When Father Brian Murdoch from Grace Episcopal Church first told me in April about his plan to invite interns to the Island to work on Norton Farm this summer, I was a tad skeptical. Early-morning farm work in the hot sun mixed with living in community with strangers in a bunkhouse seemed like a stretch. Who would commit to spending their summer working and praying every day? As it turns out, there were six young adults who took Father Brian up on his offer.
At a recent communal Sunday supper prepared by two of the interns, Daniel McDermott and Keisha Dennis from Jamaica, they told me they learned a thing or two about grace this summer. It was Daniel and Keisha’s turn to cook, and they made sweet and sour sauce to go over chicken, and over veggies for the vegans in the group. They told me they gather at the church’s rectory three times a week to share food and fellowship.
The other interns helped put plates and silverware on the rustic wooden tables out on the rectory’s wraparound porch. Father Brian made sure all the guests had what they needed, and mingled easily among the young people and a few of the church’s parishioners who had come for dinner.
Meanwhile, I was able to chat with the interns before they got too involved in enjoying the meal.
I sat with Jasmine Robinson and Jake Horvath, noting that they were each looking at books about spirituality before dinner. Jasmine is a student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and she said she has found a new best friend in Jake, who’s from Connecticut. Jasmine explained that Daniel and Keisha came to the Island together, and that the other two interns, Lindsay Allen and Sierra Armstrong, were also already friends before they arrived at Grace Church’s summer program. This meant she and Jake bonded over their shared experience of coming to the Vineyard on their own.
For someone who is used to determining her own schedule, Jasmine said this summer has given her a glimpse of what it’s like to let go.
“I like to think I’m a very flexible
person,” Jasmine said while we chatted. “But God has shown me this summer that I can’t control everything. I’ve always been able to choose my situation, and this time I didn’t. I’m learning to take what comes.”
She said her parents don’t let her take off for just any summer job, and they asked her why she wanted to come to the Island.
“I told them I want to learn to lead,” Jasmine said. “Then I prayed for someone to help me to do that, and God delivered Jake.”
Jake’s not a complete stranger to the Vineyard. His aunt lives here; she read the Have Faith column about Father Brian’s summer program and told Jake about it. He said he had long explored other religions before coming to the conclusion that Christianity was the right choice for him. Jake said he came into the program willing and ready to learn more about grace.
“Before I came, I prayed to God that I could look at the little things, and I think Father Brian is helping with that journey — catching those moments of grace,” Jake said.
The interns wake up between 5 and 6 am, and Father Brian arrives at Norton Farm at around 7:30 to lead them in morning devotion. Afterward they get busy harvesting the bounty at the farm, and then clean up at around 11 am and head out to their jobs in the community. Jasmine is working at the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, helping with special events and programming. Jake is helping out at Phil DaRosa’s recording studio.
All the interns pitch in with Friday’s lobster roll suppers at the church, and with other tasks around the parish.
Lindsay Allen lives in Maryland and is a student at Xavier University in New Orleans. She said that her parents and Father Brian have a mutual friend, and that’s how she heard about the internship. Lindsay thought her friend Sierra might be interested, and the two of them decided to give it a try. They both work at the Black Sheep gourmet store in Edgartown, and as nannies for the same family.
“For me it was a chance to be in a different place,” Sierra said. “When I heard that it was geared toward finding grace, something told me I should go for it.”
It seems Father Brian’s idea of grace was not what Sierra originally recognized.
“Before, grace kind of seemed like it had a small, precise definition,” she said. “Now, I know it’s more complex than I realized. Honestly, it’s more confusing, because it’s a lot broader than I thought.”
Her friend Lindsay said she had a more difficult time choosing whether to come to Martha’s Vineyard for the summer or to stay home in Maryland in her comfort zone.
“Ultimately, I wanted to do something new,” Lindsay said. “It’s been amazing.”
The faith community at Grace Church has gleaned its own grace from welcoming the interns.
For Liz Da Silva, who is a member of the vestry, the experience of bringing young people into the fold at her church has been “wonderful.”
“It brings life to our church,” Ms. Da Silva said.
She said she thought the number of interns was just right, and the fact that they came from varying backgrounds added to the experience. The larger picture, Ms. Da Silva said, is the hope that the young people go back to their own communities bringing a little bit of Grace Church with them.
“I hope they go away carrying a little bit of us with them, because we definitely have a little bit of them with us,” she said.
For Father Brian, watching this process unfold has been its own reward. “I have been deeply encouraged by how this has come along,” he said.
He said that the friction the interns have felt as they have lived and worked together has pushed them to find the “light between each other.”
Would he offer the program again?
“Yes, hands down yes, absolutely,” Father Brian said. “It’s been vigorous and has required a lot of discipline, but it has encouraged us to learn from grace and to pass it along.”
To learn more about the summer internship program at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven, call Father Brian at 508-693-0332.