Finding Peace in the Outdoors

When moving to Pennsylvania, I was excited for the opportunity to live in the city of Harrisburg but knew I was going to miss the lakeside house that I called home in Michigan. Spending time outdoors became significantly more important to me throughout this past season of life as opportunities to see friends and go out places became very limited. Going for walks became one of my biggest sources of energy and entertainment during the initial phase of quarantine. During the summer months, I was blessed by the opportunity the outdoors offered me. Whether it was a run on a dirt road, a paddle board ride with my dog, or a sunset tour on the boat, there was always something to do and see. I became spoiled by the beauty of the water, the feelings of serenity it gave me and the beauty it provided every day. As I prepared for my move from Michigan to Pennsylvania, I cherished and savored every last swim or evening I spent by the lake knowing I would miss it more than I realized. 

Although I have lived in many cities before and love the activity and life that they have, I had become accustomed to the trees as my only neighbors. When I arrived in Harrisburg in August and began moving my things into the Sycamore House, I was surprised by the beauty of the Susquehanna River and the views that our new home has to offer. As I began to get acclimated with the city, I found myself taking walks to City Island, on the Green Belt, and just down by the river. It was a wonderful way to see new parts of Harrisburg and the people that call it home.

Fast forward a couple months and I have found myself in quarantine for the past few weeks due to exposure to COVID-19 and the precautions of my work. Although I have been kept from going places and seeing people, I have found it safe and comfortable to get outside as much as possible, while still keeping my distance. In the morning, the afternoon, or evening the riverwalk is always somewhere I find rest and energy. On days when it seems easier to just stay inside and watch another show or waste another hour, I will force myself to get outside and just walk. I know that it will be good for me mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

Even from inside, the beauty of the river and the colors of the sun tend to shine through the windows and brighten up the space. While working or studying, being able to look at the view of the river from the many windows of this house is so rewarding. It has not been the easiest transition to move to a new city while so much of everyday life still does not feel normal. But the beauty of the river and the small bits of nature that surround the Sycamore House have been a pleasant and surprising gift to have here in the city. I truly believe in the benefit of living near water and spending time outdoors, and I am thankful to have the riverwalk and views of the Susquehanna to enjoy everyday. 

A Sample of Kyle’s Portfolio

One of my favorite hobbies is art, and thankfully, there is no shortage of space to practice it in the Sycamore House. I have been drawing and painting infrequently for a few years now, and I figure I would share some of my past work here, with a short explanation of the process and subject.

One of my earliest drawings, a graphite depiction of a Russian woman when I first began to study the discipline and dip my toes into portraiture and drawing. At this point, I did not have as many grades of graphite and the highest was 6B, so the contrast suffered a bit for lack of dark darks. The lack of blending tools also hurt the work a bit. However, I think I depicted the texture of the sweater and the vinyl of the purse handle quite well.

This is a portrait of a classmate from community college, Liza Pevzner. I caught a candid expression on her face and thought it would be a good way to work on expressions. A deep, wide smile which creases the cheeks, pulls the nostrils up, and wrinkles underneath the eyes. With better tools like darker graphite (9B) and cheap blending tortillons, I was able to polish this portrait better.

This is a drawing of a video game character named “Venom Snake,” a pseudonym for a mercenary captain in the Metal Gear Solid series directed by Hideo Kojima. I bought an electric eraser and used it for the first time as well as graphite powder. I did a basic outline with 5H graphite as usual, filled in some with 3B, then applied graphite powder around the outline to create an extremely dark background, which proved to be an excellent and perhaps striking contrast when I used the electric eraser to pull white highlights from areas like the beard and nose.

A more ‘run of the mill’ portrait which I no longer possess because I gave it to the subject herself. This portrait is of a classmate of mine in community college named Jacquelyn Wrobel. I was told that I captured her expression and demeanor quite well, by herself and the others who knew her.

One of a series of seven portraits of members of the same family. Veronica Fealy, the sister of a classmate I knew in community college (noticing a theme?). I managed to do much more serious detail work here, in texturing the jacket, braids, and wisps of hair as well as the expression and light playing on her skin, especially near the mouth.

