Working for social justice/social change sounds vague. What do fellows actually do in their site placements?
You’re right—“social justice” and “social change” have become very widely used terms in recent years, and it’s often hard to know exactly what they are referring to. This is part of why Life Together finds this work so exciting: social justice work looks like many different things! Site placement activities vary depending on the type of site; those in community organizing positions—both faith-based or otherwise—tend to center their work on specific campaigns or core issues of inequity, such as health care. They might spend the bulk of their time meeting with people, planning events, or developing materials for particular communities in order to build capacity around a community change initiative, such as raising the minimum wage, advocating for more support for youth jobs, or engaging schools and churches with youth programs to respond to gun violence. Fellows placed at retreat centers, college chaplaincies, or churches, also engage in a variety of activities, such as preaching and leading worship, religious education, providing pastoral care, youth programming, and outreach work. All of our church partners are actively engaged in their local communities. In both cases, there is an intentional desire for fellows to explore and understand the systemic, cultural, economic, political, and racial factors behind issues of injustice through building relationships and engaging the community.
What does the leadership development part of the program look like? What kind of training do fellows receive?
Although leadership development is a continuous process in the Life Together program generally speaking, the nuts-and-bolts structure of leadership development as a community occurs during the all-day monthly third Friday trainings. Fellows are taught and practice the skills associated with community organizing, meeting facilitation, fundraising, non-violent communication, anti-oppression, and self-transformation. Fellows also meet as house communities with two outside adult mentors, called Prayer Partners, for two hours every Friday to discuss intentional community life, discernment, or leadership practices that they are learning in their work. Additional training and professional development opportunities throughout the year are also available. Fellows participate in a winter and spring retreat, and the alumni network creates a unique community of that will benefit each fellow for years to come. Specific training opportunities include: Leadership and team building, Diversity training, Youth development, Project planning and implementation, Volunteer recruitment, Asset-based community development, Public speaking and Grant writing.
I’m not sure I know what community organizing is. What is it and how does it relate to the work of a Life Together fellow?
Community organizing, as we understand it, is the practice of building grassroots leadership for create effective social change. We understand leadership as “taking responsibility for enabling others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty” (Marshall Ganz). This involves learning how to build intentional relationships and interdependent, high-functioning teams centered around a common purpose and “campaign.” A campaign could be thought of as a strategic plan (with clear goals and metrics) for responding to some kind of social brokenness, inequity, or injustice in the community.
How big a time commitment is Life Together? How are the different components of the program balanced?
Life Together is a full-time commitment, and often looks different from a typical 9-5 work week. We set high expectations and this program can be really demanding, including weekly commitments of 32 hours of site placement work, 8 hours of spiritual reflection and leadership training, and regular structured time with community members on top of this. Life Together also involves occasional commitments to attend events, trainings, or workshops sponsored by some of our partners. On the other hand, we also work to balance the urgency of the work with play, fellowship, and rest.
I’ve learned that each fellow has a different work site and schedule but is there an example of what an average week might look like?
Sure! Here’s an example of a typical week for one of this year’s fellows: http://bit.ly/29ot8y8
Where do fellows live?
Fellows live in intentional communities with 4-8 fellows, often in houses connected to churches, schools, or campus ministries. These houses are spread out across the city of Boston and beyond. This year, there are 5 intentional communities.
What is intentional community? How is it different than just having roommates?
Intentional community involves an element of commitment and depth that does not necessarily happen with a typical group of roommates, as well as willingness to make compromises for others. Folks living in intentional community are committed to living in such a way that honors and respects the individual gifts and desires of each member of the community while also creating a common “covenant,” or set of agreements defining how they want to live with one another. This covenant emphasizes simplicity, environmental stewardship, fellowship, etc. Shared meals, dividing house chores, sharing some form of prayer, and having clear systems of both accountability and affirmation for each member are some of the pieces of intentional community. This way of living can be very counter-cultural and one of our hopes is that through this experience, everyone would come to a deeper understanding of how their actions impact others.
How do people afford to do this? What is the lifestyle of a Life Together fellow like?
