thing I did for the Google Fusion Map was gather the information and images for the events. What I came to love about the Digital Timeline was how it uses images or videos connected to a date to help one experience the energy of in our case a ministries’ history. For Immanuel’s House, this is an incredible tool to draw new people into its unique journey.
I remember a Wednesday at Immanuel’s House when I was trying to take some pictures that captured one of the symbols I had chosen to represent Immanuel’s House. Specifically that day, I was looking for a great picture of someone drinking coffee. A gentleman, whom I had helped a couple days earlier with birth certificate assistance, had entered and made himself a cup of coffee. As most Wednesdays are, I’m usually going from meeting one assistance to another and can often miss really beautiful moments. And yet, there it was…a moment, I was free to stop and and see.
Torrence was sitting at the table relaxing and having a cup of coffee. His hands enfolding the cup…the waiting…the cooling down of the hot coffee. I sat down across from him and explained that I needed a picture for a class project. I asked him if it would be okay to take a picture of his hands holding the cup…he smiled…actually, it was more than a smile, he was incredibly happy. I took the picture and showed it to him. He smiled more and I thanked him for being so willing to be a part of this experience. I guess I really didn’t realize what the impact of including someone into this unique class experience would be like. At that very moment, he became a vital part of the COPLAC Digital experience…he became a part of the Social Chronicles experience…he was seen and it moved him, it validated his presence at Immanuel’s House.
Just recently, there was another moment similar to Torrence’s and the cup of coffee. I’m in the process of gathering footage, photos, and voice recordings from community members of Immanuel’s for the final project. I had asked Brittany and her daughter, Ariyana, to be a part of key portion of the project. Brittany was so excited to be asked and I was so excited she said yes. Braving the extremely cold weather on Monday, we stationed ourselves behind Immanuel’s House at our maple tree.
When I was filming Ariyana and Brittany, I couldn’t help but be moved by the joy in Brittany. She and her daughter were seen…they mattered. Brittany and her family have brought so much light and life to Immanuel’s House, and for them to be a part of this project and give their voice to it means so much to me.
There is an incredible gift in inviting someone in on our journey, allowing one to bring their beautiful presence into sacred or silly moments in our lives. Torrence, Brittany, and Aryiana have in a unique way joined me not only on my personal journey…but the journey of this class.
There is a deep spirit in songs, a spirit that can awaken and gather people to a sacred moment of seeing, hearing, and holding one another. Tonight, at Immanuel’s House, as Cliff, Barbara, and myself were working on songs, we started to sing “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers. Two women in the back who had just been chillin’ out suddenly became awake as we started to sing, they joined in with us, clapping along. I personally know the deep struggles that both of these women have gone through and continue to go through…so much uncertainty, and yet in that moment of singing, “Lean on me, when you’re not strong” (Withers, B., 1972), they were saying to me, to those around them, “I will hold you, even when my burdens are overwhelming, I will still be there for you.” It is the reason why this song means so much to the work of Immanuel’s House and to its community.
People come in needing to know that there is someone there that they can lean on, that they can unload their burdens to and know that they will be held and heard. It is also humbly to be made aware of that those who come in to serve are not the only strong ones, but that those who come in their poverty and pain are also incredibly strong and will hold others, hold ones who come to serve.
This concept leads into why the song, “This Little light of Mine” by Harry Dixon Loes is a crucial song to the Immanuel’s House community. Each one who comes in, no matter their crazy and chaotic backgrounds or present state, has an incredible light within them. We just said goodbye to a gentleman who was sojourning through our community. He came in a few weeks back needing a ticket back home. The request was incredibly huge and out of Immanuel’s House financial capability. But we said to him, we would try to do what we could do. In those few weeks, he became a part of our community, a light in the midst of darkness, a light shining no matter the difficult circumstance. He was homeless, living in a makeshift shelter, not even a tent, and even with living in that particular situation he would come to Immanuel’s House bringing light.
