Thursday, December 2, 2010

An Hour of Ritual Space


As I get to the church after the Advent lectionary study at Union, John is there waiting for me. It’s a cold morning so we go to Barney Greengrass instead of my office to review budget matters. It’s time to go back to zero and start over. And even that doesn’t begin to resolve the money issues.

I see Deacon James starting to sweep the steps. Already a work crew is assembling at the Church. There’s Amanda and Hope and Hugo. And a work team from Brownstone Restorations under the leadership of Jack Pontes has arranged for a dumpster and come for a day’s worth of work. Our job is to figure out what’s garbage and not...their’s is to get rid of it. There are decades worth of stuff to go through. Boxes of papers that were buried until the water pipes burst and water poured through the church. Jack’s crew is even ready to tackle the pigeon situation, but health concerns make us hesitate on that one.

Floor by floor, room by room, box by box we go through the past. Hopes, dreams, successes, fights, failures, all passing through our fingers’ touch. Bulletins, minutes, architectural drawings, reports, visions, plans, projects done and never done. And more than enough from my own fifteen years here. The most important is kept--the original plans for Joseph Papp’s balcony theatre, the list of contents of the lock box, the first contract to establish the God’s Love We Deliver kitchen, issues of the Peacemonger Press, “Viva 86” fliers from the merger struggle of the early 90‘s.. “keep West-Park alive at 86th and Amsterdam” they say...the mundane heads for the dumpster. And what if anything demands to be shredded?

I’ve waited for this for years. At first Hope, like Marsha before her, is depressed and overwhelmed. But box by box the weight disappears. We’ve got a two part problem...we need to get clear with the Fire Department and in order to do that, we’ve got to get rid of our gates. But Jack doesn’t have his saw. None of the hardware stores around have rental saws. So, I walk across the street to the Belnord to ask Nazim if we can borrow a “saw” saw. He tells me that he and his men will come and do the work themselves.

Meantime I head to the Fire Department. But its the wrong station. Our fire districts are not the same as the police precincts. So I head back to 84th and remember when we sang carols there the Christmas after 9-11. I talk to the chief. Tell him we’ve been gone for three years. He asks why we left. I tell him the short version of the story. He says “So you left voluntarily?” And I say, “yes.” And he asks what’s the capacity. I say around 550. And he says how many are coming? And I say 2-3 dozen. And he says are the exits clear? and I say yes and he says have a good night and I say thanks.

Back at the church, Hope has stories. How Nazim and his crew brought down the gates. And she said, “thank you, you’ve opened the doors to our church again” and Nazim, a devout Muslim, smiled and said , “No, God did.” And how she discovered that two of Jack’s crew were from the Portuguese community of Newark and how they then carried on a conversation in Portuguese. “That’s what I want church to be for me, meeting people, making connections all around what we’re doing together. That’s where I find God,” she says. And I say “That is it. That is it exactly.”

Amanda and I put the final pieces in place for tonight’s event, “An hour of ritual space.” This evening has been her idea, her design. Now to make it real. Marsha shows up to help. Then Hope and Holly. We’ve got Matt’s photographs up, his book, a print to raffle. Hot cider, cheese and crackers in my office. And mulled wine in the sanctuary. It looks open and clean. And people start to come. Church folks, friends from our temporary home at the Methodist Church, the city’s new director of sustainability, our city council member, a student following me for a class, folks from Union Seminary, my pastoral counseling supervisor...just the kind of gathering our proposed Centre is designed to create.

I open the evening. It is historic, in its way. I never thought there’d be a night like this again in this space. Next is northwest architect Bill Tripp. With his photos and his words he talks of the ways we create and live in ritual space whether it’s a home, a living community response to 9-11, a memorial to 9-11 or World War II, a they’re interconnected. Then we introduce Matt, our photographer and then Gale our City Council member. The evening ends with Amanda's song written especially for this occasion. A guitar player she met along the way accompanies her. Yes, this is what I wanted.

The Union people say what better time than Advent to start this journey. I’m thinking that no matter how good this feels, the public, everyone who’s happy about this movement...that’s what someone said this is, a grass roots movement... has to know how desperate the financial realities are..

Our members feel happy, a little amazed. The gates are down. The doors are open. The sanctuary’s empty of garbage, clean. Tonight, after three years, we created ritual space once again.

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