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On the morning of Friday, June 22nd, students from four area high schools gathered to kick off this year’s AM2PM program, a 7-day, 70-hour marathon of community service.

How much community service can a bunch of high schoolers do in 70 hours? A whole heck of a lot, it turns out!

We served lunch at a program for homeless folks. We facilitated a screening of a film about gun control. We built community garden beds. We cleaned and organized several church basements. We weeded fields at a nonprofit farm, and a whole lot more. Click here to see the full week’s schedule

Artist and activist Gay Cox leads the AM2PM-ers in a reflective art project.

But of all the varied kinds of service we participated in over the course of this week, the most important for us as a group took place our second day.

That morning, we drove over to Medford’s MacDonald Park, where we joined with 30 volunteers from the Mystic River Watershed Association to help clear an invasive plant species called bittersweet from the banks of the river. We were given gardening gloves, saws, and clippers, and were set loose to remove as much of it as we could in three hours.

At first, our group was moving along at a good clip. We unwinded bittersweet vines from native plants and pulled them out by their roots whenever possible. But then, one of the students discovered the holy grail for bittersweet pruners everywhere: an old, old bittersweet plant with a stump five inches in diameter and a deep, sprawling root system.

It was quickly decided that all other work needed to be put on hold until this stump was removed. 

Over the next 45 minutes, every last AM2PM-er laid their hands on this stump to help get it out. They pushed and they pulled on it. They cut off strategic sections of its roots. They yanked on it from this angle and that angle. Finally, when the students were on the brink of total exhaustion, the stump yielded and came ripping out of the soil to the cheers and excitement of all:

AM2PM-ers posing with their hard-earned root trophy.

Was this hard work? Absolutely! In fact, for rest of the week, everyone was complaining about how sore their arm and back muscles were from the exertion. But was it joy-filled work? You better believe it!

And somewhere in the course of the hard and joy-filled work of pulling this stump out of the ground, these students – students who came from several different high schools, who ranged in age from freshmen to seniors, who didn’t really know each other the day before – these students became a community. Where before there were 4 or 5 little groupings of friends and acquaintances, there was now just one.

Isn’t that what Sanctuary is all about?

We believe we are a people called to love God by serving our neighbors and caring for God’s good creation. Is this calling hard work? Absolutely! But is this calling joy-filled work? You better believe it! And, amazingly, the more we live into this calling, the more hard and joy-filled work we do together, the more we find ourselves knit together into one, loving, Christlike community.

Thanks be to God for that!

Grace + Peace

Rev. Tom Hathaway




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