Joel Bergeland: “Good work, no matter how it ends.”

By Joel Bergeland ’14 M.Div.

[We invited several YDS students to offer reflections on the theme "What I Did Over Summer Vacation." Joel Bergeland '14 M.Div. shared this reflection on his summer as an intern at Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan.]

Read more articles from students:
Angel Collie: Rewriting exclusive theological narratives—globally and locally
Natalie Blasco: "We are the church of God and we are responsible for one another"
Jordan Scruggs and Dana Capasso: "No longer invisible"

It's performance night for our month-long day camp at Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan. Thirty or so elementary-school aged children line up in the back of the sanctuary, waiting to perform the musical they've been learning bit by bit each day: "Moses and the Freedom Fanatics," a retelling of the exodus from Egypt. While the kids are excited about performing, I am trying my best to hide the doubts I have about how well the night might go. Rehearsals have been rocky, with kids forgetting lines and starting to sing at the wrong times. Some of the children have not learned how to stand still between songs. A lot could go wrong.

And so I distract myself from my worries by reading the protest signs that the kids hold in their hands as props. "Pharoah, let us go!" "We hate slavery!" and "God wants freedom!" I look at the girl who holds that sign and remember a conversation we had the week before.

She had asked what was behind a locked door in the church basement. I explained to her that our church uses its basement as a shelter for homeless people at night and that's where we kept the beds. Seven years ago, the congregation of Trinity started using its basement as a shelter for homeless GLBTQ youth. She asked "Where do they eat?" I told her that the church provided all their meals. She asked "What do they do during the day?" I said that the shelter gave them a Metro Card and helped them enroll in school or find work. After fielding several more of this girl's questions about day-to-day operations, I realized how well thought out the shelter is. They know how to support homeless youth, care for their health and well-being, speak openly and truthfully about sexuality, fundraise, advocate, coordinate volunteers, and navigate the city's bureaucracy.


Group Photo
Joel Bergeland, third from left, with the day camp counselors from Trinity Lutheran Church

(Photo: Heidi Neumark/Trinity Lutheran)

But when the shelter started, things were different. Nobody at Trinity was an expert in operating a shelter or providing care to homeless GLBTQ youth. Heidi Neumark, the pastor at Trinity and director of the shelter, told me that when the church council voted to start the shelter, there were still quite a few logistical questions about how it would work that hadn't been addressed. "So," she said, "we had to recognize from the get-go that every question we had couldn't be answered. But the need was so great that we had to act. We had to do something, even if we weren't sure how it would look in the end."

I glance back at the kids about to go on stage and feel calm. We seldom start anything important with all the right pieces in place. This show might flop, or the kids might put on a spectacular performance, but that's not the point. Preparing for this show has led to a group of children learning the story of Moses and the Israelites and about a God who wants freedom for the oppressed. That's good work, no matter how it ends.

Date Posted: Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - 11:53am