Hi. My name is Julie McElmurry and I am behind this blog. I also created the book Living & Serving in the Way of St. Francis, which was published in July. I give presentations and retreats on the writings of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi. I know what I’m about and I know why I do what I do.
Here’s my first attempt to articulate for you what the heck I’m trying to do.
Here are the “yarns” I’m working with.
Serving the poor. A watershed of my life happened in Hartford, Connecticut during my year with Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I served 40 + hours per week at a homeless shelter for teen girls. I lived with four 20something women, two of whom, disappointingly, quit the program midway through. I had $75/month for food (our community shared money to buy food together), $75 for my own entertainment, and housing/insurance/bus pass were provided. I lived Frog Hollow, a poor neighborhood, biked a few miles through other poor neighborhoods to my job downtown everyday. My boss at the shelter taught me to stand there, praying and just standing as a steady, constant, stable person when a young woman freaked out. They were there because their adult family members had abused them. I know terrible stories. When the intensity of life got to them, sometimes they’d flip out, yelling and out of control. I learned to pray for a girl as she freaked out. I stayed until the anger and anxiety subsided and stayed even beyond that, while she got a hold of themselves, calmed down or went down for a nap. It is something I’ve used a lot since then, whenever I’m confronted with something new or strange that needs a response from me. I ask God to help me keep steady and to give me wisdom when its time to respond. Meredith, a fellow volunteer who lived with me, worked at a men’s wet homeless shelter. This meant that part of her job was to stand at the door telling men to ditch their bottles of booze. As a wet shelter, they were allowed to come in even when intoxicated (so many guzzled the booze then tossed the bottle so they could enter the shelter). A “wet” shelter operated under the still-controversial, then-brand new concept called “risk reduction” which gave a safe place for men to spend the night to keep them from freezing, even if it meant they were intoxicated.. When I told her I was afraid of the homeless dudes in our neighborhood, she assured me that they knew who we are and had our backs. I grew up in rural North Carolina, different from the poor, urban streets of Hartford. Living so close to the urban poor, working everyday with innocent voiceless kids (who were lost in the social service system) and learning to eschew materialism and careerism in favor of service made me who I am today. These days, I speak (for free) to groups around the U.S. on behalf of Catholic Volunteer Network, pass out hundreds of copies of their free booklets, Response, and do whatever I can to talk people into doing a year of service program, namely a faith based one. It is why I spent 18 months working on the book Living & Serving in the Way of St. Francis, which shares the voices of 40 men and women who have similarly volunteered among the poor.
The words of St. Francis of Assisi. There is great value in reading the actual words of St. Francis and St. Clare. You can spend your life reading people’s interpretations of their writings or reading stuff written by Franciscans on various topics but if you like Francis and Clare, you’ve got to read what they actually wrote (or dedicated or what was written by their contemporaries about them). I see it as my calling to introduce people to these writings. I provide a description of the context during which they were written and guide people through an enjoyable, entertaining, intimate look at the texts. I do not claim to be a scholar in my own right, but I have been taught by the finest Franciscan scholars alive today. I attended the Franciscan Institute in NY, earned the M.A. in Franciscan Studies with a focus on Sources. The book Living & Serving in the Way of St. Francis takes Francis’ Testament as the jumping off point for reflections on modern day Franciscan service.
In summary, these are the two main colors I’m using to make Franciscan Passages’ potholders. I don’t have a marketing degree, I have never had a business class and I have to learn something new every day as I try to find ways to teach people what I have learned about the writings of Francis and Clare. This is my first attempt to articulate these things. In fact, I assumed I’d have a lot more when I started but what it all comes down to is these two strands: encourage people to spend time among the poor & introduce people to the writings of Francis and Clare. These have changed my own life for the better and I believe they can help provide a center of gravity for others as well. The world can be kinda lonely and confusing and I believe that time spent among God’s favorite people (widows, orphans and the poor) and learning from two of God’s inspired people (Francis and Clare) can help you find your way and find companions on the journey. These two threads make some pretty nifty potholders.