Is it possible? He did it, “Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine” (Loes, H.D., 1920), he did it through helping us out when a couple of our team members were sick or unavailable, he let his light shine by being an advocate for others in need. Even on his last day with us, he was finding ways that he could help us and others around him, letting his light shine on all of us there. We will miss him greatly. When our community sings “This Little Light of Mine”, we are all grabbing a hold of the fact that we can make a beautiful difference for those around us, and that is an amazing thing to see amongst a community that so often gets stripped of their dignity and voice.
I believe more often than not, that the community cares for one another, that the community wants to care for one another. Being present and creating a space where compassion and peace abide is the essence of Immanuel’s House, and folks who come to Immanuel’s House wish to reside in that very breath. Bill Withers “Lean One Me” and Harry Dixon Loes’ “This Little Light of Mine” capture the spirit of a community and a ministry that long to live out caring for one another as to the best of their ability. These songs become the constant prayer and action for Immanuel’s House and the community who encounter so often the brokenness and pain in Martinsburg, WV. These songs become the constant prayer for those facing homelessness, addiction, hunger, and/or a termination bill…it is a prayer sung by Immanuel’s House and the community in need, both relentlessly striving for hope and healing in a wanting community such as Martinsburg.
So one of things that this class is wonderfully doing for me is due to the fact that I need to pay attention to sounds and symbols and the use of digital tools I’m finding myself recording abstract moments and sounds at Immanuel’s House. A really cool sound moment happened last Monday at Immanuel’s House as I was getting ready for the worship service.
I had just finished practicing songs with the worship team and I was standing over by the mobile office writing down the order of songs. This guy I had never seen before, he looked like he was a Veteran, came up to where my guitar was sitting. I could tell he wanted to play it and by the way he was describing the guitar knew he had some experience…but he was cautious to pick it up. I quickly offered to him to play it and asked if I could record him. As I worked on the order of the worship service, Mr. Henry licked out a couple of sweet tunes.
It was so beautiful to listen to him in this random moment and space, his voice and the music on the guitar just a back drop to the other sounds in the room…sounds of folks gathering and catching up on each other’s lives. But for me, it was his voice…his music that mattered…a safe moment where he could share a bit of himself and become a part of the breath of Immanuel’s House.
Thank you, Mr. Henry.
Amongst the culture of church and worship that takes place on a Monday night at Immanuel’s House, a new culture has beautifully grown out of the neighborhood children that attend the worship service. This new culture emerged out of a collision of the worship service culture and the street culture of the kids. Though Monday night worship at Immanuel’s House is quite different from Sunday morning worship services at other churches, there is still a sense of honoring the sacred space of worship as much as can be possible considering that some folks come in high, drunk, or deeply overwhelmed with the burdens of life. For the kids, that sacred, reflective, prayerful space truly did not matter and they felt very comfortable going loudly in and out of the worship service.
Without wanting to exclude them from the worship space, we had to figure out a way to lovingly and peacefully invite them to reside in the space with the rest of the community. It was about a month ago, the kids were singing the worship songs with us, but as soon as the message started they wanted to keep chatting. I grabbed some paper and crayons and gathered the kids to the floor. Together we sat there quietly coloring as the sermon went on. The kids drew hearts, flowers, rainbows, and “I love you” notes, confidently signing their artworks. The sermon was over and I had to stand up and lead the community in the prayer song. The children continued to color at my feet as we, the community, sang and prayed together.
I have mostly worked with adults at Immanuel’s House, and so working with the kids is not my norm, but I have been deeply moved by this “way of being” that the kids and I have created each Monday night since that first experience. I am not the only one though transformed by this experience, but have seen the kids invite their parent to join them on the floor and into the sacred space of coloring during worship.
