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….

Everything I ever needed to know I learned from a rottweiler. Really.

I got over to the Chapel Center early this morning to meet up with an air conditioner service guy.  Our AC units are working but not efficiently, and in Florida that is a serious– and inevitably costly–issue.

One of our student residents was heading out as I made my way in.  I could hear some scratching and whining coming from the door to the residence area.  She warned me that one of the other students was (temporarily) watching her family dog at the Center.

“It’s OK.  It’s a very friendly dog.”

“What type is it?” I asked.  “Big?  Little?”

“Sorta big.  One of those types that is supposed to be really mean.  But it’s not.  It’s really friendly.”

“Pit bull?”  I ventured.

“Yeah, I think so.  That’s it!”

“Great!”  I thought, heading to the residence area.  I happen to like dogs.  I have two large dogs at home myself.  I, however, have learned that the concept of “friendliness”–especially in meeting visitors first time–can be kinda unpredictable and a bit iffy.

I opened the hall door.  It was not a pit bull.  It was a  rottweiler.

It was, however, a rottweiler who was indeed VERY friendly and deliriously happy to see me.

And the AC repair guy.

And our chaplain, who arrived a few minutes later.

And his owner, who arrived a bit after that.

It turned out to be a great morning.  The Librarian in me loved the fact that I was able to clean out the chaplain’s office space, organize the storage closet, and pull out a buncha stuff to donate to Good Will, the Salvation Army, or anyone who would be willing to cart it away.

On the other hand, the List-maker/Organizer/Git-R-Done gal in me also was starting to freak out a bit, considering that (according to our new AC guy) we need: window tinting, new awnings, a bunch of good quality vertical blinds, and just maybe some trees added to our landscaping to make the Chapel Center energy efficient and comfortable.


Add that to new exterior doors, plumbing repairs, new furniture in the study area.

And wouldn’t it be nice to finally have something up on the walls too and just a little decorative details to “warm up” the place?

How about something as simple as fixing the damper pedal on the piano in the Chapel Center, which doesn’t work in spite of the fact that we now have new songbooks and we’d actually like to sing on Sunday nights?

It’s easy to start seeing  a price tag on everything–either for replacement or repair.  At this time of the year, with graduation rapidly approaching, it is especially frustrating to measure what you hoped to accomplish against the realization that there is still so very much left to do with little time and no money.

However, perhaps that rottweiler has got it right.  (My German shepherd and Golden retriever at home have the same philosophy):

Life is an amazing journey.

People are infinitely entertaining.

Enthusiasm is the best gift we can offer.

We will get where we need to be eventually.  It will all be OK.

Wag more, bark less, right?

Really.  What more could anyone want?


Welcome to the Episco-Bulletin!  I am one member of a small group currently working to revitalize the campus ministry activities based at the Chapel Center @ USF, which is the Episcopal presence on the campus of the University of South Florida  (Go, Bulls!) in beautiful Tampa, Florida.  We have a wonderful facility with a long history–unfortunately, its recent history has been mostly inactive! I hope to use this forum to explore the Chapel Center’s story and chronicle the progress we make in the months ahead.

When I first got involved with this project, I polled every priest and Episcopal clergy-type person I knew to ask what online and print resources were available for campus ministry.  The answer seemed to be: not many!  So, my second goal for this blog is to find out how the Episcopal Church (and the Church in general) is present on college campuses today.  I hope to review some books, interview folks with thriving programs, and share whatever “best practices” I discover.

And, about the Episco-Bulletin name…..

When we first reopened the Chapel Center, my priest made the suggestion that,

Since Episocopals at FSU are the “Episco-Noles”

And Episocopals at UF are the “Episco-Gators”,

It made perfect sense that Episcopals at USF should be known as……

Well, I’m sure you get the picture.  (Go, Episco-Bulls!)

St Anselm, the outstanding 11th century theologian for whom our chapel is named, is perhaps best know for his motto fides quarens intellectum, or “faith seeking understanding.” This refers to something along the lines of: “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.”  This is very appropriate for us at St Anselm’s Chapel: we are seeking a deeper knowledge of God through our worship and fellowship together.

Come along!  We have an interesting journey ahead!

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