We’ll be honest: Life Together Fellows do not make a lot of money. That being said, housing is covered and the monthly stipend is enough for a modest lifestyle. If you’re inclined to spend lots of money on extravagant clothes, bling, or furniture, then the stipend will certainly challenge you. One of the silver linings of not making much, however, is that learning to budget and prioritize finances becomes a skill that will serve you for the rest of your life beyond this year. Life Together works hard to ensure that fellows are safe and have enough to live on, but a year as a fellow involves a commitment to "intentional simplicity." We support fellows to pursue loan deferment options, and we offer a small transition stipend upon completion of the program. Additionally, all Life Together fellows receive extensive leadership training during their year, and this is a unique opportunity to invest in your own professional development and growth as a leader through training, reflection, and justice work.
What do fellows do for fun?
All sorts of things! Boston in particular is a place full of good eats, drinks, concerts, farmers’ markets, community organizations, bookstores, and more. Fellows have been able to connect with all kinds of recreational groups and get involved with activities across the city and state. On a typical day off, many fellows enjoy getting a cup of coffee at the newest coffee shop, going on brewery tours, exploring New England through seasonal activities like apple-picking, and strolling among Boston’s many unique neighborhoods and green spaces. Lawrence and South Coast, though different from Boston, have their own share of unique cultural activities and restaurants.
I’m moving across the country and don’t have any family or friends in Massachusetts. What kind of support system exists through Life Together?
The first tangible way that fellows coming from outside of the Boston/MA/New England community get connected to others is through their intentional communities, and most fellows find that their closest sources of support during their fellowship year are their housemates. Life Together also provides additional and intentional support for each fellow through many program structures—including individual spiritual direction, house prayer partners. Spiritual direction is monthly, one-to-one spiritual mentorship, and prayer partners are group mentors that meet with each house weekly and as a community. All of these different structures create layers of support for fellows during their year with Life Together.
How do people practice their spirituality or faith background in their house communities?
Beginning during orientation, each house community develops a “covenant,” outlining a set of shared commitments for how they want to live together. Part of this includes determining how the community is going to worship or engage in spiritual practice together. Since communities are made up of fellows from different faith backgrounds, each house navigates this a little differently. Often, the house may decide to have each member switch off leading a weekly worship or prayer service, creating opportunities for everyone to try something new and learn from one another.
Why serve in an Episcopal Church program? Do I have to be Episcopalian to serve?
There is profound wisdom within The Episcopal Church about deepening ourselves and developing our gifts for the betterment for the world. There is a rich tradition of social activism within the Episcopal Church, and it is also a church of tolerance, understanding and diversity. We do not discriminate on the basis of religion in our selection process and we are open to people from diverse faith backgrounds. About half of our fellows are Episcopalian and about half are not. Some of our spiritual formation is grounded in the Episcopal tradition and it is important for all fellows to at least be open to encountering a variety of traditions. The baseline criteria we are looking for in the fellows we accept is a deep desire to pursue their own spiritual growth and a profound openness to learning from others.
Is this about proselytizing or converting people?
No—service in Life Together is not directed toward the explicit conversion of the people we are working with and alongside. It is about working together for social change and God’s dream of justice and healing for all people.
How is Life Together different from other Episcopal Service Corps programs?
Life Together is one of the biggest Episcopal Service Corps programs—known for providing a lot of structure, high expectations, and a lot of support. While we have some direct service placements, we are more explicitly focused on leadership training and working toward long-term social change than some other ESC programs. We are one of the few ESC programs that offers both opportunities to work at a church and/or as a community organizer. Finally, being rooted in the Boston area makes Life Together incredibly unique as we are able to take advantage of so many exciting resources and leverage strategic partnerships from groups as different as the Society of St. John the Evangelist to the Leading Change Project within the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
How competitive is Life Together's application process?
Over the years, Life Together has become increasingly competitive. In recent years, we've received 300 applications for 25 positions.
What is the application process like?
