How QVS Became the First Step on a Spiritual Vocational Path
Walter Edstrom served at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program during the 2017-2018 QVS year. He is pictured here with (left to right) Mary Grace and Hilary at Continuing Revolution in 2018. Now, Walter works in a completely different sector, but still feels the impacts QVS has had on his spiritual and vocational journey.
Continue reading his Alumni Spotlight to read Walter’s thoughtful reflections!
Name: Walter Edstrom
Spiritual Community: Fourth Presbyterian Church of South Boston
QVS Year: 2017-2018
Site Placement: Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program (BHCHP)
Did you have any connections to the Religious Society of Friends prior to QVS? I started attending meetings my junior year of college at Cannon Valley Friends the Quaker Meeting nearby.
“Because I started QVS right after college in a new city with a new job, new everything, it was a really helpful launchpad for me both professionally and spiritually- something to provide scaffolding as I enter this new phase of life.”
After his QVS year, Walter stayed in the Boston area and took a job working at a community solar company, helping manage operations for the customers who subscribe to their projects. After working in community solar for a few years, he started a new job at another clean energy company, providing market services to solar and storage assets, helping to optimize the scheduling of those assets. “In order to make the desperately needed transition from fossil fuels to solar and wind, clean energy needs to be available around the clock, even when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. My company is responsible for scheduling the charging and discharging of utility scale batteries so that our society doesn’t have to set things on fire to turn on the lights or heat our homes.”
Way opens to QVS
Walter grew up getting “dragged” to Presbyterian Church in Plano, Texas on Sunday mornings. By the time he was out of high school, Walter was “so done” with the church because of the stifling Texas suburban conservatism that informed the spiritual life of that community . While attending Carleton College, he began practicing Buddhist meditation and got to explore this further while spending a semester backpacking in Thailand. Upon his return to campus his junior year, Walter found Cannon Valley Friends Meeting ( the Monthly Meeting in the same town as his college, Northfield, Minnesota) and began participating in Meeting for Worship. Although he wanted to continue the mindfulness practice he developed through Buddhism, Walter became familiar with the local Quakers and felt this was the right next step in his spiritual journey.
Walter also began dating his now wife, Kayla, around the time of his spiritual exploration in college. Kayla was about to embark on a post-college faith based service year through a UCC church in Bethesda, MD. This along with his experience with Friends and the social justice aspects of QVS all led Walter to apply for the program.
A Spiritual Journey Coming Full Circle
During his QVS Boston year, Kayla entered seminary and was “under care” of Fourth Presbyterian Church in South Boston. Fourth Presbyterian was on the same redline T stop as Walters’ site placement, BHCHP , and he started attending there. He realized this community is a very socially engaged congregation with a vibrant music scene of folk and gospel, which was a refreshing change of pace from the more conservative Presbyterian congregation he grew up with.
“Beginning in high school, I went from ‘I am atheist,’ to ‘I am agnostic,’ to ‘I like meditation,’ to ‘I like the Christian context in Quaker meeting,’ to being back at a Presbyterian Church that is so different than the one I was raised in. It was a very circular [spiritual] path that led me back to where I started.”
Spiritual Grounding in Vocation
When Walter started working his first job after QVS, he became more involved with Fourth Presbyterian in his free time. Not long into his first year working in solar, he began leading an effort to install rooftop solar on the church, using skills he’d learned on the job to organize the financing and construction of the project.
The project was completed in October 2020 and will provide the church with net savings of well over $150,000 in the next twenty years while significantly reducing the church’s reliance on fossil fuels. “It’s easy to feel God’s hand at work when a move that’s good for the planet is also good for church finances, and the progression of this project has been testimony to how God is shepherding Fourth forward through unforeseen circumstances.”
When the solar project was first considered in the spring of 2019, the church had only just installed large walk-in coolers in the church basement for their food pantry. On top of the unexpected increase in electricity needed for refrigeration, the church had no idea when pursuing solar that an impending pandemic would make the church’s energy intensive food pantry and meals program more essential ministries than ever before. It was a blessing to have the walk-in coolers in the basement and the panels on the roof to power them. God provides! “I see the success of this project as evidence we can nourish our community’s stomachs and spirits, while also doing our part in the global human struggle against climate change, and saving some money too.”
And Now for Something Completely Different
Looking back on his experience with QVS and the impact it’s had on his life, Walter reflects on the ways QVS gave him the space and support to explore who he is, his spirituality, and find his vocational path forward:
“Because I started QVS right after college in a new city with a new job, new everything, it was a really helpful launchpad for me both professionally and spiritually- something to provide scaffolding as I enter this new phase of life. I don’t go to Quaker worship anymore, and I don’t work in the same industry as my site placement anymore; but it provided me the space and structure I needed to find what I was looking for, that if I had just showed up in a new city and started grinding away at a job that didn’t have any of that structure, I would have floundered and wouldn’t have been able to discern what was important to me in my immediate post-collegiate life. My head would have been spinning around on my shoulders even more than it already was.”
So, where is Walter now?
Walter and Kayla got married in 2021 and are expecting a baby at the end of this summer. Kayla now pastors for a church in Dover and Walter has been with his current company for a year and a half. “Working in renewable energy at SYSO allows me to make a base level contribution to society rather than being a parasite on it, while helping to transform our energy system into something more sustainable. That’s a value that is really important to me.”
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