Thursday, December 9, 2010



It’s gray and bitter cold. I have a brand new broom to use after Saturday’s clean up day. The bag of bread that was there on the steps is gone by the time I open the doors. I cross the street. A woman is talking to Francois. She’s got a bag of giant pine cones from California, wonders if he’d like to buy some. She’s got a store around the corner. Good for decorations. He takes one. I ask how the carving’s going. Things have been too busy. Is he keeping warm? He smiles, his cheeks red. “I love the cold,” he says. And I remember he works in the Yukon. We all wish each other well. And back into the cold.


There is sun. And cold. Not much going on outside. Inside, two hours with an electrician/engineer and a safety architect. Staring down the remains of decades of halfway solutions piled on top of one another like jumbled wires. At some moments, I want to ask myself why I chose to walk down this road. Ask myself if its worth it. Somewhere between romance and reality is a long and daunting journey.

Reflecting on Saturday and these emerging tentative relationships with our former adversaries. On the one hand it is profoundly moving seeing neighbors and others on their hands and knees spending hours to clean our church. On the other, landmarking reduced the value of our property by millions of dollars. (Yes, literally) Landmarking remains a morally complex reality.

There is a real theological case to be made for the meaning of old buildings, what happened there, the lives lived out, witnesses made, the esthetic beauty and shared cultural heritage. A phalanx of “liberal” progressive politicians lined up on that side. At the same time, landmarking can be used as spot zoning and as a means of pushing poor and middle class people out of a neighborhood. And our Upper Westside neighborhood is increasingly one where the middle class can no longer live, increasingly a neighborhood of condos and public housing and nothing in between.

Our opposition to landmarking was based on of principle. Of separation of church and state. Of our inalienable right to define our mission and that buildings were built for the purpose of mission not as ends in themselves. (It’s Aesthetes vs. Modernists all over again.) No wonder my ’80’s predecessor Bob Davidson called a previous landmarks group “idolators of buildings.” That we receive this legacy to the end of furthering mission. Yet at the same time, our exempt properties should not be held sacred only to serve as backdoor opportunities for high end developers.

And if a church has understood its calling to be a community based as opposed to ideological, issue, identity or doctrinally based church, that the church must engage its neighbors. Its health, it’s survival depends on these relationships. Yet those relationships cannot come at the expense of principle and clarity of call and witness. Moral clarity and prophetic witness doesn’t come easy. And every ministry that survives in the public sphere will have its share of collaborations with the powers, of compromise.

Perhaps we can look to the example of the movement to overturn exclusion of lgbt folks from leadership and ordination in the Presbyterian Church. The movement that includes More Light Presbyterians, That All May Freely Serve and the Covenant Network. The last time this issue came to a vote of Presbyteries, the inclusion movement chose strategically to move away from rhetorical debate and into conversations. A thousand conversations. And it was those conversations, not harshly drawn dialectics or polemics that moved the issue closer to passing.

Today, those on the frontline of defending women’s right to choose are exploring and developing similar strategies.

In that light, it is our vision that West-Park and its Centre can be a locus of exploration of this very significant issue, a place where that conversation can take place. Our engagement must be rooted in integrity, not surrendur. And with an eye to conversion.

The architect looks at the Advent wreath with its candles and the Chanukah menorah from last Sunday’s service and says “Hmmm, ecumenical I see..” “Always have been,” I say.

On the street, I always enjoy watching people cross themselves when they pass the church. On days like this I feel the need do it myself. And long for a supply of holy water.

After these hours in the church, the cold has seeped deep into me. It will take awhile to get warm.

Over in Strawberry Fields, people are gathering to commemorate the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination. With candles and song.

You might say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us...


Today on my way from the subway to the church I saw my first Salvation Army bucket. I'd forgotten how much apart of the season they used to be. I'd see them everywhere. But never before on my street. Just the normal rounds. At Barney Greengrass, I check out the family photos I hadn’t noticed before. I remember Gary’s dad Moe who ran the place for so long when I first got here. I remember his seat behind the counter, his card tricks, his sense of humor.

I take the coffee over to Francois. He asks about the church and I tell him about the clean up day. And all the work ahead. He’s selling the giant pine cones brought by shop owner the other day.

Another cold and sunny day.

No comments:

Post a Comment