Lastly, should greyscale portraits become stale to the reader, here is my most recent painting. This is oil on canvas, finished in 2019 on commission for Emily Hyburg, director of The Belfry Lutheran-Episcopal house in Davis, CA. The subject is Saint Tabitha, and as one can read, is meant for The Belfry’s pantry program. I drew influence from Eastern Orthodox/Catholic artwork and iconography with relatively stark palettes and direct expression from Tabitha herself, though put my own spin on it with (non-liturgically correct) oil paint and an original facial structure and color scheme.

I hope this has been an enjoyable viewing experience. This is only a partial sampling of my portfolio for the sake of brevity. As one can tell, most of the progression in my skill has been in simple technique rather than pioneering subject matter. Originality and imagination is truly only an abstraction of memory and pattern-recombination, such that I will need to have done far, far more work than I currently do (with a meager 30 portraits to my name) in order to start making up faces and people wholesale without reference.

Apple Picking- Kelsey

Being a part of the 2020-2021 Sycamore House Service Corps has been a welcoming peace in the midst of a stressful and chaotic year. As a house full of recent college graduates, it has been so nice to have the opportunity to build relationships and community with people the same age. Since moving-in in August, we have had the chance to settle in and truly make the house a home. 

As a way to get to know each other better and bond, at the beginning of each month, our service day is dedicated to planning a fun activity or outing. This past weekend, in the spirit of the fall season, we decided to go apple picking at Paulas Orchard. It was a beautiful fall day and the perfect time to go apple picking. As we roamed the rows of apples, we talked about all the desserts and treats we could make with our apples, and if we owned an orchard, what would we grow. By the time we finished and weighed everything, we had gathered a grand total of 19 pounds of apples! Afterwards, we shopped at the quaint gift shop and bought various fall sweet treats. The rest of the day consisted of being cozy on the couch while watching Netflix, and cutting and freezing most of the apples. 

Overall, it was a perfect way to end the week and spend time admiring God’s creation. Next week, we hope to return to buy and carve pumpkins for Halloween. 

Welcome to our 2020-21 Sycamoreans!

We are so excited to introduce our 2020-21 Sycamore House crew! They have been settling in for almost a month now; we made it through Orientation with a combination of virtual and socially distanced sessions, and they are exploring their new home of Harrisburg. Here is a little more about each of our 4 residents:

Kelsey Reyes

My name is Kelsey Reyes and I am thrilled to be a member of the 2020-2021 Episcopal Service Corps Program and at the opportunity to live in the Sycamore House. I am from York County PA and have spent most of my life in Central Pennsylvania. I am a 2020 graduate of Virginia Tech, with a bachelor’s degree in international studies and a concentration in global development. During my time, I had the opportunity to attend a six month study abroad program at the University of Kent in England and a three-week Spanish immersion study abroad in Costa Rica. In the future, I hope to work in the field of politics and international affairs.  In this year of service, I have the opportunity to work with the Pennsylvania Council of Church and focus on political advocacy. I am very excited about this time to grow spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.

Chloe Oustrich

Hello! My name is Chloe Oustrich and I am excited to be serving with the Episcopal Service Corps this year. I grew up in the suburbs of Philly and attended Messiah College (now Messiah University). I graduated in the spring of 2020 with a major in Peace and Conflict Studies and a minor in Adventure Education. I began attending Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren during my time at Messiah, and I regularly volunteered with their outreach program, bcmPEACE. I have visited a number of different denominations over the years but am eager to learn more about the Episcopal tradition now. I also have extensive experience with serving as a camp counselor and after-school mentor/tutor, so when I began my interviews for ESC, I felt particularly drawn to the placement at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. Now, I am serving as a Social and Emotional Learning and Environmental Education teacher at the school and am looking forward to building meaningful relationships with the students!

Emily Farwell

Hello! My name is Emily Farwell and I am a current resident in the Sycamore House! I am not a part of the Service Corps, but am a member of the home for the next year! I moved to Harrisburg from Grand Rapids, MI this past summer and am looking forward to exploring more of the area and all that Pennsylvania has to offer! I graduated from Hope College in 2019 where I studied Sociology and Spanish. I spent the past year working for a foster care agency in Grand Rapids serving the immigrant and refugee population there. I am now pursuing my master’s degree in Higher Education with a focus in Athletic Leadership at Messiah University. I will also be working part time with the Women’s Volleyball team at Messiah and learning more about intercollegiate athletics through coaching. I am very thankful for the Sycamore House and the community that St. Stephens has to offer and am looking forward to continuing to grow in faith and community throughout this next year!

