The Rev. Charles “Chaz” Howard never set out to write a book of poetry.
But in his job as University Chaplain—and after years of working in hospital and hospice chaplaincies, and conducting street outreach for homelessness services agency Project HOME—he found that writing about his experiences came naturally.
“Some of these experiences were heavy, and so I thought I should journal to process it, get it out, without any intention of publishing it,” Howard says.
When a friend encouraged him to share his poems—and compile them for Christian leadership development website The Beatitudes Society—Howard says it made sense to self-publish his work and donate proceeds to organizations that help deal with some of the very issues he has written about.
Earlier this year, he officially published “The Awe and the Awful,” a 56-page book featuring 40 original poems reflecting on the beauty and challenges of urban ministry. Now, a portion of the proceeds for the book will go to My Place Germantown, a nonprofit devoted to reducing homelessness in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, and Heeding God’s Call, an organization that advocates against gun violence in the city.
“Part of it is just me trying to navigate my relationship with God in the face of various suffering around here,” Howard says. “So it’s very, very personal, which is where the name comes from: The awe for the divine in the face of the awful which surrounds us.”
Howard says the book features poems that encapsulate a range of emotions in dealing with issues like homelessness and violence.
“I have so many crazy memories of some sweet times,” Howard says. “And there’s some tragedies as well. I remember [while working at Project HOME], I was asked to do a funeral for someone who had frozen and died on a bench on the [Benjamin Franklin] Parkway. And then a month or two later, I was doing a wedding for two people who were living in the shelter there. I’ll never forget that.”
Ultimately, Howard hopes “The Awe and the Awful” will draw attention to the issues explored in the book—as well as to the organizations the proceeds will support.
“In my eyes, I think two of the most awful problems in the city are poverty and gun violence, and so I wanted to support two groups that are doing something about it,” he says.
Originally published on December 12, 2013