Six years ago, I stumbled into the main hall at Camp Adams. My flight had been canceled the day before, so I was exhausted and nervous, having missed the first day of Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest Orientation. I was instructed to find my three community mates — Mitchell, Katie, and Madeleine. I took a deep breath and thought, These are the people I am going to spend the next year with in rural Montana. I hope we get along. Little did I know I was about to meet my second family.
St. X community during their JV year in St. Xavier, MT. April 2017.
Jesuit Volunteers in St. Xavier have a unique experience. St. X is a tiny, remote town on the Crow reservation in southeastern Montana. With a population of about 80, the town consists of mobile homes, a post office, a pop machine, a church, and Pretty Eagle Catholic Academy — the K-8 school where the JVs serve as academic aides. Due to the remoteness of the locale, community is very insular for St. X JVs. We are colleagues, housemates, peers, and friends. Our social life was limited during my JV year, but we found ways to entertain ourselves: dancing around our living room with the neighbor kids, drinking coffee and trying to stay up all night just for fun, watching candles melt, decorating our trailer with our favorite memes . . . You get creative out there!
Our JV year in ’16-17 was at once hilarious, tragic, stunningly beautiful, and full of the purest love I have ever encountered. For the first time in my life it became clear to me: the Divine does not exist in an outside sphere. God is in our students, God is in our neighbors, God is in the Pryor Mountains and the Bighorn River, and God is in community. God is in the family that Mitchell, Katie, Madeleine, and I built.
Glacier National Park. July 2022.
It is wild that apart from my biological family, I have spent the most time with my JV community. And there is a soft intimacy in that — I know each sense of humor, each pet peeve. I know what breaks each heart, what gives each hope. I recognize who is coming based on the sound of their footsteps. I see the way each serves as a conduit of the Divine.
My community has been lucky to have had opportunities to reunite since our JV year. As a partial or whole community, we have returned to St. X several times. We gathered in Denver four years ago where we got matching tattoos. Three years ago, we were blessed to meet in Minneapolis to celebrate Mitchell’s wedding (top photo). Our hope was to return to St. X in 2020 for 8th grade graduation, but of course COVID foiled those plans. Last week, we held a reunion three years in the making, as the four of us visited Glacier National Park.
St. X community in Denver sporting community tattoos. April 2018.
St. X community reunion in Glacier National Park. July 2022.
It had been three years since we were all together, so naturally I was nervous. But as we settled into the car, it was like no time had passed. We fell back into a rhythm — singing along to a playlist, catching up, reminiscing, and laughing constantly at our shared, weird sense of humor. We hiked, kayaked, and toasted to life milestones: an engagement, a wedding anniversary, a promotion, a coming out.
I have worked to incorporate JVC Northwest’s values of community, social and ecological justice, simple living, and spirituality/reflection into my life as a former Jesuit Volunteer. But it is difficult living out these values in the face of capitalism, secularism, consumerism, and American hyper-individualism. Reuniting with my community mates always brings me more in touch with the values and reminds me that a different life is possible. With my community mates, I am reassured that humans are not meant to be alone. We can only flourish and find peace when held in community with others. Until our next reunion, I remain grateful to JVC Northwest for bringing us together. I keep my former students and St. X in my heart.
Last week, as I gazed around the campfire at the faces of my community mates, I was awash in familiarity and a sense of home. Rumi’s words ran through my mind:
I cannot praise You as You should be praised.
Such words are infinitely beyond my understanding.*
*“The Essential Rumi – reissue: New Expanded Edition” by Coleman Barks, Jalal al-Din Rumi, John Moyne.
Amanda Peters is an FJV (St. Xavier, ‘16-17) living in Metro Detroit, Michigan. She is a proud graduate of University of Michigan and works as a high school history teacher. She is passionate about sustainability, spirituality, and advocating for Indigenous and LGBTQ+ rights. She believes that writing is the ultimate tool to remind us of our shared humanity.
3 thoughts on “FJV Reflection – Encountering the Divine in Community”
Thank You for sharing these memories. We were in Fairbanks, Alaska back in 1970 and that was such an impactful time in our lives. We still have strong connections with one another. Blessings.
Amanda, thank you for sharing your JVC experience. Like so many, my volunteer years have made a positive imprint on my life. I am thankful that I have lasting and meaningful friendships with the volunteers from Bethel 1976
Amanda Peters, I loved reading your article and I loved seeing your photos. My husband and I were in Spokane and then Omak in 1976-1978. Being with the JVC had major impact on our lives. Although I no longer have connections from those days, I still live with the values. Thankyou for your Reflection.