It is important to submit a completed application on or BEFORE the deadline. We accept applications on a rolling basis—meaning we give priority to applications in the order we receive them. If you know you want to apply to Life Together, we encourage you to do so sooner rather than later! To begin your application, fill out the common application through the Episcopal Service Corps website and indicate your interest in Life Together. Each application is carefully screened by a member of the Life Together staff to make sure the applicant understands the commitments, is well motivated, and is emotionally stable. The next step in our process is a 45-minute phone interview. In person interviews are not required, and most fellows are accepted without coming to Boston, but all candidates are welcome to come visit and join us for one of our Friday trainings!
I’m interested in becoming a minister. Could Life Together be the right program for me?
Yes! We are actively recruiting fellows each year who are considering careers in ministry, and we are actively recruiting fellows who are not. About one-third of our alumni go on to pursue careers in ministry within and outside the Episcopal Church after their fellowship year, and some of the highest performing clergy in the Episcopal Church are alumni of Episcopal Service Corps programs. Life Together offers placements in churches and faith-based community agencies, and we match each fellow with a spiritual mentor.
What if I’m not interested in becoming a minister? Could this still be the right program for me?
Yes! About two-thirds of our placements are at non-profit organizations, schools, and community agencies—offering opportunities to engage in direct service, legislative advocacy, or community organizing. Wanting to be a minister or a priest is not a requirement for Life Together. What is required is a desire to pursue spiritual growth and openness to learning from others. At the heart of our program lies a deep commitment to vocational discernment and challenging emerging leaders to pursue the question, “Who am I called to be?” A fellowship year with Life Together is a year of growth, formation, and leadership development for all fellows.
I’m interested in applying to graduate school. Can I still serve?
Yes! Many of our program participants choose to apply to graduate school during their year as a fellow. In fact, in many ways our program follows the academic calendar--starting in late August and ending during the summer. Frequently, fellows use their year of service to help discern what kind of graduate degree or future career they want to pursue. Sometimes the people interested in service, justice, and social change are those who see the "big picture" and are drawn to more than one professional field. This year of additional work experience, training, and mentorship can help clarify one's gifts and goals.
I’m not a very recent college grad. Can I still apply?
Absolutely! We welcome applicants between the ages of 21-32, and each year we intentionally recruit a core group of fellows who have at least a few years of post-college experience. While we know that maturity cannot always be equated to age, we believe there is a strong relationship between how much you put in to your year with Life Together and how much you get out of it. As a result, we find it is often enriching for fellows to have additional work or service experience before joining Life Together!
Does Life Together consider international applicants?
Yes, but applicants are responsible for securing their own work visas.
Is fundraising a part of Life Together?
Yes. As a part of our spiritual formation and leadership training curriculum, fellows share responsibility for the ongoing recruitment of future fellows and for fundraising. We believe the arts of recruitment and fundraising are critical skills in ministry and social change work that all of our fellows must learn. This learning happens primarily through an annual campaign called “Love Matters.” This is a collaborative campaign led by all fellows and staff to raise $35,000 during the year. Each staff member and fellow sets a minimum goal of $600, and this money raised goes to help pay the stipends and health insurance for the next class of fellows. Like many other service corps programs, Life Together relies on donations to help support our program, including those from both current fellows and alumni. Incoming Life Together fellows join a vast network of alumni, mentors, donors, and friends who generously give of their time and money to help sustain this community and make this possible for future fellows. Different from some of our peer programs, however, we do not ask fellows to do any fundraising prior to the start of their year with Life Together. All of the fundraising happens during the year and we will provide training, coaching, and support.
Will I have health insurance through Life Together?
Yes! All Life Together fellows receive basic health insurance coverage during their year of service. With certain restrictions and annual limits, some co-pay and deductible costs are also reimbursed. Details of the plan will be provided during Orientation at the beginning of the service year. Anyone with a pre-existing condition or particular medical concerns may contact the Life Together staff for further information. Fellows may also choose to stay covered under another health plan during their fellowship year.
How do I handle my college loans?
Forbearance and deferment are available for most federally guaranteed student loans. Check with your lending institution to confirm eligibility and obtain the appropriate forms, which may need to be completed by you and the Life Together staff. In the past, most of our fellows have had success deferring their loans during their time in Life Together.
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