Kyle Peters

My name is Kyle Peters, and I am a member of the Episcopal Service Corps at Sycamore House (2020-2021). I was born in and lived exclusively in California until this year of service; this will be my first year living out-of-state. I graduated from the University of California, Davis with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Human Development. I am Catholic and have begun going to Saint Patrick’s. However, I have had some exposure to various faiths, including the Episcopal Church when I lived for one year in The Belfry, an Episcopal-Lutheran intentional community and home of LEVN volunteers in Davis, California. My hope for this year of service is to serve a good cause while I come to a decision about what my career path will be. I believe that this year at Sycamore House will be a good way to do both simultaneously as I volunteer at CONTACT Helpline and help the local community. My personal interests include drawing, painting, reading, staying fit/active, watching movies, playing video games, and learning new things.

Our Commitment to Anti-racism

(Note: This statement was also sent out in our newsletter recently. We are reprinting it here, on our blog as well.)

In the past few months, we have seen protests around the globe in response to racial injustice. We, the board, staff, and members of the Sycamore House, want to make it clear where we stand and that the conversation and actions around racial injustice must continue.

We mourn the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, as well as the countless Black individuals whose lives have been ended tragically and too soon. We believe that Black lives matter, and we stand in solidarity with the Black community to ensure that the deep inequalities in our society are ended.

At the Sycamore House, our philosophy of ministry is built on the belief that Jesus invites us into the way of Love and calls us into engagement and hospitality, to “participate in community with all of its joys and challenges.” We cannot celebrate community fully when our siblings are hurting. As a part of entering into community, we must also work to change all forms of injustice around us and within our own communities.

We are a ministry of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. We recognize that we exist within institutions that are overwhelmingly white and have perpetuated racism. We echo our Bishop Audrey Scanlan’s words that we must do the work to dismantle racist systems.

The Bishop of Indiana, Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows said in her recent reflection: “So here is the challenge for the Episcopal Church: we need to stop being afraid of committing to the work of dismantling systemic racism and white supremacy. We need to learn and understand how it operates inside the Episcopal Church and in the world. As a predominately white institution that is rooted in the American experiment, we must be unequivocal and clear.”

In our mission to equip young adults, we commit ourselves to continuing the work of becoming an anti-racist ministry. We recommit to this work of exploring faith and vocation with young adults in anti-racist ways. We commit ourselves to standing for justice and being attentive to God’s spirit as we move forward in this mission. We will infuse anti-racist practices, trainings, and learning into our formation curriculum. We will seek out the voices of Black and Brown leaders in our learning. The Board will further our own understanding by reading and discussing Drew Hart’s book, “Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism.” We commit to examining and revising structures of the program in order to create a more welcoming program to Corps Members of Color.

We know that we have more to learn, and we will continue to make the work of social justice, and specifically racial justice, a priority.

Photo by Kaique Rocha on

Ian: “A day in my life”

My weekday schedule is split between two placements, Habitat For
Humanity and St Stephen’s Episcopal School. I spend my mornings at
Habitat researching and hunting for grants to apply to our programs,
Home Ownership or Critical Home Repair. It’s a lengthy process that
doesn’t always generate results but I encounter many helpful links and connections along the way, some of which could be good potential resources
or partners for Habitat. Occasionally, I return to these sites to stay
up to date on their relevance but otherwise I have a singular task.
Once, I compiled a record of Habitat donors that listed the highest
amount they ever contributed, the last time they contributed and the
campaign they were supporting.

In the afternoon, I catch a bus downtown and after 20 or so minutes, I
go into St Stephen’s School where I meet my afterschool students in
the Undercroft basement. I usually take the preschool to first grade
children to the library where an older student aide reads to them,
while most of the older children stay in the Undercroft to do their
homework. Snack time follows after that and then a coworker and I
supervise the clean up. The older and younger children split up after
that, to finish their homework and play games, respectively. My task
loosely revolves around letting parents in to collect their children,
keeping an eye out for disciplinary and safety issues and occupying
the younger students. Around 5:10-5:15, the after school staff members
lead any remaining students into the foyer to wait for their parents
and by 5:30, our supervisor dismisses us.

