Ever since fourth grade, I have dreamed of becoming an architect. I feel that my talents and passions lie in this career path. But I also know that I want to live a “life of worth and service.” Before this summer, I was not sure how I could do both. A “life of worth and service” to me was a career in ministry, a non-profit, or education. I applied for the Lilly Internship try out a ministry position for a summer, and see if it was something that I felt I was capable of doing and would enjoy on a long-term basis. The “New Peace Palace” is a building that was purchased in January by the Redeemer Center for Life to replace the old Peace Palace across the street. The vacant building needed to be transformed into a youth-programming building, including a dance studio and kitchenette on the top floor, and a computer lab, space to do homework, bathroom, and sound studio in the basement. I was excited by this vision, but as the summer went on, I realized that no one was in charge and nothing was being done to the building. I approached Pastor Kelly about this, and he gave me keys to the building and free reign to work on it.
Up until that point, I had been searching for a sense of purpose in my internship. While I worked with the summer youth program every day, I felt more like an extra hand than someone who was needed. Michelle and Lonna, who had both worked at Redeemer for over a year, had all the organization under control. I had nothing to “do” except for play with the kids, and I felt like I wasn't earning my stipend. My eyes were opened to my need to “earn” things, from money to the ability to breathe air, in order to give me a feeling of worth. Additionally, I realized that I am a person focused more on producing measurable outcomes rather than intangible goods. I like doing projects, I like taking tests. I like to build and create. And I feel a sense of loss if a day passes where I do not build or create. Perhaps this is a positive feature built into my system that keeps me productive and active. But it is not how life at Redeemer works, and fitting myself into the Redeemer way of looking at the world was a big adjustment. Life at Redeemer is relationship-based. I was an intern there not to “produce something,” but to mentor the youth and enter into relationships with them. Although difficult to adjust to, after spending a week at camp with the high school students, opening up to them and sharing my gifts, I thrived in an environment where no results were expected but possibilities for relationship development were limitless.
Perhaps relationships are so important at Redeemer because it is difficult to produce tangible goods when resources are limited. This is not to say that relationships wouldn't be important if Redeemer were a wealthy congregation, but I recognize that the environment of the Harrison neighborhood and lack of resources creates a different perspective on life. I learned the challenge of producing ex nihilo when I began to organize work on the New Peace Palace, where all the labor was volunteer, and most of the resources were donated. I set out to find donations, contact people to volunteer, and draw up a design of the planned completed building. What I actually did matters less what I learned from the process. Although I now had a purpose and goals for my work at Redeemer, I was given little direction or expectations. And because of my previous experience working with the youth, I was able to thrive in this situation. I was affirmed in my gift of planning and design, as I spent late nights working on plans and the time flew by I barely noticed as I was engrossed in my work.
As I continue the process of becoming an architect, I realize that my life view will be about structure- working within a structured environment with clearly defined goals, and working to bring physical structures into the world. But my experience at Redeemer has made me cognizant of the equally important objective of building relationships, and helped me to realize that I am able to operate in a structure-free environment and set my own goals as well work in a highly structured environment. I learned to listen, and not just to create. Work on the New Peace Palace taught me that even while working towards a goal, it is important to take time to look back and reflect, that we cannot ignore humanity as we go about the focused business of restructuring it. I know now that I can use the process of building a structure for the very human purpose of building relationships, and that when I use architecture in this way it is itself a kind of ministry, a fulfillment of my vocation. The New Peace Palace will be a place where ministry happens, its structure will enable ministry and build community. I knew before this summer that I wanted to use architecture to build community, but I realized at Redeemer that the very process of creating a building creates community in and of itself if I am open to that happening.