What I Did On My Spring Break Mission Trip

National Cathedral I recently spent spring break on a mission trip to Washington DC with seven other intrepid team members from the USF Chapel Center and the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida.  We drove a small diocesan bus up from Tampa, Florida, stopping overnight at Honey Creek Episcopal Conference Center in Georgia on the way up and back, camping out at Virginia Theological Seminary and later in downtown DC, six nights total on the road.

I’m not sure if “mission trip” is exactly the right term for our adventure, though we faced many of the trials and tribulations commonly known to mission teams, living and working together in close quarters with other folks who, prior to the road trip, may have been relative strangers.  “Pilgrimage” is another possibility, I suppose, but most folks have a general idea of what a “mission trip” is.  They tend to be impressed when you say you spent spring break on a mission trip.

The first question they ask is usually: “Oh!  Where did you go?”  (And the typical response: “Washington DC? Cool!”) 

 The next question that follows is, of course, “So, what were you working on there?”

The answer to that question is a bit more complicated.

The whole idea for going to DC came last fall when one of our students asked if we might take a trip up to see the National Cathedral.

I replied:  “Great idea!  I love the National Cathedral!  Let’s do it!”

Of course we couldn’t spend our whole trip just on that one site.  What else should we do?  Well, one thought was that a trip to our nation’s capitol could perhaps include a look at advocacy, specifically:

  • What (if anything) does the Episcopal Church do to advocate and support specific legislative action? 
  • What (if anything) should we be doing in our local parishes to support and influence public policies?
  • All those candidates that I voted for (or not) during the election: what (if anything) are they doing now that they are in public office? 

So, in addition to a visit to the National Cathedral, we scheduled a visit to the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations.  (You didn’t know we had one?  More about that later….)  We contacted our locally elected legislators and were able to schedule an appointment with Rep Dennis Ross, or at least with his staff member.

Another possibility for our trip was the opportunity to learn more about the Episcopal church and explore different some of the different ways we worship.  We soon added to our agenda:

  • A visit to Virginia Theological Seminary, including a campus tour, interview with a current student about VTS and the Episcopal Service Corps, and participation in Morning Prayer at the seminary
  • Participation in “Street Church”, a ministry of the Church of the Epiphany in DC
  • Attending Evensong at the National Cathedral
  • A visit to The Potter’s House, a ministry of the Church of the Saviour

At this point in the planning process, the daily agenda was filling up and yet I still had the nagging feeling that unless there was a service project this just wouldn’t qualify as a mission trip.  I started contacting social service organizations in Washington, only to find that most already had all the volunteers they needed for the days we would be in town.  After quite a few polite rejections, an email reply came from Lucy, volunteer coordinator at A Wider Circle, saying they could happily use our group’s help at their nonprofit on Wednesday afternoon.  What started out as a simple work detail there for us actually became an insightful look into a well defined service philosophy and an inspiring example of the impact one person can have to change lives and help build God’s kingdom.  (More about that later, too…..)

Perhaps not your standard mission trip.  (As one person said to me, “So, you’re not doing, like, REAL mission work on this trip, are you?”)

However, we learned a lot about our Church and ourselves.  We met some amazing people who are quietly working to change the world and bring in God’s Kingdom.   We experienced some Kingdom living.  And I think we brought a bit of that vision back with us.

Perhaps the real mission work we did on this trip was inside our own hearts and minds.

And our real service is just beginning….

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