All in the day and the life of Corps Member Ian Tan 🙂

Faith: A look into her Diocese Placement

“So… you’re doing a year of service, but what do you actually do?” I get asked this a lot. A year of service can look like a lot of different things. It’s great that there are so many ways of serving our communities. But what does this actually look like? 

In the Sycamore House Service Corps program, every corps member is matched with a placement site. My site is the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. The diocese is the governing body of 60 congregations across central Pennsylvania. I serve as the diocesan events coordinator and assistant to the canon for communications. My time is split between planning and managing events and communicating information for the diocese. 

I help create each event that the diocese sponsors. I set up registration, coordinate with locations, create agendas– basically covering all the little details that go into events. I’ve gotten to do some really cool things with the diocese. We got to meet the governor at a tree lighting ceremony at the State Capitol.

We did animal blessings at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. It was fun interacting with all kinds of animals and their handlers, as well as seeing Butter Gritty!

My favorite event has been the live nativity. We hosted a live manger scene with donkeys, sheep, goats, and a camel named Percy! He was the highlight of the night. 

The other part of my work is helping manage communications. I manage social media pages, assist with newsletters, flyers, and other forms of media. I’m glad I get to use the skills I learned as an English major. Don’t let anyone tell you your liberal arts degree is useless! You never know how things will pan out. 

And of course I have to mention one of my favorite parts of the job: our office cats! Lilly Grace and Rey are two adorable kittens that live in the diocesan office. They bring us joy every day. They are reminders to me of God’s grace, love, and humor. They are playful and intelligent. Rey has learned to sit through clicker training! I feel like a proud mom. You can follow Lilly Grace and Rey on Instagram @episcocat_diocpa

What I’ve learned from working for the diocese is that everyone has a part to play in the church. Clergy are not the only leaders in the church! Whatever your gifts are, you can use them to bless your community. I’ve also learned more about the structure of the church. It’s still a whole new world to me and kind of confusing, but it’s also really interesting. And anyone can get involved. Don’t be intimidated or think that you can’t contribute. Anyone can find a way to be involved. 

Thanks for taking the time to read this! I hope this gives you a sense of what a year of service might be like. It’s definitely an adventure!

One Step at a Time

A view from the Center of the labyrinth at Mt. Calvary

A few weeks ago, we had a day-long retreat at Mt. Calvary Episcopal Church in Camp Hill, right across the river from where we reside (thank you Mt. Calvary for the use of your beautiful space)!

I had planned a few activities for the day, and one of them was a labyrinth activity. Mt. Calvary has a beautiful labyrinth outside that is open to the community and close to a lovely park.

Labyrinths are a spiritual practice that have been used by Christians and other faith traditions for centuries. They are often circular, winding patterns that have been built into many of the famous Cathedrals in Europe, and today can be found in or around many churches in North America. They are different from mazes in that they have one path in and out, and no tricks or false turns.  

As I pulled up to the church, I realized that, due to the recent snowfall, the labyrinth was mostly covered. I was a bit disappointed as it seemed my planned activity would have to be adjusted. But as our retreat began, I gave an option to participants to stay warm indoors and journal, color, and reflect, or to brave the cold and snow and try the labyrinth. I decided I myself would attempt the outside activity, along with a few others. So I bundled up and ventured outside. As I approached the labyrinth, I noticed that our group was not the first to walk it in the snow. There were footsteps of those who had gone before us. I realized that those footsteps helped to guide me onto the spiral path. It was hard to see the larger vision of where I was going, but if I took a few steps, I could see the next few steps as well.  This pattern started to feel a little familiar, like…I don’t know, life?

Before I knew it, I had made it to the center. I saw the birds flying above, the blue sky, sled tracks and dog tracks along with the people tracks.

I thought about how I have often had times in my life where my long term goals were unclear, where I came to a fork in the road, and only by taking the next step onto one path or another, could I see the way before me. I love how my Quaker friend (and fellow service year housemate) describes this process: “Way opens,” she says.

