Photo: Stahl Mennonite Church member, Rachel Allen, holds a sign stating, You are Loved. Photo provided.
Since she started attending Stahl Mennonite Church in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, about a year ago, Rachel Allen has found a place where she feels welcomed and accepted, a feeling she aims to provide for the people she works with.
Allen described herself as a lifelong Methodist, but for various reasons, she chose to leave the Methodist church. In fact, she actually believed that she was done with church in general when she left.
But this past summer, Allen was baptized into Stahl Mennonite.
A few of Allen’s friends were Mennonite and she was invited to worship. Before committing to the invitation, Allen went to the church’s website and read a blog post from the pastor.
“I just heard something in the words there that compelled me to go to the service,” she said in a phone conversation on Nov. 18. “It was just one of those things; it wasn’t what I thought it was.”
Since then, Allen hasn’t missed a Sunday, unless she’s travelling.
For Allen, the Mennonite commitment to peace and the separation of church and state were part of the reason she stuck with Stahl Mennonite. Not only that, but the love of Jesus and the gospel that Mennonites emphasize are the ways that Jesus makes the most sense to her.
“There’s a grounded sense that has been intact for hundreds of years,” she says, “with this commitment to the marginalized, welcoming the stranger, peace, and all the things we’re called to in the gospel.”
Allen lives out her faith and commitment to the gospel through her work.
Incorporating yoga, music and community, Allen runs Yoga Song. Over nearly 20 years, Allen has been using music as a tool for healing.
“I wanted to use music as a way of engaging people,” she says. “Music has been a big part of my life; like breathing air.”
While Allen is still using music in her work, she’s added yoga and has begun doing work to address the ongoing effects of trauma. As a survivor of traumatic events herself, Allen finds that practicing yoga allows her to be more grounded and present, feelings that she hopes to give the survivors she works with.
Erika Brosig, a clinical supervisor at Victim Services, Inc., has worked with Allen to create an integrated healing group to help survivors of abuse use yoga as a tool for healing. Victim Services now offers a free class for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Brosig is also a close friend of Allen.
“Rachel is a phenomenal woman,” Brosig said in a phone conversation on Dec. 2. “She lives her life with her heart wide open, and she’s a fighter for things that are right and good in this world.”
After Brosig and Allen formed the integrative healing group, Brosig saw Allen’s work shift to focus on survivors of sexual abuse.
“After that, Rachel blossomed into someone who wants to help survivors and give them compassion,” she says. “She’s able to offer more than my agency can in some circumstances.”
The basis of Allen’s work is meeting people where they are.
Allen recognizes that not everyone has been given tools to deal with life’s challenges, and she wants to be part of the work of equipping people. By leading people in yoga, combined with music and community-building, she hopes that clients will begin to create spaces where they are able engage a long-term healing process.
Like many cities in the area, Johnstown faces high rates of poverty, heroine addiction, isolation and
other social issues. For Allen, “just seeing how people treat other people” and seeing how violence is normalized in her community adds more urgency and purpose to her work.
Even beyond those issues, Allen talked about the way addiction is often judged and associated with shame, trends that aren’tt helpful when an individual is working to battle addiction. Working to overcome that judgment and naming the ways the societal framework allows these things to happen to people are among Allen’s biggest challenges.
Allen has done a lot of work in prisons, homeless shelters and rehab centers, and she is open to having uncomfortable conversations when necessary. One of the most rewarding things for her is seeing her clients realize that they matter.
“Being able to see people that have thought they don’t have any value or worth,” she says, “coming to the realization that they matter is really powerful.”
Allen has worked with many different people for the last 20 years, including adults with mental health and trauma survivors, and her hope is to continue this work over the long haul.
“I’d like to see more acceptance of what it takes to support people who are under-resourced,” she says. “I’d like people treated with more respect and dignity. Ultimately, I’d wish we wouldn’t need this [kind of work] because we wouldn’t have the violence, poverty or addiction.”
For now though, Allen’s work is still needed. As a person also working to support victims of abuse, Brosig is glad for Allen’s willingness to continue that work.
“Being able to work with her is an incredible experience,” Brosig says. “She is truly a gift. She is able to put every ounce of her heart into something.”
Allen isn’t just putting her heart into her work; she brings her faith commitments, too.
“In any environment, Rachel brings her authentic soul,” Brosig says. “It’s nice to see that sort of reciprocated in church.”
Brosig and her family have attended Stahl Mennonite with Allen a few times, and she feels that Allen has found her place there. She enjoys the experience of watching Allen interact with people in that environment.
“She has found a faith system that she truly believes in,” Brosig says. “It’s amplified her ability to be a healing force in the world.”
For Allen, her connection with the Mennonite Church has been an encouragement in her work.
“They’re under no illusion that they’re perfect,” she says, “but I see in a lot of people that there’s a commitment to living in the upside down kingdom, and that’s been a sense of relief.”
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