On a Sunday morning in the fall of 2001 I listened to an Old Testament reading from the book of Jeremiah. As a ten year potter at that time I was moved by the following passage: I went down to the potter’s house and there he was working at his wheel….The vessel he was making was spoiled in the potter’s hand and he reworked it into another vessel that seemed good to him…then the Lord said, “just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” That passage inspired me to help create an arts ministry at the First Congregational Church of Winter Park, one that reached across the economic and racial divide of Park Avenue to the west side of Winter Park. We called this program, The Jeremiah Project, so inspired were we at the prospect of molding and shaping lives through this outreach effort. Ten years hence, The Jeremiah Project provides pottery, digital and performing arts programming for at risk middle school aged children from Boys and Girls Clubs throughout Central Florida.
“Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand”. That line has served as such a wonderful metaphor for all that this program has accomplished. Clay comes from the ground and grounds those who touch it; clay requires centering on the potter’s wheel before it can be shaped; clay is forgiving, it can be remolded if we make a mistake; shaping a vessel is similar to the power we have to shape our own lives; “opening” the clay, a step in the process of clay creation is similar to “opening to God’s grace” and opening ourselves to possibilities. These are the messages we hope, ever so subtly to convey to kids who tend not to have access to art programs like many of our children enjoy.
We just finished our summer program. We served well over a hundred children during the course of our seven week program. Wonderful staff and volunteers provided the kind of attention and training these kids rarely receive. Building self esteem is a goal of this program as well as encouraging them to think bigger than the narrow experiences that have made up their lives. Many of the kids we serve have never been out of their poverty communities. There is symbolism in crossing that Park Avenue line (the main street leading into wealthy Winter Park) and welcoming them into our church where they come to feel they belong and have a sense of place.
I just turned 59 this week. As I approach the 60 mark, I guess I’m starting to reflect a bit on my life. Much research has been conducted supporting the notion that giving to or doing for others contributes to one’s overall happiness and sense of well-being. Theoretically I appear to be the one “giving” to these kids, but in reality they have given so much more to me, and my life has been immeasurably enriched as a result.