Since my involvement in the Thompson-Pound Art Program, I haven’t been really sure about my official title. This year, I was finally dubbed “the TAPlain.”
That’s really what I was…a TAP chaplain. My role was to be present in the midst of the program, helping where I needed to help, guiding where I needed to guide, and shepherding where I need to shepherd. It’s about the easiest and most rewarding job one could have at such a program.
In case you missed it, I am involved in this program down in Columbus once a year. We take 60 children ages 6-12 from all walks of life–economically diverse, religiously diverse, and culturally diverse–and engage them for a week in art projects. Art is a perfect medium for children, to get them talking with one another and establishing relationships. The ethos of TAP is that if we can build relationships between these children, as they grow up they will know that peace and unity can be a reality. We don’t have to argue over religion. We don’t have to have a stratified economy. So giving these children an experience of peace will hopefully build them into leaders who will ultimately help bridge the chasms of our broken world.
The program is executed by Debbie Anderson, a member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church and local actress and singer, who was with us for one of our Lenten Series dinners, and her cadre of diverse volunteers. TAP is sponsored by Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministries (CVEM) which is our convocation of Episcopal churches’ outreach effort. St. Nicholas helps fund CVEM, and by extension, TAP through our annual budget. Sam Roney also joined in this year and spent his time learning about the program so he can be more involved next year!
This year, we focused on the theme of being “people of peace.” We shared from our different traditions how peace is important to each of us. Instead of focusing on our differences, we learned about our similarities and how we can support one another in these similarities. We used a curriculum called “The Peace Tree” which engaged the children in the relationships between the diversity. We also used another curriculum called “The International Peace Village” which presents each of the major world’s religions.
We thought it was important to get people from those religions to help us present. On Monday, we learned about Hinduism from two teenagers from Columbus who are Hindu. Did you know that Hinduism is actually a monotheistic (one God) religion? I didn’t know that! Tuesday, we met a Buddhist nun who is also a piano teacher at CSU. She taught us how to meditate which was wonderful! Wednesday, we learned about Islam. Farhad “Ali” AliFarhani, a local engineer, shared that Muslims are in fact people of peace, although “some Muslims in the world are misbehaving badly,” he shared. Thursday, we focused on Judaism and learned about mezuzahs, which Jews put on their doorposts as a sign of peace to all who enter their homes. Friday, I got to share about Jesus and Christianity, and since not all the children are Episcopalian, they got to learn about our brand of Christianity. I taught them how to write prayers for peace by using the Collects from our Book of Common Prayer.
Not all of TAP is about talking or doing art. In one room, the children got to see snakes from Oxbow Meadows, teaching them how important snakes are to our lives and how we can make peace with them. Another day, our own Abby Brown, and her parents Kin and Beth, visited to share with the kids about how she works with disabled people and people who have experienced trauma through her horseback riding. They also taught us how to swing a lasso and rope a calf, which according to Kin, I was not too shabby at!
I got to take Tai for a couple of days this year. Next year, he’ll be old enough to go all week. He loves art anyway, so TAP is the perfect program for him. I’m excited for him to learn more about other people and make new friends of other cultures.
It was a great week, and I learned so much. I am grateful to be a part of this wonderful ministry. Someone recently said to me that they didn’t think that peace in the world was never going to be possible. Yes, things are bad in many parts of the world, but if we can engage in building relationships with people who are different from us, and learn their stories and share our own, we can take one step closer to the Kingdom of God, where we are all people of peace.
If you want to learn more about TAP, check out Allison Kennedy’s article in the Ledger-Enquirer here. A group from Macon came to visit to see if they might start a similar program there, and in fact, it was one of them, my friend Chad Vaughn, who dubbed me the TAPlain. So there is interest in growing this program beyond our area, which is exciting!
One more thing I did at TAP was teach a song that I love. It doesn’t specifically reference Christ, even though it a song based on Christ’s words, so it could be sung by everyone genuinely. Here are the words, which are very simple:
Peace give I to you
Peace give I to you
Not as the world gives, give I to you
Peace give I to you
With God’s help, peace was given to these children, and hopefully that peace will grow into all the world.