I’ve been working at Miami Rescue Mission’s Center for Women and Children for about two months now and I’m gradually getting more and more comfortable with my position. The Center has been around for years now and the programming they provide is very well-established. It can be incredibly intimidating to be the new person who brings forward new ideas to a system that has been running for 10+ years.
When women come to stay at the Center, they typically have the option to join a 3-month program or a 6-month program. In order to be in the 6-month program, they must participate in Alpha classes. Alpha is a weekly Bible-based program focused on overcoming addictions (with an emphasis that we all have addictions in our lives, not necessarily drug-related), growing a relationship with God, and making better choices. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend these weekly classes with about 9 other clients.
After attending the first two sessions, I was really encouraged about how open the women were being with each other already. This encouragement sent me into a Presbyterian spiral thinking back to small groups at Montreat and other relationships I’ve built in the Presby world that are similar to the relationships these women are building with each other. That’s when I realized what was missing. The covenant.
Presbyterians love covenants. I dare you to find a conference that involves small groups where you don’t create a covenant with the group. Our house has a covenant that includes a list of agreements about how we will live together. We won’t be too loud after a certain time at night. We will wash our dishes after we’re done. We will have fun. We’ve signed it and are able to hold each other accountable for our actions. It makes confrontations less awkward,
I approached one of our case managers who helps lead the Alpha classes and offered the idea of creating a covenant with the ladies. Despite it being a new concept to her, she allowed me to help lead part of the next class.
Usually, writing a covenant only takes 15 or 20 minutes. In my experience, most of the agreements in a group covenant are easily agreed upon. There will be a few rules that people feel uncertain about, but it gets worked out quickly. The Alpha group spent an hour on writing their covenant. Initially, I was very frustrated. It was almost like they were taking the assignment too seriously. Because it was a covenant mostly for them, I decided to sit back and see where the conversation took them. One of the biggest issues that emerged from creating the vows was that these women have had so many levels of trust broken in their past, that they were not comfortable diving into the covenant. They have been hurt so many times by lovers, coworkers, and even their parents, that asking them to blindly trust 8 other women with some of the most intimate details of their lives was not possible.
This year, I’m gradually learning more and more about my own privileges. I have a lot of them. Being a part of that conversation added another privilege to my list. The ability to trust the world around me. I have never really been hurt. It is easy for me to assume the best about the world around me. I chose to move in with four strangers a few months ago, trusting them to see the most vulnerable sides of me and it wasn’t a hard decision.
I see the things that are happening in Missouri on social media every day. I’ve tried so hard to imagine what it would be like to not feel safe on my college campus. I can’t imagine it. When I read updates on the situation, I feel like I”m reading a dystopian novel. Similarly, I can’t imagine being in the same city as my sister, but choosing to stay at a homeless shelter because it is truly the safer situation for me.
By the end of our time together in Alpha yesterday, we had come up with a list of agreements for our covenant. It’s going to be challenging for all of us to stick to the covenant. Safe spaces don’t just create themselves. We’ve all been broken and hurt in different ways and to varying extremes. We have to work together, use our words, and encourage one another in order to grow individually and as a community.