Last Friday I went walking. Starting at Central Outreach and Advocacy Center, a downtown organization dedicated to serving and advocating for the homeless in Atlanta, which I have had the pleasure of interning for over the summer, I traced a route from the Social Security Administration office, to the Fulton County Health Department, and back toward the Department of Driver Services. Perhaps not the most leisurely or entertaining walk, but a route I deliberately decided upon as I left work that afternoon. While Central OAC assists homeless men and women obtain birth certificates, Georgia identification cards, and various referrals to food pantries, clothing closets, and shelters, as I finish individual appointments with folks that come in off the street every morning, I often send them back out with a fistful of walking directions – pointing them toward churches, organizations, agencies, and offices. While I wish we could help with each and every need voiced by our guests, I know that collaboration is essential for the passionate, transforming, and empowering work that is happening at organizations like Central OAC.
The route I walked is a common one for those needing to get proper documentation in order to pick up their ID. An entire afternoon’s worth of walking and standing in lines, and only possible if one’s situation works out just perfectly. My walk that day, however, was easy. I was not carrying all of my belongings in a pack, there were no lines to wait in at offices, I am a young and able, and had the day been particularly warm I could have easily jumped into my car or dug into my pockets for public transportation fare. As I walked I considered the complexities of this seemingly common and monotonous activity. While I walk to my bus stop, around my neighborhood, and consistently tread the halls of Candler School of Theology, there are circumstances and settings in which walking is not so easy. I think of the Israelites walking and wandering in the wilderness, I think of Jesus and his followers who walked from city to city to preach and teach, and I think of the men and women in Atlanta who walk miles for work or a place to lay their head at night.
To walk alone is yet another circumstance that complicates one’s journey. While I made the long and foreign drive from Northern Iowa to Atlanta to begin my first year of seminary on my own, I immediately found community amongst classmates, professors, and advisors willing to walk beside me as I began studying, reflecting, and discerning my call in the world. My walk and journey through the year was not without missteps and obstacles. Yet, without those walking alongside me—through exams and study groups, from church pews to contextual education sites—I never would have made it.
I was blessed with the chance to join a cohort of like-minded first year students as a Community Engagement Fellow. The fellowship has come with opportunities for reflection and discussion with brilliant and inspiring students who find themselves drawn to use their theological education in the community—in non-profit organizations, classrooms, on urban farms, and in other non-traditional ministries. It was with the support of those walking alongside me that I have found myself at Central OAC. While I am still walking this path, attempting to make sense of my place in the world and how to seek, serve, and share the Divine, I am consistently reminded of the importance of walking with others.
While I have learned much in my initial weeks as an intern—regarding circumstances that lead to poverty, policy and legislation surrounding issues of homelessness, and the complexities of non-profit work—an image of walking alongside another human being continues to shine brightest. Even as I send guests out with precise directions and am not able to physically walk beside them, I know how important it is to take the time to hear their stories, to simply listen, to encourage, or to advocate on their behalf. I know this because of the individuals at Candler that have taken the time to listen, encourage, and walk with me. I know this because of the guest who one day reminded me of the beauty and power in the book of Psalms. A text I had spent a portion of the semester devouring, was readily recited, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NRSV). For the guest, the Bible he carried was a symbol of the work of God and the work of people in the world attempting to overcome evil and injustice. For me, that morning, I was once again drawn to the act of walking—whether walking in the valley of death, in the wilderness, on the beautiful Emory campus, or on the streets of Atlanta. Such a common and everyday task for some can be an arduous journey for others. For those without transportation, for those with disabilities, and for those walking alone; it can be a long passage.
My walk has just begun. It has led me states away from family and friends, into classrooms with diverse theological perspectives, and into relationship with those who challenge me to make sense of my place in the world. With a year behind me at Candler, and a summer of learning with a passionate and Christ-centered ministry like Central OAC, I am prepared to continue walking—to walk alongside others, to walk this road as seminarian, and to reflect on how my interests and passions intersect with the world.
- Hannah Landgraf
Hannah is a graduate of Simpson College, a rising second year MDiv student at Candler, and passionate about feminist theology and bicycle transportation.