by The Rev. Dr. R. Leigh Spruill
I am delighted to welcome as guest contributor to this issue of 'A Light for the City' SJD parishioner Lori Gobillot. In addition to the important ways Lori has served in leadership for our congregation in the past, including as senior warden, she has recently been working very hard as a team captain for the Community Engagement Project (CEP). The CEP is a ministry of parish leaders engaged in a methodical and prayerful exploration of possibilities for new innovative, significant, and enduring mission in the city. Other team leaders are Jeff McParland, Tony Mayer, Jim Loftis, Stephen Loftin, Chris Hairel, and Greg Buffone. Lori shares the exciting vision for a new vestry-approved ministry called 'A Lighted Path' below. ~ Leigh
For many years now, in times of reflection and prayer, I have pictured St. John the Divine as a light on the hill, a beacon for our city. Deeply blessed by our church home, when asked to serve we have said yes. By saying yes, I have come to know a group of young people who have captured my heart and imagination.
In 2021, building on its history of generous outreach, St. John the Divine launched a major initiative to discern how the church could meaningfully enhance its impact through significant community engagement. Volunteers formed three teams to study disparate outcomes in the areas of education, employment, and housing. After months of research and reflection, the Community Engagement Project teams aligned on a shared focus: improving outcomes in our City for the very young, school-aged children, and young adults aging out of foster care.
We are proud to announce the launch of A Lighted Path – a new nonprofit expressing the vision of St. John the Divine to launch and operate programs focused on relationship-based community engagement in areas of greatest need. The name A Lighted Path is derived from Psalm 119: 105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
One of the first new programs to launch is focused on young adults aging out of foster care. Our research demonstrated heartbreaking outcomes for 70% of the young adults who age out of foster care without support from, and engagement with, “at least one caring adult” outside the system. Over the months, we covered our work in prayer and listened to the advice of the best organizations: find a gap not being served, start small – with a pilot program, and leverage impact by partnering with others.
Through A Lighted Path we will partner with DePelchin Children’s Center and leverage professional and volunteer resources to provide support, opportunities, and navigation to 20 young adults (ages 18-20) residing at DePelchin’s supervised independent living facility. We will call this initiative our Adults in Training program. Since April of 2022, we have had the opportunity to spend time with the young adults by attending monthly house meetings, celebrating graduations, listening to their plans and concerns, and slowly beginning to gain their trust. In their blameless faces, I see the light of Christ. Their path has been, and continues to be, uncertain and they know that. But when asked, they want us to share our wisdom, the opportunities we can help them to access, and the experience we bring to navigating obstacles.
We hope all 20 DePelchin residents will be our founding “Adults in Training” a name they chose for themselves. The Adults in Training will work closely with their Ally, their mentor, who will be their primary point of contact and their advocate. We will offer learning, health and wellness assessments, career typing resources, life skills classes, and on-site counseling, plus special events and more. Through strategic partnerships with other nonprofits serving this population, and the resources A Lighted Path will bring, we want to ensure each Adult in Training will be among the 30% of aged-out foster youth that thrive. Over time, A Lighted Path will scale up to offer its Adults in Training program elsewhere in Houston and beyond.
A Lighted Path is already at work at Lamar High School through the Loving Lamar Project and providing Allies to students in partnership with reVision Houston. Within the coming months, A Lighted Path will also announce engagement projects serving the very young and school-aged children.
Our work to date has reinforced the value of mentoring, a common and effective expression of relationship-based engagement. One person extending themselves on behalf of another to share ideas, provide coaching or guidance, and invest social capital can be the intangible difference to that person’s sense of self-worth and development. Mentoring is also a form of discipleship— “doing life” together in fellowship and kinship. Through A Lighted Path, we are launching a major initiative, rooted in mentoring, in response to the need we see among the very young, youth, and young adults in our city.
Across all projects launched by A Lighted Path, we will need Ally teams (mentors), professional teams (teaching life skills courses, providing professional services or leading enrichment activities), event teams (planning special events), and prayer teams. Many volunteers are needed and there is a place for everyone along the path. I picture each of us saying “yes,” bringing our unique light to the path, meeting a child, school-aged youth, or young adult exactly where Jesus will be waiting for us. Please say “yes” and join us, and together we will create A Lighted Path.
~ Lori Gobillot, parishioner and CEP housing team leader
"The frontier of mission has shifted. It is no longer geographically distant; it is culturally distant. A hundred years ago, we sent missionaries to the nations to look for the cities. Today, you go to the cities and you find the nations."
—Raymond J. Bakke, “Urbanization and Evangelism: A Global View” in The Urban Face of Mission: Ministering the Gospel in a Diverse and Changing World (eds., Manuel Ortiz and Susan S. Baker)
Fostered by Tori Hope Peterson
Many of us were introduced to the moving story of Tori Hope Peterson at the SJD-hosted Global Leadership Summit this past August. Tori grew up in the foster care system, and her autobiographical account of that experience is worth reading. In light of Lori Gobillot’s article above, Peterson’s testimony is very timely and inspiring for us.
SJD is thrilled to host Peterson for our upcoming Night of Worship on Saturday, November 19, at 6 pm. Please make plans to worship with us and hear her speak! Register here.