My name is Andrea Wegrzynowicz, and I’m a second year graduate student in the Biochemistry PhD program. I moved to Madison at the start of the 2019 school year, and have been involved with Pres House since then. So I’ve definitely met and spent time with some of you, but if I haven’t met you yet, I’d love to! Feel free to stick around after service to say hi.
Today, I’d like to share a little about my faith journey, what I’ve been thinking about this Lent, and an opportunity for you to help others as part of your own Lenten experience.
If you didn’t already know, the Pres in Pres House comes from Presbyterian, a Protestant denomination. I was raised in this tradition, and attended a Presbyterian church when I went to college in Pennsylvania. And this shaped a lot of my faith experience. If that was your experience as well, you may understand when I say that for a long time, my experience with faith felt more academic than anything else. For those of you who are less familiar with Presbyterianism, let me tell you this much — Pres House is unusual, especially compared to churches in the Northeast, where I come from. Pres House is more lively, more hands-on, and more engaged than what I was used to. A not entirely inaccurate stereotype labels Presbyterians as the “Frozen Chosen.”
So in high school, and into college, I attended worship, and youth conferences, and Bible studies, and I soaked in all the theology, all the words, all the traditions and prayers and rituals. I thought religion was all about reading the right books, and praying eloquently, and leading the right clubs to share religion with other people. As we’re working on decolonizing our faith, on living out Christ’s example, I want to point out to you that during this time, I was still moving towards a progressive, affirming faith. Turns out you can do that in your mind, intellectually, and still not actually be doing much. I wholeheartedly believed in the church’s need to accept and affirm LGBTQ Christians, and that we needed to cast off purity culture, and disavow white supremacy. But I thought that believing the right things was enough, and I did very little to actually advance these causes beyond being friendly and welcoming.
What I failed to recognize was that, while I read about Jesus, and preached His example to others, I hadn’t actually stepped into what it meant to be his example. To love the least of these. To feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to uplift the poor. To speak out against hypocrisy, and self-righteousness.
It took a few things for me to confront and wrestle with this. One was graduating college. Growing up, I did plenty of community service, but it was the kind of community service you do when you’re a privileged white kid in Upstate New York and you’re trying to get your National Honor Society hours, or your Girl Scout awards. When I started graduate school, I realized with all my extracurriculars stripped away for the first time, I had an opportunity. I could fill my time with Netflix and work, or I could actually do things that mattered to me and weren’t just about filling a resume, spending time with my friends, or keeping up some sort of image. But I didn’t know what it was I actually cared about. I mean, I cared about everything — climate change, racial injustice, health care reform, the military-industrial complex, reproductive justice, the list goes on. But I mean what I could make a difference in. I’d always heard that to be truly effective, you often have to pick one issue and dive. But I’d let the range of things I professed to care about paralyze me into inaction. Here I was again. The Frozen Chosen.
And then there was a global pandemic. As I read the news, I got more and more frustrated about lack of access to good health care and insurance. I watched the Affordable Care Act be bombarded yet again, I watched state governments fail to act while their people became ill and died around them, I saw the CARES act create reimbursement options for COVID-related medical bills, but not the other medical crises that would continue to come up during this time. And I realized what I cared about.
Did you know that 79 million Americans have to choose daily between paying for medical care, or for basic needs like food and housing? That 66% of bankruptcies are related to medical debt?
Recently, I had some routine tests run. Something I have to do every few years, mostly to tell me that I’m fine. Nothing exciting. The bill? $7200. That’s nearly a quarter of my salary as a graduate student. And that was expected. The costs for an ambulance ride, or emergency care, or some treatments can quickly eclipse that.
Fortunately, I have good insurance, and my out-of-pocket costs were a fraction of that. But even that fraction can be significant, and with over 10% of Americans lacking health insurance, unexpected medical bills can be astronomical and destructive. Chances are, you already know someone with a crushing load of medical debt. Or, you’ve been there yourself.
And that’s why I want to tell you about an organization I learned about, called RIP Medical Debt. Founded by former debt collection executives, RIP Medical Debt accepts donations and uses the donations to purchase portfolios of medical debt. Because collections agencies know most of this debt won’t be paid at all, they’re happy to accept a steeply discounted price, meaning donor dollars go much further than they might individually. And then the debt is forgiven with no strings attached.
In this season of Lent, when we reflect on our own complicity in systems of injustice, and our failure to act, and repent of these things, we remember the word of God through the prophet Isaiah, reminding us how to fast:
This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts (Isa 58:6, MSG).
So I’d like to invite you to help alleviate some medical debt this Lent, specifically in Texas. Between COVID and recent bad weather and power outages, Texans are stretched thin and debt is an even heavier load. I’ve started a RIP Medical Debt fundraiser to help cancel debt in Texas, and every dollar donated can forgive $100 of medical debt. That means, for $10, maybe the cost of a sandwich and a drink, you can alleviate $1000 of debt. For the cost of a bus ticket to Chicago, we can forgive $3000. My current goal is $1500, meaning forgiveness of $150,000 worth of medical debt in Texas. I hope you’ll join me. Any amount helps, and you can donate at the link shared in the chat and in the bulletin. If you’re interested in sharing the fundraiser with your friends and family, you can also join the team on that link.
As we look to Christ’s example this Lent, let us be His hands and feet on earth, and live out the fast Isaiah calls us to. Whether my own story has resonated with you or not, I invite you to join in this chance to love our neighbors a little better.