Immanuel’s House for the most part is a peaceful, welcoming, and loving place because most of the people who enter it long for it to be so. It doesn’t matter what their unique background or present state of being is, they want to be in a place where people are seen, heard, and embraced. Today, when I arrived at Immanuel’s House after helping folks get their WV ID, one of our dear homeless guys, who happened to be drunk at the time, took the time to walk to the door and hold it open for some others folks coming in.
Another one of our dear community members, Will, brings his service dog in so that others can receive a bit of dog therapy. A new gal that has recently been coming and was once was homeless, brings coffee out to the folks who are waiting for the doors open. We value bringing and living out community care, but our community that we are there for and love and serve also want to share in the care for one another. It is the value of seeing another human being and not judging them, but listening to their story, and embracing them and walking alongside of them in their journey. Immanuel’s House is this space where people can participate in seeing, hearing, and holding one another.
One of my favorite places to be on any given day at Immanuel’s House is at the kitchen counter that faces the main room. As I stand there, waiting for the second pot of coffee to brew, the doors open and men and women come in, possibly preparing their first cup of coffee for the day. In that moment, as they grab their cup and fill it, I can see and greet each one and ask how they are doing. We all get it, the first cup of coffee of the day. We get how it not only meets our caffeine needs, but that it brings a sense of home, a sense of stability, a sense of humanity to our being.
The making of coffee, the serving of coffee, the drinking of coffee together is this essential ritual at Immanuel’s House that captures the heart of peace and fellowship. It doesn’t matter if someone either drinks their coffee alone, or sits and fellowships with someone, that cup of coffee lets them know that they matter and are invited into a space where they can experience peace, comfort, and community.
I remember when Myspace came out ages ago and getting hooked to uploading songs that I had written…and then…I found myself not longing to have so many online accounts to manage…Facebook only! I wanted to just engage with the tangible…splitting wood, birding, jamming out on the guitar, being present with the physical space I was in. But here I am creating a SoundCloud account so I can download a collection of sounds that are grabbing a hold of me and helping me hear (not see) the work and community of Immanuel’s House, the site that I get to happily engage with for this Digital History and Community Engagement course. This class has wonderfully encouraged me into the unknown, causing me to experiment with resources online…bringing sounds that only I had been able to hear to a larger community.
So I share this sound…nothing fancy…a washer and dryer…people talking in the background. It’s the sound of social justice. It’s the sound of dignity being restored to someone who has no home and needs a facility to wash and dry their clothes without any cost or shame. It’s the sound of someone feeling human again. This is one of the cool ministries of Immanuel’s House…the humble cleaning of a dear person’s clothes.
So I’m a part of this really cool synchronous online class with two professors and three fellow classmates. Twice a week, at a 11 a.m., we all sign into Zoom and experience a unique classroom setting. It struck me. during one of our classes, that this unique experience was created by the very fact that we each brought to the screen the very space we resided in…all coming from different locations…each having various backgrounds behind us.
In that particular class we were talking about culture and learning how to beware of the different perspectives that we’ll experience at our community sites as well as being aware of our perspectives that we bring. Our physical backgrounds were these unique perspectives we were maybe accidently presenting to one another during our online class and in that moment learning just a bit more about one another.
My classmate, Mary, further enhanced the background concept, by sharing that we get to choose what we show one another in the screen. We may share pieces of our background that shows a picture of our family or the kind of art we like, but we get to choose to share that piece of ourselves or not. Similarly to how people just interact with one another, there are some things we share and allow family, friends, and strangers to see within us, and then other things we keep to ourselves, hidden just beyond the screen.
I’m intrigued by backgrounds now. What becomes of our response when we see a space with limited information? How do we feel? What sound or song comes to mind when we see a particular space? Does it stir up memories? And if so, what kind? This picture was the first deliberate background for me to take.
I invite you to engage with it.
Welcome to Digital History & Community Engagement Sites. This is a space where I get to share my personal reflections as I journey through the Social Chronicles class. I welcome you into that journey…that space of reflection. Will keep you posted.