Each time this year, as we interview folks for the next year, I wonder what our group will turn out to be like, and there is a mix of nervousness and excitement on the parts of the interviewers and interviewees. It is inspiring to interview young adults, many of them finishing college or in a transition time where the way before them feels unclear. They are drawn to the Episcopal Service Corps for a variety of reasons, but all of them come to us because they want to learn, serve, and take part in changing the world for the better. Each year, they take a leap of faith and sign up for one of the ESC programs, not knowing what the year will hold.

I walked the path of the labyrinth back to the beginning, now retracing my own footsteps along with the other fellow pilgrims who had gone before. I prayed for our current group of Sycamore House members, who are halfway through their year and already starting to think about what’s next. I prayed for our past groups (14 years in all!), and for the ones that would come after.

May we continue to take steps of faith, deepening our self- knowledge, while bringing ourselves closer to God and to others.

-Program Director, Micalagh Moritz

Guest Post: Emily Schmid on vocation

“There’s a song lyric from a hymn I remember from several churches ago that says, “We are called to act with justice, we are called to love tenderly, we are called to serve one another and walk, humbly with God”

I’m fairly positive this lyric is based off of the verse from Micah 6:8 that says, “What does the lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” ‘

To read more about Emily’s thoughts, continue to her blog here!

Bigler House: A bit broken, but beautiful

I’m convinced our house is haunted. 

On Halloween night there was a very noisy thunderstorm outside. The downstairs heater was persistently clanking and sounded like something out of a horror movie. I was cleaning out the fridge, went to get a trash bag, and realized our kitchen sink was leaking. I then turned around to notice that spots of drywall were falling from the ceiling onto the floor. Also, the carpet was wet… Which led me to realize that the spot of water I had walked over earlier in the evening was not from a spilt water glass but was actually coming from a leak in the ceiling. Several frantic texts in our group-chat, and some strategic placement of buckets later, I decided to retire to my bedroom and pray our house would still be standing the next day. Fortunately, it was.   

Thank God for Tom Long, Jim Elliot, Mike Frascella, and all other members of the property committee who help to keep our house running and cockroach free.

I was somewhat reluctantly assigned the role of property committee coordinator because I experienced a plumbing emergency with my older sister right before moving here. The tread on one of our bathtub faucet knobs broke so water started going everywhere. I learned the importance of emergency water shut off valves. So when we moved in here I started asking questions like where water shut off valves and circuit breakers are and people assumed that meant I knew things. 

There seems to be a constant list of things to fix in this house. The repeatedly clogging downstairs toilet, the washing machine that only runs hot water, the tile that needs to be re-caulked otherwise water from the upstairs shower will leak onto the bedroom below, the broken spray hose on the kitchen sink, the list keeps growing. Sometimes taking care of this house feels like playing with one of those children’s toys where once you plug one hole the water starts flowing out of another one, and you can never seem to plug all of the holes at once. 

That being said, I’m very glad my job is just to communicate and not to actually have to do any plumbing myself. Because we have been keeping the property committee on their toes this past month, I was really grateful to have the opportunity to give back to the church through our parish work day a few Sunday’s ago. 

As I was cleaning out the choir pews near the front of the sanctuary it occurred to me how much attention is required in order to clean something properly. As I was wiping down the choir pews I found myself wondering how many generations of people had sat in them. I noticed spaces and scuff marks and cracks in the sanctuary that I never would have otherwise. The cracks in the plaster made the church more, not less, beautiful to me. In large part that was due to the great number of people who came out to take care of the building together.

Our rector Amy told me once the most honest thing we do in church every Sunday is ask for forgiveness for our sins. One of my favorite parts of church service has always been taking communion (and not just because it meant the sermon was finally over). Communion to me is an acknowledgement of the brokenness inside of all of us, and a commitment to work on that brokenness in community within one another. That’s what I love about church. There are cracks in the plaster, but we polish the pews together. 

Our little house may be broken, but it is beautiful. The same goes for our little community.

While I am still convinced that our house is haunted when my radiators start talking to each other in the middle of the night, I am now convinced that it is haunted by a spirit of love. The people who lived and worked here before us left their mark upon the place. I feel comforted that there were people who came before us and there will be people who come after us. We have a great foundation, and even though it may have felt like it on Halloween, the roof will not actually cave in on us. We have a whole committee to make sure of it. 

PS: We still might invite Shayna back to bless our house again, just in case we have a Casper the friendly ghost situation on our hands.