OG Mission Trip to East Biloxi, Mississippi, March 10-16, 2013

Given by Carolyn Mulry at the April 14, 2013, 9:30am service

Good Morning. I was lucky to be one of the 24 OG’ers who went to East Biloxi, Mississippi this past March. We were a mission team ranging in age from late 20’s to late 80’s. Did you know that 20-something now qualifies you for the “Old Group”?

“We are all just pilgrims on a journey, all travelers on the road”.1   That’s from the Servant Hymn we all sang last Sunday and it rings so true to me, everyday, whether I’m in East Biloxi or New Canaan. I’m seeking, especially these days, which is why I consider myself lucky to have been with this particular group because they did so much to shape my emotional and spiritual journey. We were not just travelers or tourists, “We (were there) to help each other go the mile and share the load”.2

The so-called OG “Old Group” made me feel at home at this church more than a year ago. Originally, I joined Congregational after hearing Skip speak. I joined alone, because my husband George is a devout Catholic who drove straight to St. A’s and became a member there as soon as we moved into town in 2006. There was no question for him. His faith and its practice was and is unquestionable. I, on the other hand, had to “church shop” to find roots that reminded me of the church in which I grew up. You don’t move to most towns and drive straight to the local First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church.

Next, I had to explain to my very young children why I attended a different church than their dad on Sunday. I told them it was because Congregational looked and felt like how I grew up, and its music and messages really spoke a language I understood and felt was special. All the churches in town were really ALL God’s houses, and everyone walks into the one they feel most comfortable praying in and thanking God in. We emphasized the “ALL God’s houses” part. I didn’t have an explanation for their next question that came up, weeks later as I drove thru God’s Acre on a very quiet afternoon. There was only one perfectly cleaned SUV parked out front in the circle, decorated with all the New Canaan stickers. Someone in the back seat asked, “So, is that God’s car”?Walking into God’s house was a start to my journey; the beginning of a search for a way to make Him more accessible and more present in my daily life. It was I that had to move closer, as He was always right there, but it was the people around me who helped make that happen. They lived what I was looking for.

I knew two women who were members here, coincidentally two women whom I love and admire greatly. One is my next-door neighbor and the other is a friend who hosted my wedding reception in her backyard. Both are amazing. But, one sings in the choir every Sunday and the other runs even later than I do, so I was usually sitting alone in a pew. Thankfully, they were both in OG and went to East Biloxi last year when I did my first trip. I went again this year, because I was hooked. I spent last year’s week on a rooftop with shingles and a nail gun in hand, getting to know so much more about my neighbors here in New Canaan and the people of Biloxi. On top of tar paper in the blazing sun in a town I didn’t once know how to pronounce, I found I was truly myself.

I don’t know what other’s expectations or motivations were, but, I was looking for being more than just kind or helpful. I was seeking connection with God and with others who look beyond the surface of things and looking for more meaning in my daily responsibilities. I wanted to feel the feeling I have when I walk in this church – the choked-up feeling of emotional well-spring – but I wished for it more than for just one hour each Sunday. It was a spiritual sweet spot — like the feeling of returning a forehand hit on the middle strings of my tennis racquet — but in the context of God’s kingdom, it meant opening up to a community of souls like myself, other pilgrims on a journey, people who serve as “living reminders”. My peers in Mississippi all became leaders to me because they all led by example.

Somehow, someone, wove us together – all with different, hidden strengths:

an eye for organization, time & people management (Joe),
an ear for when to offer a spontaneous prayer, praise or memorized poem (Joan)
a heart of patience and true compassion (Marianna)
a mind for understanding how to run a wet saw, a table saw, and how to mix quick-drying grout (William and Bob)
hands of trained caregivers for injuries or sunscreen (Amy, Maria, Jean, Phyllis)
the backbone of a faithful advocate for grace (Skip)
a nose for finding the best hot coffee & Vietnamese bakery in town (also Skip)
I thought I was empty-handed, but somehow our group was fully equipped for an unknown task just by showing up. Together. Holly from San Francisco, PJ from Kentucky — we all had a job at one of two different work sites. “Each Person is given something to do that shows who God is.” (1 Corinth. 12: 7)3   The fact that I had no idea of how to “cope a piece of trim” or that Marianne never pictured herself digging a hole 6′ deep for a ramp piling, didn’t matter. That Larry would be painting door after door without the aid of his missing glasses, was okay. That Marge had to flag every crossbeam under the house so we didn’t whack our heads, was necessary. We were working together, all sharing the load, for a family we didn’t know.

This fellowship was also evident in the church we spent our first morning in: the New Bethel Missionary Church; a two-hour Baptist service with more joy and love than you can imagine. Eight years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged their Gulf Shores flooding Biloxi with water 30 feet high, many residents are still waiting for their home to be rebuilt, their school to open, and their church to grow its congregation to replace members who didn’t return. But the congregation we shared a Sunday morning with, showed us how to live fully and deeply, in the midst of destruction and ongoing daily vulnerabilities. How? They magnified their faith in God, their love for each other, and their fellowship in sharing the best fried chicken lunch with us – with not a hint of looking back at the darkness from which they came. They shared their hymnals in song, held our hands in a giant prayer circle, and freely interjected Hallelujahs and “don’t you see?” into Pastor Hollins’ sermon. They were fully engaged; living in the moment with the deep intention I could only focus with on Sundays here. They lived with the deep intention of someone who had come to their last hour, lost everything and everyone, and reflected upon the value of their life and said: it’s what I sense through my Eyes, Ears, Heart – that make one feel alive – the things revealed to us through the Holy Spirit.4

Somehow, I know that it wasn’t the destruction of Hurricane Katrina that compelled Pastor Hollins and his members to become aware of the treasure of a normal day. They know. Just like my husband is sure. In the words of one of my favorite songwriters: “Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget the perfect offering, There is a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in”.5   The people I met in East Biloxi are people who put a face on God’s acceptance and forgiveness. They make God’s love not a platitude, but a presence. And they infuse that vibrancy into every minute and shared it with us all.

I hope to continue this passionate participation in my everyday life whether I am driving, parenting, cooking, cleaning, painting, rushing, shopping, commuting, exhausting myself … I want to try to be mindful of my blessings and the purpose of my soul – the one embedded by God with the power and passion to be fulfilled – through unity with others who share the same beliefs / the same uncommon fellowship of awe- inspiring neighbors in New Canaan whose paths I might not have crossed while I was busy driving, cooking, parenting, rushing, shopping, etc.

It doesn’t matter if I’m deep in poverty in Mississippi; in a recently destroyed Staten Island seaside town; in the depths of Africa; or in the beautiful county of Fairfield. There will always be cracks, but I am learning to reach out and let go and trust in fellowship and community. From the silence of meditation, contemplation and prayer in vespers in Biloxi, to the mayhem of power saws, tile laying, grouting, painting, and measuring wrong — I can approach all these things with love and compassion – the same way Joe, Marianna, William, and Skip showed us. Spirit is not in great rushes or ecstatic visions; it’s in life’s deepest experiences: the joy and love we give to others, that we share — be it in a halting hug or a very articulate word of grace.

I can always ask myself: “How can I live fully”? “How can I love dearly”? “How can I love in word and in deed”? I Pray to God to grant me the presence of Christ, so that as we serve one another, we might be a community of blessing.



1, 2 “Won’t You Let Me Be Your Servant?” (Hymn #374) Servant Song.  Words and music, Richard Gillard (c) 1977.

Won’t you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? / Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey, we are trav’lers on the road; / We are here to help each other go the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you in the shadow of your fear; / I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you. / I will share your joy and sorrow till we’ve seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven we shall find such harmony, / born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony.

Won’t you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? / Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.

3 1 Corinthians 12:7 (MSG) “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people.”

4 Paraphrased 1 Corinthians 2: 9-13:  “…9 What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared f or those who love him – 10  but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13  And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.”

5 Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”, The Future, Columbia Records, (c) 1992.